Syria Update October 17, 2012 (Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Strategic Studies. By Sherifa Zuhur)
Current death toll: 106 Syrians killed including at least 35 unarmed civilians and 36 Syrian military troops.
Yesterday’s death toll: At least 150 Syrians killed.
In the last few days, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria has been trying to obtain Iranian, Egyptian and other support for a temporary ceasefire during the Eid al-Adha. The Syrian military have engaged in a new offensive in Aleppo and Idlib provinces punishing the areas considered sympathetic to the opposition by air (see AJ yesterday)
whilst continuing the pressure on opposition held areas in Damascus, Dara`a and Deir az-Zur. Human Rights Watch issued a report castigating the use of cluster bombs which can be viewed in YouTube posted videos of the conflict. The al-Nusra Front, thought to be affiliated with al-Qa’ida took over a military air defense base a few days ago in Aleppo province.
Filming the Syrian revolution – (for English subtitles check the Syrian Bear Facebook page) http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EtI-TH4Eqnk#!
Aleppo province: Shelling on the al-Sha`ar neighborhood killed 4 and injured 20. There are reports that a mosque in al-Sha`ar was deliberately shelled by the Syrian military after the call to prayer, killing those inside. The Syrian military shelled al-Firdaws, killing 3 and shelled the neighbourhood of Bani Zeid. Clashes between the Syrian military and the opposition took place in the Karam al-Jabal neighborhood. Shelling and explosions in al-Sakhur. Heavy clashes took place in Karm al-Jabal and the Syrian military shelled al-Haydariyya. The opposition destroyed an armored vehicle in al-Jadida.
Mohammad Suleiman, the leader of the opposition Ansar al-Haq brigade, was killed in clashes with the Syrian near the Kweiris military airport. The Syrian military bombarded the towns of al-Atareb, al-Bab, Susyan and Tadef. Clashes took place outside the “46” military division located in the western part of the province.
Damascus province: An explosion rocked the area of Qudsiyya and a number of Republican Guards were killed. The Syrian military shelled the towns of al-Sheifuniya and al-Reehan, and the city of Duma, where an infant and 2 adult men were killed. Syrian military shelling on Akraba set this building on fire. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bGsIVxHAsK8
When the Syrian military stormed into al-Sheifuniyya, they killed 3 persons. The Syrian military shelled Beit Sahem and the Ghouta al-Sharqiyya, leading to the death of a child in Beit Sahem. At least 6 corpses were found, including that of a child, in al-Ghouta al-Sharqiya. A video has circulated showing two charred bodies, reportedly of two 13 year old girls who had been raped by supporters of Bashar al-Assad in a mosque in Hamouriyya and then burnt to death. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Nj55-GSG5Q&feature=youtu.be
Dara`a province: A sniper shot in the town of Hara. The Syrian military shelled the town of Ma`arba. The Syrian military shot a man in the town of Mleiha al-Gharbiyya and shot an opposition fighter in the town of Naseeb. The Syrian military shelled the towns of Da’el, Ma’raba, al-Mjaydal and the Lijah area.
Deir az-Zur province: The Syrian military shot 4 civilians in the Qusur neighborhood of Deir az-Zur. The Syrian military heavily shelled the areas of Masaken al-Hizb and al-Hamidiyya. 4 opposition fighters were killed in the city, 3 in shellings and 1 was killed by a sniper.
The Syrian military shelled the village of Breiha, killing 5 civilians including a child.
Hama province: The Syrian military fired on one of the mosques in the neighborhood of Tareeq al-Bab causing injuries. The Syrian military moved into the villages of Balhsein, Oum Jaren, al-Mubarakat, and Wuzur, carrying out raids, arrests and detentions. The Syrian military shelled Kafarzeita.
Homs province: A sniper killed a young man in Khalidyya.
The Syrian military shelled the village of al-Khaldiyya, killing a woman and a child. A civilian died of his wounds from an earlier shelling of Houla.
Clashes in the city of Qseir killed at least 5 opposition fighters and the Syrian military heavily shelled the city and also stormed the village of al-Jousiya (where clashes and shellings have been ongoing for several days).
Idlib province: The Syrian military killed 2 opposition fighters in Ma`arat al-Nu`man, one in clashes and the other, after they shelled the area. The Syrian military shelled the town of Kafruma killing a civilian. The opposition destroyed 4 tanks at the Suhian checkpoint, and in that attack, 16 Syrian troops were killed or injured. The Syrian military shelled al-Deir al-Gharbi, Deir al-Sharqi and Heish.
Al-Quneitra province: Violent clashes took place between the Syrian military and the opposition in between the villages of al-Teeha and Mashara.
Raqqa province: The opposition attacked a patrol car of the Syrian military killing 3 Syrian troops on the Aleppo-Raqqa road near the village of Krein. The Syrian military responded by shelling the village, killing a man and his son.
Refugees: Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Nsour visited the al-Zaatari refugee camp today and said that work will commence immediately on a camp in Mreijeb Fhood in Zarqa. That work will take approximately 60 days and the Jordanian Armed Forces will set up that camp.
Some of Syria’s internal refugees have set up a camp near the Turkish border. Others are receiving no services at all elsewhere in the country. http://www.firstpost.com/topic/place/syria-syria-internal-refugees-camp-close-to-turkey-to-avoid-assad-video-nnYHQxhJJg-15-1.html
Turkey’s military has fired back into Syria after the Syrian military fired a mortar shell into the Hatay province. The return fire came from near the town of Hacipasa.
Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Jordan today after visits to visits to Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Saudi Arabia has announced that it will grant visas to Syrians who wish to go on hajj to the holy cities, although it had previously been announced that Syrians could not travel on the hajj.
Nabil al-Arabi of the Arab League has called on the Syrian government to honor a temporary ceasefire for the upcoming Eid al-Adha (October 26th or 25th).
Pope Benedict will send a delegation to Syria to show his solidarity with those suffering from the conflict, and not specifically for the Christians of Syria. The group may leave for Syria by next week.
The government of Bulgaria will build a temporary shelter on Syria’s border with Turkey in the southeastern town of Harmanli which will cater 1,000 people.
Iran’s President Ahmadinejad approves of the idea of a temporary ceasefire during the Eid al-Adha holiday.
Saleh Mubarak, of the Syrian National Council approves of a temporary ceasefire during the Eid holiday but said that he does not believe that the Syrian military will honor any truce agreement.
An Introduction to Batta (Bashar al-Assad) for those still unfamiliar with him:
al-Assad, Bashar (1965- )
President of the Syrian Arab Republic (2000 to the present) and head of the Syrian Ba’ath Party. Bashar al-Assad was born in Damascus, Syria on September 11, 1965. His father was Hafez al-Assad, strongman and president of Syria from 1971 to 2000. The Alawi sect to which al-Assad belongs encompasses approximately 12 percent of the Syrian population. Bashar al-Assad was not as well known to the Syrian public as his popular elder brother, Basil, who died in an automobile accident in 1994.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the younger al-Assad studied medicine at the University of Damascus, training in ophthalmology at the Tishrin Military Hospital and then the Western Eye Hospital in London. After Basil’s death, Bashar al-Assad enrolled in the military academy at Homs. He became a colonel in the Syrian Army in 1999.
Although Syria is technically a republic, President Hafez al-Assad first groomed his son Basil, then Bashar, as successor although never openly declaring this intent. Al-Assad’s acquisition of both military and Ba’ath Party credentials were imperative to his legitimacy, but most observers believed that the senior power brokers in the Syrian government assented to al-Assad’s succession as a matter of convenience. In 2000, he was elected secretary-general of the Ba’ath Party and stood as a presidential candidate. The People’s Assembly amended the Constitution to lower the minimum presidential age to 35, and al-Assad was duly elected president for a seven-year term. A general referendum soon ratified the decision.
A reform movement emerged during the first year of al-Assad’s rule, which was dubbed the Damascus Spring. Some Syrians hoped that their young president, who had announced governmental reforms, an end to corruption, and economic liberalization, would open Syria to a greater degree. Indeed, reformers hoped to end the State of Emergency Law, which allows for the abuse of legal and human rights, and issued public statements in 2000 and 2001. Political prisoners were released from the notorious Mezze Prison, and certain intellectual forums were permitted. However, by mid 2001 the president reined in the reformists, some of whom were imprisoned and accused of being Western agents.
Under Bashar al-Assad, Syria opened somewhat in terms of allowing more media coverage than in the past, although censorship remained a contentious issue. Cellular phones are now prevalent, and Syria finally allowed access to the Internet, whereas under Hafez al-Assad, even facsimile machines were prohibited. Economic reform and modernization received top priority. Job creation, the lessening of Syria’s dependence on oil revenue, the encouragement of private capital investments, and the mitigation of poverty are the key goals in the economic sphere. The government created foreign investment zones, and private universities were legally permitted, along with private banks. Employment centers were established after 2000, and al-Assad announced his support of an association with the European Union. However, these changes were too gradual to instill much confidence in Syrian modernization.
Under al-Assad, Syria’s relations with Iraq had improved prior to the change of regime in that country in April 2003, and Syrian-Turkish relations are also less tense than in the past. However, the United States has shown great irritation with evidence that foreign fighters were crossing into Iraq from Syria and that former Iraqi Ba’athists were using Syria for funding purposes. The ensuing 2004 sanctions against Syria under the Syria Accountability Act, first enacted by the U.S. Congress in 2003, have discouraged investors and the modernization of Syria’s banking systems.
Syria adamantly and consistently opposed the American presence in Iraq after the Anglo-American invasion there in March 2003, and the country’s own Islamist movement reemerged. President al-Assad also had to deal with an influx of Iraqi refugees to Syria, who posed an additional burden on the economy. Further, al-Assad did not wish to encourage radical Islamists on Syrian territory and made efforts to contain them.
In terms of the Arab-Israeli situation, al-Assad inherited a hard-line position toward Tel Aviv along with sympathies toward the Palestinian cause during the al-Aqsa (Second) Intifada and its aftermath. Yet internally, the public saw the president as promoting an honorable peace for Syria, deemed necessary for further economic development. This did not mean that Syria and Israel were any closer to a peace agreement, but Syria would also most likely seek to avoid war, as during the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 2006. By the end of 2008, there were signs that a Syria-Israeli rapprochement was in the offing, although Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, which began in late 2008, threatened to suspend further negotiations.
Other important changes came with the shift in Syria’s position in Lebanon. When Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated in a bombing in February of 2005, suspicions fell on Syria. Anti-Syrian Lebanese demonstrated as did pro-Syrian groups such as Hezbollah. The United Nations inquiry into Hariri’s death, as well as comments by former Syrian Vice-President Abdul-Halim Khaddam, implicated Syrians at the highest level and pro-Syrian elements in Lebanon intelligence services in the assassination. A tribunal was scheduled, although the Syrian government sought to postpone its formation. Syrian troops finally withdrew from Lebanon in April 2005, however, thereby ending a long period of direct and indirect influence over the country. Lebanon has also been a good economic partner for Syria through trade and the absorption of large numbers of Syrian laborers. The United States government continued to charge al-Assad with aiding and bolstering Hezbollah in Lebanon, but the Syrian view was that the organization was a wholly Lebanese entity.
President al-Assad was reelected to another seven-year term in 2007. Nevertheless, many Western nations as well as some Arab nations continue to pressure al-Assad to curtail relations with Iran and to crack down on terrorism said to be funded or supported by various elements within Syria. Al-Assad had taken pains to improve relations with his Arab neighbors, but his pro-Iranian policies and interference in Lebanese affairs have led to worsening relations with countries like Saudi Arabia.
Although considerable differences remained over security issues and water rights, there was speculation in early 2009 that al-Assad was nearing a peace treaty with Israel that would result in the restoration of the Golan Heights to Syria. This was reaffirmed by Israeli information that American-led negotiations had begun, but broke down after a popular Syrian revolution began in 2011 which Assad and his regime have decried as being merely “terrorists.” Documents released by Wikileaks revealed an Assad who appears juvenile and more of a figurehead than the news might suggest. He and his wife spent vast sums shopping and he plays games on the Internet while the Syrian military began a campaign to eradicate their opposition which had killed over 31,000 Syrians by October of 2012, many of them unarmed civilians perishing in punitive air raids. Many emails appeared from a young woman he “sponsored” in the Wikileaks, who addressed him as “Batta” (duck), hence his current nickname.
Sherifa Zuhur (adapted from my article in the Encyclopedia of US Wars in the Middle East)
Photographs on the Syrian conflict here: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/08/24/world/meast/syria-101/index.html
Basic Facts about Syria:
Population: 22,530,746 Ethnicities: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7% Religious Groups: Sunni Muslim (74%, other Muslim (includes Alawite, Isma`iliyya, Druze) 16%, Christian 10%, Jewish (very small numbers).
GDP Growth Rate: -2% (2011) GDP: $64.7 billion
GDP Growth Rate: -2% (2011)
Unemployment: 8.3% Youth Unemployment (ages 15-24): 19.1% (female unemployment in that age category is 49.1%
Internet Users: 4.469 million (2009)
Exchange Rate: 46.456 Syrian pounds per US dollar
Military Expenditures: 5.9% of GDP (2005)
Population Growth Rate: -0797.% (since the conflict)
Population Age Structure: 0-14 years: 35.2%; 15-64 years: 61%; 65 years and over: 3.8%
Literacy: male 86% female 73.6%
Urban Population: 56% of total (2010)
Syrian Arab Army (prior to the conflict) 220,000 regular and 280,000 reserves. Of the 200,000 career soldiers, 140,000 are Alawi.
Syria’s Golan Heights is occupied by Israel and 1,000 members of a U.N. Disengagement Observer Force patrol a buffer zone.