Syrian Revolution Digest: Monday, 29 April 2013

Hear Our Voice!

Earlier today, President Obama voiced his concerns over use of chemical weapons in Syria to Mr. Putin, but does he have time to hear some Syrians voice their own concerns over the issue? For we are indeed concerned, Mr. President, concerned that you are becoming desensitized in this connection, desensitized to the point of continued inaction, of accepting a status quo of continued suffering and impunity, of hiding behind the convenient cover of popular apathy. But while an American President’s primary responsibility is to the American people, he is also answerable to countless of millions beyond America’s borders – people whose fate to a great degree is determined by his policies and decisions. Many of those people wish that you could hear their concerns and respond to them through meaningful actions.

 Death Toll: 119 martyrs, including 10 women, 8 children and 1 martyr under torture: 36 in Damascus and Suburbs, 34 in Aleppo, 8 in Daraa, 7 in Homs, 7 in Idlib, 6 in Hama, 6 in Deir Ezzor, 3 in Lattakia, 1 in Raqqa and 1 in Qunaitra (LCC).



Syrian prime minister survives Damascus bombing, six die Six people were killed in the blast, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Previous rebel attacks on government targets included a December bombing which wounded Assad’s interior minister. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the bombing, which he described as a “terrorist attack.” As prime minister, Wael al-Halki wields little power but the attack highlighted the rebels’ growing ability to target symbols of Assad’s authority in a civil war that, according to the U.N., has cost more than 70,000 lives.

Russia: Plane’s safety ‘threatened’ over Syria, but it lands safe with no injuries, damage The state news agency RIA-Novosti quoted the press service of Rosturism, the Russian state tourism authority, as saying the plane came under rocket fire Monday. But a statement on the ministry’s website did not give details, saying the plane’s crew saw “signs of war activity which, in the crew’s opinion, threatened the safety of the plane.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told the ITAR-Tass news agency that the plane was carrying 159 people.

Bodies of 30 Hezbollah fighters arrive to Lebanon from Syria The sources added that Al-Quds Brigade commander, whose known by his nickname, Abu Ajeeb, was also killed in Syria in battles against rebels. Reports have emerged that members of the Lebanese Shiite group were fighting with forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against rebels. Former Hezbollah chief Subhi al-Tufaili told Al Arabiya in an interview earlier this week that at least 138 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in the Syria fighting. Tufaili added that Hezbollah, who is backed by Iran and the Syrian regime, was told to fight with the Assad forces in direct orders from Tehran. However, the Shiite group has repeatedly stated that it was not taking part in the fighting in Syria.

American doctor gives ‘proof of chemical weapon use’ to U.S. On Monday, Syrian-American doctor Zaher Sahloul was near the Syrian border in Turkey, where he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that reports from physicians indicate there had just been another attack. Sahloul believes this is the sixth recent chemical weapons attack Syria. “We have medical proof,” Dr. Sahloul told Amanpour. “Patients had respiratory and neurological symptoms.”  Physicians working inside Syria are collecting samples and giving them to Dr. Sahloul ‘s organization, The Syrian American Medical Society.

Obama voices Syria chemical weapons concern to Putin In a statement, the White House said on Monday that Mr Obama and Mr Putin talked on the phone on Monday, with the US leader “underscoring his concern over Syrian chemical weapons”. Washington has repeatedly criticised Russia – along with China – for blocking tougher action against Syria in the UN Security Council, including new sanctions. Mr Putin and Mr Obama are scheduled to hold face-to-face talks in June. Mr Obama last week promised a “vigorous investigation” into the issue. He warned that it would be a “game changer” for US policy if the reports about chemical weapons were to be proved true.

Israel Says It Is Not Seeking U.S. Intervention in Syria The official, Yuval Steinitz, the minister of strategic and intelligence affairs and international relations, also said that his government saw no comparison between American policy toward Syria and the Obama administration’s announced intention to stop Iran from gaining nuclear capability. “We never asked, nor did we encourage, the United States to take military action in Syria,” Mr. Steinitz said at a conference in New York sponsored by The Jerusalem Post. “And we are not making any comparison or linkage with Iran, which is a completely different matter.”

Hagel: “Wait to get the facts” before acting on Syria “We are continuing to assess what happened, when, where…working with our allies and our own intelligence agencies,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during a press conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Itsunori Onodera. “I think we should wait to get the facts before we make any judgments on what action, if any should be taken, and what kind of action… Asked in a follow-up whether he could rule out any unilateral U.S. military action, or whether any such action might require the cooperation of the international community, Hagel replied, “My role is to present to the president…options for any contingency. I won’t speculate on those options, nor publicly discuss those options.”

Video: Amateur singer’s heartbreaking song for Syria sweeps the Arab world The song seems to have tapped into the agony of two years of war, which is felt not just in Syria but across a sympathetic Arab world, as evident in the crowd’s reaction. It is especially powerful for those most affected by the conflict. The Financial Times’ Abigail Fielding-Smith reports, “Syrians abroad, especially those from Aleppo, describe breaking down in tears over it.” Though the power of Hamdan’s song appears to stem in part from his decision to avoid taking sides or placing blame, his sudden popularity has put him under political scrutiny and some pressure. “Inevitably there has been speculation over which ‘side’ Hamdan is on,” according to the Financial Times story. “According to an interview with the singer in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, people have even made threats against him on Facebook.”

Veteran Italian war correspondent missing in Syria Domenico Quirico, 62, an experienced war reporter, entered Syria from Lebanon on 6 April saying he would be out of touch for a week. La Stampa says there was sporadic phone contact until 9 April since when nothing has been heard.

Syrian teenager self-immolates in Beirut The National News Agency reported that a Syrian youngster set himself on fire on Sunday in Beirut’s Corniche al-Mazraa and is currently in critical condition. The nineteen-year-old, identified as Ahmad Mahmoud Youssef, reportedly attempted to self-immolate in the area’s Barbour Square due to financial hardship and debts he was incapable of paying. Youssef was rushed to the Geitaoui Hospital where he is being treated for third degree burns.


Investigative Reports

Links Between Alleged Chemical Attacks In Saraqeb, Idlib, and Sheikh Maghsoud, Aleppo Today there’s been fresh reports of an alleged chemical attack on the town of Saraqeb, Idlib, with photographs and videos from the scene posted online.

The Syrian Electronic Army: Bashar al-Assad’s shadow warriors Phishing attack is latest by pro-Assad hackers operating out of Dubai, who target sites with views opposed to their own But unlike Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – whose former regimes were caught badly off guard – Assad’s government has been fighting back. It has created an increasingly rambunctious group of counter-revolutionary hackers. These hackers have a twin function: to punish western news organisations seen as critical of Syria’s regime, and to spread Damascus’s alternative narrative. This says that the war in Syria isn’t a popular uprising against a brutal, despotic family-military dynasty but rather an attempt by Islamist terrorists to turn Syria into a crazy al-Qaida fiefdom.

Euro Mayors Try to Keep Youths From Going to Syria Through much of western Europe, scores of Islamic youths have heeded the call to take up arms for a cause that is only a few hours away by plane. The phenomenon has alarmed authorities amid signs that the insurgency is becoming increasingly radicalized, with strong infiltration by al-Qaida. European authorities see a double danger, one that’s summed up by Somers who describes the youths as “cannon fodder” in Syria — and potential “full-blown terrorists” if they make it back home alive. But it all raises a conundrum: In a free society, how can you prevent these young people from packing up and leaving?

Syria’s Refugee Entrepreneurs Find a Home in Jordan To tap into the pool of talented entrepreneurs set adrift by the war, Oasis500 has been actively recruiting Syrian entrepreneurs—through personal networks, placed articles in publications owned by Abdulsalam Haykal, a Syrian media entrepreneur, and ads running on Facebook (FB), Twitter, LinkedIn (LNKD), and Jordanian radio stations. To help pave the road from Aleppo to Amman, the accelerator is also paying travel and some housing expenses for Syrian entrepreneurs. The efforts are paying off. In the accelerator’s first boot-camp class after beginning the outreach, which is funded in part by the governments of the U.S. and Jordan, 13 of 60 participants were Syrians. Oasis500 invested in two of those entrepreneurs: Ali Kaj and Judy Samakie, who’s building an e-commerce site to help Jordanians find and order healthy food—a problem in a region where it can be hard to find health-conscious or even vegetarian meals. The current boot-camp session has attracted nine Syrians.

Rebellion unveiled: Kurdish women join war on Assad Ruken reads Nietzsche and Aristotle, smokes Gauloises Blondes and last month she shot her first man dead with a Russian-made assault rifle. Amid an increasingly Islamicised struggle in which bearded men, religious conservatism and Islamic slogans have become the face of Syria’s revolution, the 27-year-old commander of 40 Syrian-Kurd fighters in Aleppo, all of them women, is unusual in every way.

Fleeing war, Syrians find ‘Little Damascus’ in Cairo’s outskirts The sprawling new development in the desert west of Cairo has become a hub for the Syrian refugees, but its long parallel avenues lined with residential blocks are a far cry from the narrow streets and bustling markets of old Damascus… In Cairo, the new arrivals have carved out a “Little Syria” for themselves, where flags of the Free Syrian Army flutter in the cement landscape, and shops brimming with shawarma spits and pastries are frequented by patrons with Syrian accents.


Analyses & Op-Eds

The Economist: Chemical weapons in Syria – Acid test: America needs to take action against Bashar Assad. Chemical weapons are not much use on the battlefield, but they can demoralise the rebels and spread terror among the population. They may have an indirect purpose, too, for Mr Assad. If he uses them and the outside world fails to take action, his supporters are likelier to conclude that he will stay in power and his opponents will lose faith… Mr Obama’s wariness is worsening a dreadful situation. As the fighting drags on, the rebels are being increasingly radicalised. They will eventually be a source of global jihad. The millions of refugees inside and outside Syria are suffering grievously. Violence and misery are spreading—to Iraq, where Sunni and Shia are killing each other again; to Lebanon, which has lost a prime minister to sectarian rivalries; to Jordan, overrun by refugees. Israel fears that Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shias’ party-cum-militia, will end up hardened by war and armed with sophisticated weapons. Arguing about soil samples hardly seems like an adequate response… Mr Obama is instead leading Mr Assad to believe that his threat is empty. For a man trying to persuade the world that Iran will cross a red line if it builds a nuclear bomb, that is the wrong message.

Tony Badran: Assad Reading the Signs When viewed from Assad’s vantage point, it would appear that the US administration has been receptive to every talking point his regime has chalked up. There could be only one explanation, as far as Assad is concerned: the US is pragmatic. It’s willing to play ball. If this were confined to Assad, perhaps it wouldn’t be much to be concerned about. However, when this perception of a convergence between the US position and Assad’s talking points extends to Washington’s regional allies, it becomes a matter that affects the US position and credibility in the region. These allies have been waiting for a sign from the White House that it will, in fact, go all the way in Syria. Unfortunately, Assad’s reading is proving to be correct: the Obama administration will do no such thing.

A Friend in Need: As Syria implodes, the United States and its allies need to help Jordan help itself. There’s one place, though, in which the United States should be getting involved that has only upside. Among many troubling trends of the Syrian civil war has been the creation of enormous amounts of refugees in countries that are ill equipped to handle them. Lebanon and Turkey have absorbed more than 750,000 refugees, but no place has felt the brunt of Syria’s huge population displacement as much as Jordan.

Syria: the life cycle of civil war Providing shadow governance structures, especially where local councils involve the encouragement of voluntary participation (rather than through recruitment or ‘conscription’) indicates a future capacity to out-administer the incumbent central government. A review of resilient Syrian opposition groups or shadow administrations suggests that the nature of governance as well as the nature of warfare and violence is shaping the strategic logic of civil war transitions as a means of significant social change in the Middle East and North Africa.

My new paper, prepared for a briefing in Washington, D.C. that took place on January 15, 2013, is now out and is titled “Syria 2013: Rise of the Warlords.” It should be read in conjunction with my previous briefing “The Shredded Tapestry,” and my recent essay “The Creation of an Unbridgeable Divide.

Quickly Noted

Ribal al-Assad published an op-ed under Project Syndicate arguing against sending military aid to Syria rebels to avoid turning “a catastrophe into an apocalypse,” as he put it. But the problem here is not in the argument but in failing to fully disclose the identity of the man making it. Ribal is the paternal cousin of Bashar Al-Assad, a man whose interest in opposing Bashar goes only as far as trading places with him. Failure to note this family connection is frankly dishonest.

As for the argument itself, diplomacy is definitely needed to seal the deal, but diplomacy has no chance in hell achieving anything unless military conditions on the ground have changed drastically in favor of the rebels. Diplomatic and military realities often play off each other, a fact that is obvious and known to all seasoned politicians, diplomats and military planners. But Ribal Al-Assad cannot and will not see this because the only change he is interested in is one that brings him to power, keeping Syria, in effect, as a private holding of the Assad family.


Video Highlights

Activists in Saraqib, Idlib, claim that their town witnessed an attack using chemical weapons , ,

A video showing the car bomb explosion that targeted the vehicle of PM Halki in the plush neighborhood of Western Mazzeh in Damascus As Syrian TV covered it

France Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage and Sparks Opposition

By Alexandra Sandacz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – Last week, the National Assembly of France approved the same-sex marriage bill by a vote of 331-225. This bill, which also allows couples adoption rights, made France the 14th nation in the world and ninth in Europe to pass such a law.

French lawmakers respond to protestors who tried to disrupt the final vote. (Photo Courtesy of TIME)

The French Parliament passed the “Marriage for All” bill, which affords homosexual couples identical rights to marriage and adoption that were previously limited to heterosexual unions.

Christiane Taubira, Socialist Justice Minister and author of the bill, stated, “It’s a generous law, and a law of equality. We believe the first weddings will be beautiful and that they’ll bring a breeze of joy, and that those who are opposed to them today will surely be confounded when they are overcome with the happiness of the newlyweds and the families.”

However, opponents to same-sex marriage blamed the legislation for distorting “time-honored definitions of marriage and endangering children by permitting gay and lesbian couples to adopt”.

Many high-profile groups promised to continue legal challenges to block the law’s application.

Frigide Barjot, a comedian who uses her stage name, told her supporters, “We are going to show them that this is not over. I solemnly ask the president to hold a referendum on the subject.”

Claire Baron, a mother of two, stated she “will oppose the bill until the end.” She continued, “I’ll keep going to the protests, I don’t give in. The bill is not effective yet, the president of the Republic must listen to our voices. We are here to defend family values. Children need a mom and a dad.”

Just hours before votes were casted, thousands of police gathered outside the National Assembly building to prepare for the protestors on the streets who started forming days leading up to the vote. In addition, thousands of police who were armed with water cannon were organized near parliament to deal with any repeat of the violence seen in previous demonstrations.

Inside the National Assembly chamber, two opponents tried to hold up a protesting banner, however, they were shortly ejected.

Socialist President, Francois Hollande, made this same-sex bill his top social reform goal. He is expected to sign the bill once it clears constitutional challenges. Although opponents of the measure will try to argue that marriage is a constitutional matter, the council is unlikely to block the new law.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Same-Sex Marriage: French Parliament Approves New Law – 23 April 2013

The Huffington Post – France Legalizes Gay Marriage After Harsh Debate, Violent Protests – 23 April 2013

International Business Times – France Legalizes Gay Marriage, Becomes 14th Nation to Do So – 23 April 2013

Time World – France Legalizes Gay Marriage Despite Vocal and Angry Opposition – 23 April 2013

SNHR Casualties Report: Sunday, 28 April 2013

Syrian Network for Human Rights documented 88 victims, Sunday, 28 April 2013, all across Syria,  including 12 children, 8 women, 5 tortured to death, and 35 armed rebels

Aleppo: 23 victims
Damascus and countryside: 16 victims
Idlib: 13 victims
Hama: 12 victims
Homs: 10 victims
Daraa: 9 victims
Dier Alzoor: 2 victims
Raqqa: 2 victims