The American Bear


Syrian monitors should withdraw, says Arab League body | guardian

An Arab League advisory body has called for the immediate withdrawal of the organisation’s monitoring mission in Syria, saying it is allowing Damascus to cover up violence and abuses.

The Arab League has a small team in Syria checking whether President Bashar al-Assad is keeping his promise to end a crackdown on a nine-month uprising against his rule.

The observer mission has already stirred controversy, with rights groups reporting continued deaths in clashes and tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets.

The Sudanese head of the mission infuriated some observers by suggesting he was reassured by first impressions of Homs, one of the main centres of unrest.

The Arab Parliament, an 88-member advisory committee of delegates from each of the league’s member states, said on Sunday that the violence was continuing to claim many victims.

“For this to happen in the presence of Arab monitors has roused the anger of Arab people and negates the purpose of sending a fact-finding mission,” the organisation’s chairman, Ali al-Salem al-Dekbas, said.

“This is giving the Syrian regime an Arab cover for continuing its inhumane actions under the eyes and ears of the Arab League.” [more]

Syria's two largest opposition groups sign draft deal for post-Assad democracy | Haaretz

Syria’s two leading opposition groups have agreed on the ground rules for what they call “a transitional period” after the end of the regime of President Bashar Assad, activists said Saturday.

Representatives from the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria signed the agreement in Cairo late Friday after talks that lasted more than a month, activists said.

The accord is to be presented as an official document to the Cairo-based Arab League on Sunday, reported the independent news site Syria Politic.

There was no immediate comment from the pan-Arab organization.

Under the agreement, a new constitution is to be drafted for post-Assad Syria “guaranteeing the creation of a civil multi-party parliamentary system.”

It envisages a one-year transitional period starting with an interim government taking over in Syria until a new constitution is approved.

The agreement recognizes the Kurdish minority as “an essential and historical part” of Syria. Kurds make up about 9 per cent of Syria’s population and have long complained about government discrimination.

Meanwhile, Arab League peace observers, who are inspecting hotspots across the country, have called on the government to “immediately” remove snipers from rooftops of buildings, a source close to the delegation told DPA on Saturday.

"The observers saw the snipers with their own eyes in Douma," the source said, referring to a restive town on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.

Footage posted on the internet showed observers spotting snipers also in the two provinces of Daraa and Idlib.

The monitors are in Syria to verify the government’s compliance with an Arab peace plan, which includes removing military hardware from Syrian cities and the freeing of political prisoners.

Violence and doubts mar Syria monitor mission | Al Jazeera English

Activists demand removal of top Arab League observer as government crackdown leaves 35 protesters dead across country.

Syrian activists are calling for the removal of the head of the Arab League monitoring team, a new blow to the credibility of a mission that the opposition has condemned as a farce for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to buy time and avoid more international censure and sanctions.

The 60 Arab League monitors, who toured restive areas again on Thursday, began work two days ago. They are the first Syria has allowed in during the nine-month anti-government uprising. They are supposed to be ensuring that the government is complying with the terms of the League’s plan to end the crackdown on protests.

Syrian activists, however, doubt Arab monitors are getting the access they need to be able to give a fair assessment of the crackdown that the United Nations has estimated to have killed more than 5,000 people.

They say the Arab team is only coordinating its work with the authorities and complain that security escorts, from the very forces that have sought to crush the protests, mean many activists dare not approach the monitors.

A member of the observer team told Al Jazeera the situation in Syria is “very dangerous”.

The official, who declined to be named, said there was constant shelling in the city of Homs with some areas under control of the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella group of armed anti-government fighters.

The source said he believes the Arab League mission is certainly going to fail.

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Syria Withdraws Tanks as Arab League Monitors Arrive | The Progressive Realist

About 60 Arab League-sponsored monitors arrived in Syria last night and began inspecting the situation on the ground in cities that have served as focal points of the pro-democracy demonstrations. The AP reports that Syria suspended military operations and began withdrawing tanks as the Arab League monitors moved in and met with local leaders.

The monitors are charged with making sure that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is complying with an Arab League brokered deal to end the violence and begin negotiations with the opposition. But activists fear Assad’s latest move is mainly just for show:

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some army vehicles pulled out of Homs while others relocated to government compounds “where [they] can deploy again within five minutes.” …

Given the intensified crackdown, the opposition sees Syria’s agreement to the Arab League plan as a farce, and some even accuse the League of complicity in the killings. Since Syria signed on to the deal Dec. 19, activists said nearly 300 civilians have been killed. About 150 more died in clashes between army defectors and troops—most of them defectors.

Reuters reports that around 20,000 Syrians gathered in Homs today, as the Arab League monitors arrived, to protest against Assad’s government and violent crackdown.

Syria: Twin suicide bombs shake capital, kill 40 | Yahoo!

This is extremely suspicious. There hasn’t been a single “terrorist” attack (much less “suicide” bombing) inside Syria since the uprising began in March. In major urban areas, with the possible exception of Alleppo, Damascus has seen the least (open) public resistance to Assad. Now, all of a sudden, the day after the observers arrive, an “al-Qaeda terrorist ‘suicide’ car bombing” occurs in a high security region of city? Smells fishy.

Twin suicide car bomb blasts ripped through an upscale Damascus district Friday, targeting heavily guarded intelligence buildings and killing at least 40 people, Syrian authorities said.

The blasts came a day after an advance team of Arab League observers arrived in the country to monitor Syria’s promise to end its crackdown on protesters demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad. Government officials took the observers to the scene of the explosions and said it backed their longtime claims that the turmoil is not a popular uprising but the work of terrorists.

The blasts were the first such suicide bombings in Syria since the uprising began in March, adding new and ominous dimensions to a conflict that has already taken the country to the brink of civil war.

“We said it from the beginning, this is terrorism. They are killing the army and civilians,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad told reporters outside the headquarters of the General Intelligence Agency, where bodies still littered the ground. State TV said initial investigations indicated possible involvement by the al-Qaida terror network.

Alongside him, the head of the observer advance team, Sameer Seif el-Yazal, said, “We are here to see the facts on the ground. … What we are seeing today is regretful, the important thing is for things to calm down.”

An opposition leader raised doubts over the authorities’ version of events, suggesting the regime was trying to make its case to the observers.

Omar Idilbi, a member of the Syrian National Council, an umbrella group of regime opponents, called the explosions “very mysterious because they happened in heavily guarded areas that are difficult to be penetrated by a car.”

“The presence of the Arab League advance team of observers pushed the regime to give this story in order to scare the committee from moving around Syria,” he said, though he stopped short of accusing the regime in the blasts. “The second message is an attempt to make the Arab League and international public opinion believe that Syria is being subjected to acts of terrorism by members of al-Qaida.” […]

A military official told reporters that more than 40 people were killed and more than 100 wounded. He spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity in accordance with military rules. Earlier, state TV said most of the dead were civilians but included military and security personnel.

Maj. Gen. Rustom Ghazaleh, who heads the targeted military intelligence department, said the attacks were proof of a foreign project to strike at Syria. “We will fight this project until the last drop of blood,” he declared. […]

David Hartwell, Middle East political analyst at IHS Jane’s in London, said the timing “is certain to be viewed with suspicion by the opposition.”

“The start of the monitoring mission has been overshadowed by the attacks in Damascus, a fact that government critics may highlight as fortuitous and more than a little coincidental,” he said.

He added that the Arab League “will need to work extremely hard” to convince observers and the opposition that it is not being played by the Syrians in an effort to stall for time.

Negotiations on Syria Draft Resolution | What's In Blue

It seems Council members will have a further meeting at expert level at 3 p.m. today (Thursday, 22 December) to continue negotiations on a draft resolution on Syria circulated by Russia on 15 December. However, at press time Russia had not yet circulated any revised text reflecting the concerns expressed at the previous round of expert level negotiations held on Monday (19 December).

During Monday’s negotiations, EU Council members and the US apparently proposed changing language which suggested symmetry in violence by the opposition and the government and introduced elements including: stronger human rights references, an explicit call regarding cooperation with the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry, the need for accountability and demanding full implementation of the Arab League’s initiative to stop the violence in Syria. It seems some Council members also feel that if there is an arms embargo it should apply to both the government and the opposition. There also seems to be broad support for language in the resolution clarifying no military intervention in Syria is envisaged.

These negotiations are taking place against a backdrop of increasing international pressure on Syria to end its crackdown on protestors which has been ongoing since March. According to the 12 December briefing to Council members by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, the situation in Syria has led to more than 5,000 deaths, 14,000 detained and 12,400 refugees and tens of thousands internally displaced. (On 15 December, Syria transmitted a letter to the Security Council criticizing Pillay’s briefing.)

On Monday, 19 December, the General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the violence in Syria and calling for full implementation of the Arab League initiative.

According to media reports, an advance team of about 30 Arab League observers is to arrive in Damascus today in preparation for a larger mission of approximately 150 to be deployed by week’s end—the mission has a one month mandate. Syria and the Arab League signed the protocol for the observer mission on Monday. (The Arab League had previously suggested upwards of 500 observers.) Syria apparently conditioned the deployment of the mission insisting on a reduced number of observers and on coordination of its activities with the government.

A New Phase? Syria Roundup | Jadaliyya

The protests in Syria seem to be entering a new phase in which a constellation of factors are beginning to take their toll—whether or not the recent signing of the Arab League plan materializes. Among the pertinent factors at play are economic, logistical, moral/physical fatigue of regime forces, military might of part of the opposition, and the increasing organization of the internal opposition as a whole. The intensity of the violence in general, and regime crackdown in particular, speaks of a new confrontational phase, as opposed to the more awkwardly optimistic explanation that the regime is embarking on a final push before implementing the Arab League plan. One hopes this former grim forecast is incorrect. For now, what remains are the grim developments this week.

Assad being Assad for 12/5/2011

From this morning:

Syria has responded “positively” to a proposed Arab League plan aimed at ending eight months of violence and expects the agreement to be signed soon, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdesi said on Monday. 

"The protocol is intended to be signed soon," Makdesi told journalists in Damascus.

A few hours later:

Syria’s Local Co-ordination Committees, the pressure group monitoring the government crackdown on protesters, say 11 people have been killed by security forces in Homs.

A few more hours later:

Sixty-one people have been killed in the Syrian central city of Homs, according to Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin in Beirut, the capital of neighbouring Lebanon. Among those killed were 34 Sunnis and 27 Alawites, she said. It is was not immediately clear who was behind the violence.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an activist on the ground reported seeing “the bodies of 34 civilians, in a square in the pro-regime neighbourhood of Al-Zahra, who had been abducted by the shabiha [pro-government militia] on Monday”, according to the AFP news agency.

The civilians, the group said, had been seized from several “anti-regime neighbourhoods” in Homs, which has been targeted by a brutal crackdown on almost nine months of anti-regime dissent.

The Observatory also reported the so-called “shabiha” abducted on Monday a bus driver and his 13 passengers in Homs province.


The all-out hypocrisy of the Arab League and the West


By Kourosh Ziabari

After the Arab League hypocritically suspended the membership of Syria amid the mounting pressures of NATO and the United States, the resurgence of violence in Egypt and the increasing use of excessive force in Bahrain and Yemen, and the unrelenting massacre of innocent civilians by the barbaric regime of Al Khalifa and Ali Abdullah Saleh once again attracted the attention of conscientious observers in the international community.

The Arab Spring has given Turkey a voice. Don't mess with it | Robert Fisk

The French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé was here “to talk about Syria”. Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, pontificated that “perhaps because Syria has not enough petroleum, there has been less interest in the West in the killing of Syrian civilians” – probably true – while every Turkish newspaper has been speculating about the Turks’ future plans for action in Syria. A Turkish military cordon sanitaire inside the border with Syria seems to be the favourite.

Listening in the old capital of the Ottoman Empire to the mice-turned-to-lions of the Gulf, you could almost believe these were the Last Days of Assad. Personally, I doubt it. When The Wall Street Journal announces his forthcoming demise I reckon he’s safe for a good while yet. The Syrian National Council in Istanbul is itself a pretty argumentative mouse, recognised only by the pipsqueak power of the new Libya.

Yet the very final ultimatum from the Arab League – it expires tomorrow – is an extremely serious matter for the Baathist powers in Damascus. Does Syria allow a 500-strong team of observers from the League to go prowling around Homs and Hama and Deraa? Isn’t that in itself a real boxer’s punch to Syria’s sovereignty? The Moroccan ambassador has left Damascus after the attack on his embassy. The Qataris and Saudis left a long time ago. The German ambassador is flaunting what is supposed to be a new draft UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria. Presumably he has discovered some crumbs to throw to the Russians and Chinese to bring them on board.

In Turkey, however, there is real anger at Syria’s response to Turkish initiatives. And when President Abdullah Gul says that Turkey’s reaction to another attack on its embassy in Damascus will be “entirely different” if it happens again, he probably means what he says. As the Israelis found out after their killing of nine Turks on the Mavi Marmara last year, you don’t mess with Turkey, certainly not the newly self-confident Turkey which is championing the Arab awakening and whose flag flies once more in honour across the Arab world.

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Syrian opposition: Homs a 'disaster area' | Al Jazeera English

Syria’s opposition has called for international intervention in the central city of Homs, one of the focal points of the country’s uprising, calling it a “humanitarian disaster area”.

The appeal, issued by the Turkey-based Syrian National Council, comes as activists reported that at least eight people were killed across the country on Monday, including two children, in an ongoing crackdown by security forces.

Activists said that at least five of the dead were in Homs as hundreds of residents protested against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, adding that government troops stormed several areas and made house-to-house arrests.

Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon, said: “People there are trying to tell the government that they will not succumb and they will continue to protest until they topple the regime…despite the heavy presence of the security forces.” 

More than 110 people have been killed in the past week in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees activist network.

In a statement, the Syrian National Council urged the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation and the Arab League to act “to stop the massacre committed by the regime”.

It also called on the international community to send “Arab and international observers, instantly, to the city of Homs to oversee the situation on the ground, and prevent the regime from continuing to commit brutal massacres.”

The Arab League has called a meeting in Cairo next Saturday on what it calls Syria’s failure to implement a peace plan, announced by the body last week following talks with Syrian officials.

The League said the meeting was called because of “the continuation of violence and because the Syrian government did not implement its commitments in the Arab plan to resolve the Syrian crisis.” [++]

Silence Is Not an Option! Syrians Cannot Afford to Wait! | Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

Civil society organizations from across the Arab region call on the Arab League to suspend Syria’s membership rights as human rights violations continue.

A coalition of more than 170 local and international organizations working in seventeen countries across the Arab world has appealed to the League of Arab States to end its silence on Syria. In a public letter sent today, the coalition sets out a series of steps that should be taken by the Arab League in its upcoming meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs. The coalition urges the League to adopt a series of measures to ensure an immediate end to the use of lethal force against protesters, and the full application of the thirteen points of the Arab initiative to Syria. The letter commends the initiative for including clear demands for the cessation of violence, the release of all political prisoners and compensation for the victims of the crackdown.

However, the signatories have expressed serious concerns about the initiative as it “lacks guarantees and benchmarks to ensure its successful implementation”.

“For the Arab Initiative to make a real difference for ordinary Syrians, it must ensure that independent observers access the country and monitor the behavior of the security services,” said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Otherwise, the initiative will not outlive the ongoing bullets of the security services.” read