Syrian Troops Clash With Rebels In Lebanon

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

AL QAA, Lebanon – On Tuesday, 27 March, Lebanese residents and local security forces reported fighting between Syrian rebels and security forces spilled into Lebanon.  The witnesses saw Syrian troops destroy Lebanese farm buildings and fight with Syrian rebels who sought refuge in their neighboring country when the troops entered Lebanon.

A Syrian woman emotional reacts to Syrian forces attacking her home in northern Syria. (Photo Courtesy of News Times)

Over the past year, thousands of Syrians have escaped to Lebanon.  Since the Baba Amr district of Homs sustained four weeks of bombardment in early March by Syrian forces, over 1,500 Syrians fled to Lebanon.  The Free Syrian Army (FSA), who wants to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and smugglers also utilized this border.  Residents stated the Syrian troops followed the FSA over the border to enter Lebanon.

Abu Ahmed, a 63 year old resident of al-Qaa (a Sunni Muslim rural mountain region) said, “More than 35 Syrian soldiers came across the border and started to destroy houses.”  Another resident added troops in armored vehicles demolished one home with a bulldozer, lunched rocket-propelled grenades, and fired machineguns in a clash with rebels.  A witness also stated the forces also burned several houses.

A Lebanese security source stated the clashes occurred near a poorly marked border where people easily and frequently cross.  A Lebanese security official stated, “There is no Syrian military presence on the Lebanese side of the border.”  Two Lebanese officials asserted bullets just passed through the rural village near the border.  However, residents reported dozens of Syrian forces are presently located 200 to 500 meters inside Lebanese territory.

Residents also stated Syrian forces momentarily entered Lebanon to shadow fleeing rebels throughout the recent months.  Al-Jazeera documented cases where Lebanese residents believed Syrian troops planted landmines near populous areas.  In October, the regional English-language news organization added a Syrian army tank launched shells at military targets inside Lebanon’s territory.  Last week, Syrian shells landed in northern Lebanon.

On Monday, 26 March, Syria accused Lebanon of supporting armed “terrorist groups” with weapons.  In his letter to the United Nations (UN) Security Council and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week, Syrian UN Ambassador Basah Ja’afari wrote, “Experts, officials and observers are unanimous that weapons are being smuggled into Syrian territory from bordering States, including Lebanon.”

These clashes occur on the same day of Syria’s acceptance of a cease fire and peace plan composed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Syria Crisis: Clashes Spill Over Lebanese Border – 27 Mar 2012

MSNBC – Annan Says Syria Accepts Peace Plan, Fighting Enters Lebanon – 27 Mar 2012

News Times – Syria Accepts UN Peace Plan But Bloodshed Persists – 27 Mar 2012

Reuters – Syrian Forces, Rebels Clash Inside Lebanon – Residents – 27 Mar 2012

 

 

Citizens of Damascus Feel The Burn of Syria’s Violence From The Ongoing Uprising

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–As the never-ending turmoil continues in Syria, heavy fighting has erupted between opposition fighters and security forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in a main district of Damascus. Witnesses report that this particular area is home to several key security installations. The intense fighting is taking place as al-Assad’s regime retains the contention that it has complete control of Damascus.

Members of the Free Syria Army in the streets of Damascus.(Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Syrian state television stated three “terrorists” and a member of Syria’s security forces were killed in the fighting. Since the beginning of the uprising, the Syrian state television has continually held that these “terrorists” are to blame for the violence around the country and has not repeatedly acknowledged the many deaths endured by innocent civilians.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, stated that at least 18 security troops were wounded in the fighting that broke out before dawn in the upscale and heavily guarded Mazzah neighborhood of Damascus. According to the Observatory, more than 9,100 people have lost their lives since the uprising began against the regime last March. Abdel-Rahman shared these words with the AFP.

“The clashes were the strongest and closes to security installations in the capital since the outbreak of the revolt a year ago.”

A member of the Revolutionary Leadership council in Damascus, referring to herself as Lena and not wishing to be identified further, shared these words with Al-Jazeera about the fighting in Damascus.

“Some people came to al-Mezzah and they are trying to attack residents. They are calling them names and taking them out of their houses, people have left their homes. They are in the streets. The security forces are all around the place. Security police have blocked several side streets and the street lighting has been cut off.”

Mourtadad Rasheed, an activist living in Damascus, shared these words with Ahram about his encounter of the violence, detailing that heavy shooting could be heard in Mazzaeh as well as two other districts, Qaboon and Arbeen.

“We woke up at 3AM to the sound of heavy machinegun fire and rocket propelled grenades (RPG). The fighting last about 10 minute, then eased before starting again.”

Al-Jazeera’s own Rula Amin reported from neighboring Lebanon that many residents believe that opposition is pressing into areas around Damascus that could make al-Assad much more vulnerable than he already is.

“Residents are telling us that there was intense gunfire for hours. They could hear from loudspeakers the army and the security forces asking armed men to leave one of the buildings. Al-Mazzeh is not geographically located in the heart of the capital but it’s a very important neighborhood. It is heavily guarded. There are a lot of high-ranking officials living in Al-Mazzeh, in addition to the UN headquarters, embassies, and ambassadors. This is taking place as the government claims they have control over the capital.”

The most recent clashes in Syria came after twin car bombs ripped through two neighborhoods of Damascus on Saturday 17 March 2012, which according to the Syrian interior ministry, claimed 27 lives. Another car bomb was detonated on Sunday 18 March 2012 in a residential neighborhood of Aleppo, claiming two lives.

The international community continues to struggle with the appropriate and consensus response to the situation. Former UN chief Kofi Annan, who met with al-Assad in Damascus earlier this month, ordered a team of experts to Syria to discuss a possible ceasefire and an international monitoring mission. The Arab League previously deployed a monitoring mission into Syria but it was short-lived as organizational issues and turmoil on the ground prevented its success.

Technical experts from the UN and Organization of Islamic Cooperation were in Syria on Monday 19 March 2012 to assess the humanitarian impact of the regime’s deadly crackdown on the protests. The mission, with three OIC experts in the team, will cover 15 cities and will submit a report to the Saudi-based Islamic grouping and UN on the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. OIC assistant secretary general Atta Al-Mannan Bakhit shared these words with the AFP about the mission.

“The joint OIC-UN mission entered Syria on Friday to carry out an evaluation of humanitarian aid.”

Jacob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, flew to Moscow for talks on Monday 19 March 2012 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavror on the “extremely difficult” humanitarian situation in Syria’s protests hubs.

“A daily ceasefire of at least two hours is imperative to allow the evacuation of the wounded.”

While the wounded wait for the proper attention, it would seem foolish for the international community to not pursue harsh action against al-Assad directly. The security forces are clearly following his direction and it is costing many civilians their lives. When the Arab League had its monitoring mission, it was very against the idea of foreign intervention into Syria. But at this juncture, foreign intervention seems like the only possible course of actions to serve the interests of the civilians, especially the wounded. Without intervention, more suffering is imminent.

 

For more information, please see: 

Ahram – Damascus Rocked By Fighting After Weekend Bombings – 19 March 2012

Al-Jazeera – ‘Heavy Fighting’ Shakes Syrian Capital – 19 March 2012

BBC – Syria Unrest: Fierce Firefight Erupts In Damascus – 19 March 2012

The Guardian – Syria: ‘Heavy Fighting’ In Damascus – 19 March 2012

NYT – Fighting Flares In Elite Area of Syrian Capital, Activists Say – 19 March 2012

Reuters – Syrian Captial Sees Heavist Fighting of Uprising – 19 March 2012

 

Red Cross Denied Access to Civilians as Shelling Continues in Syria

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – Syrian security forces resumed their attacks on the city of Homs, causing more civilian deaths and preventing relief access to the wounded. On Sunday 04 March 2012, activists reported that a bombardment came to Syria’s third-largest city of approximately one million residents as China presented a proposal to end the violence in the country. It called for an immediate ceasefire and dialogue between all of the parties but stood firm against any type of intervention by outside forces.

 

A member of the Syrian Free Army. (Photo Courtesy of NYT)

In addition to Homs, the Syrian security forces also descended upon the rebel-dominated city of Rastan on Sunday 04 March 2012. According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, four children were said to be among seven civilians killed in the shelling. The victims included as many as six family members when a rocket crashed into their home, causing the building to collapse.

The focal point of the attacks by security forces has been the western Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, where the situation has been described as “catastrophic.” On Saturday 03 March 2012, there were reports of power outages, shortages of food and water, and no medical care for the sick and wounded. The Red Cross has desperately been trying to gain access to the city for three days, attempting to deliver aid and supplies to those in need. The closest that the organization has come to assisting Baba Amr is handing out food and blankets to those fortunate enough to have the ability to flee the city to nearby areas.

Syrian officials informed the Red Cross that Baba Amr had to be cleared of booby traps before they could enter the area. But activists reported that troops were carrying out reprisal attacks around the city, causing more death and violence at the expense of thousands of civilians. While the attacks continue to occur, the bodies of two foreign journalists who lost their lives for the sake of letting the world know what was happening on the ground left Syria and were headed to France. The bodies of Remi Ochlik and Marie Colvin were placed on an Air France flight from Damascus on the evening of Saturday 03 March 2012.

Rebels from the Free Syrian Army withdrew their forces from Baba Amr late last week, as the weeks of shelling from government forces made it increasingly difficult for the rebels to maintain their positions. The Syrian government gave the Red Cross permission to access Baba Amr but once the help actually arrived in the form of a convoy, the government refused to allow it to enter the city. BBC correspondent Jim Muir, reporting from Lebanon, stated that this is when the Red Cross decided to assist those who were lucky enough to flee Baba Amr. Muir also stated that the ICRC had dispatched a 15-man team to the Abil area, a southern part of Baba Amr.

ICRC spokesperson Hicham Hassan shared these words with Reuters about the developing situation.

“The plan is to continue to the neighborhoods of Inshaat and Tawzii in order to assist local populations and families displaced from Baba Amr. We really don’t know how many people are still in there. It’s all a bit of a mystery to us.”

The Syrian state television has been broadcasting pictures of deserted streets laden with debris, being careful not to display any strife on the part of civilians. There have been a multitude of unconfirmed reports of revenge killings and summary executions by Syrian forces in Baba Amr. Opposition activists believe that a government-wide cover up is responsible for the delay in bringing these reports to public attention. The reports detail mass arrests of males over the age of 11, with the local cooperative building being transformed into a detention facility.

Another report detailed that truck full of bodies was seen driving away from Baba Amr.

Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy, who fled Syria after being wounded while working in Homs, told the BBC that what he saw on the ground in Baba Amr classified as “systematic slaughter.”

“I’ve done a fair few wars, I’ve never seen anything on this level.”

Activists have reported that approximately 7,500 people have lost their lives since the demonstrations and protests against President Bashar al-Assad began almost a year ago. The government had repeatedly and staunchly blamed “terrorists and armed gangs” for the violence. Regardless of who the government chooses to throw the blame on, the people of Syria continue to pay a fatal toll as each day goes by.

The international community continues to debate the appropriate course of action and each day seems to bring a new idea to the table. The proposal by China and Turkey strictly rules out the use of foreign intervention, a theme that seems so necessary at this point but will not be used. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the lack of consensus among the international community has only emboldening the Syrian government to proceed with its crackdown. Davutoglu stated that the gravity of the killing closely resembles the bloodshed of the Balkans war of the 1990s.

He described the actions of al-Assad’s regime as “crimes against humanity.” And these crimes will only continue while the rest of the world watches and reports on the situation, instead formulating and agreeing on a plan to end it.

 

 

For more information, please see: 

Ahram – China Demands End To Violence As Syria Blocks Aid – 04 March 2012

Al-Jazeera – Syrian Forces Renew Assault On Homs – 04 March 2012

BBC – Syria Crisis: Red Cross Pushes For Baba Amr Access – 04 March 2012

CNN – Rockets Fall On Syrian City of Rastan, Opposition Activists Say – 04 March 2012

The Guardian – Syria: Red Cross Blocked Again From Baba Amr – 04 March 2012

NYT – Bearing Witness in Syria: A Correspondent’s Last Days – 03 March 2012

 

Amid Chaos and Violence, Syria Holds Vote For New Constitution For Its Citizens

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–As the crackdown against civilians continued across the nation, the Syrian government called its citizens to the polls on Sunday 26 February 2012 to vote on a new constitution. Although the new text of the constitution ends the legal basis for the five-decade stranglehold o power for the ruling Baath party, it still leaves the executive powers in the hands of President Bashar al-Assad. This is a tremendous problem for the situation and had already been criticized by the opposition.

Voters in Damascus submit their votes on Sunday 26 February. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

The opposition stated that the changes offered were entirely cosmetic and that only the removal of al-Assad from power will bring the desired changes. After 11 months of crackdowns, human rights groups have reported that more than 7,600 individuals have lost their lives, with more deaths occurring every day.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, on Saturday 25 February 2012, 98 individuals were killed and 72 of them were civilians.

On Sunday 26 February 2012, the polls opened at 7:00AM local time (5:00 GMT). Reports from the around Syria stated that more than 14 million people over the age of 18 eligible to vote appeared at the 13,835 polling stations.

Louay Safi, a leading member of the Syrian National Council, an opposition group, said that the new constitution would be fruitless in bringing about the desired change because it is being promulgated and offered by the current government. The same government that continues to violate its own laws in its ongoing efforts to crush the uprising.

“The major problem is that the government is violating the current constitution. What we fear is if the regime stays intact, the new constitution will be meaningless. So the real step to have a new constitution is to have a new or transitional government.”

In the capital of Damascus, opposition activists claimed that they would try to hold protests near polling stations and even burn copies of the new constitution. One activist named Omar shared these words with Al-Jazeera on Sunday February 26 2012.

“No one is going to vote. This was a constitution made to Bashar’s tastes and meanwhile we are getting shelled and killed. More than 40 people were killed today and you want us to vote in a referendum? No one is going to vote.”

Another activist, Waleed Fares, shared these words from the Khalidiyah district of Homs.

“What should we be voting for, whether to die by bombardment or bullets? This is the only choice we have.”

On the reverse angle, Adel Safar, the country’s prime minister, stated on Sunday 26 February 2012 that the opposition’s call for a boycott displayed a lack of interest in a substantive dialogue for change.

“If there was a genuine desire for reform, there would have been movement from all groups, especially the opposition to start dialogue immediately with the government to achieve the reforms and implement them on the ground.”

While the voting was underway, the violence did not take a break to visit the polls. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government forces shelled residential areas in Bab Amr for the 26th day in a row, claiming at least nine lives. The group stated that rebel soldiers had also killed at least four government troops in the city.

Al-Baath, the ruling party’s newspaper, stated in an editorial this week that the new constitution “does not represent a loss for the party and just keeps up with political and social evolution.” The new text does eliminate all references to Syrias as a social state. But Article 60 maintains the mandate that half of the deputies must be “workers and farmers.”

Al-Assad would remain in power under the new constitution, keeping several important responsibilities such as naming the prime minister and the ability to veto legislation. Another provision in the new constitution that has drawn negative attention in Article 3, which states that the president should be a Muslim and that “Islamic jurisprudence shall be a major source of legislation.”

Sunni Muslims makeup 75 percent of Syria’s population of 22 million, while the Alawite community accounts for another 12 percent. President al-Assad comes from the Alawite community and this further exacerbates his refusal to relinquish his power.

Article 88 of the new constitution also states that the president can be in office for two seven-year terms. But subsequent Article 155 states that these conditions would only take effect after the next election for the head of state, which is set for 2014. This would allow al-Assad to theoretically stay in power for another 16 years. This is unacceptable for the Syrian people and quite frankly, would be a nightmare for all of them.

Syrian specialist Thomas Pierret said stated that regardless of the proposed and debated changes, the type of government and political system in Syria does not matter in a country “dominated by the intelligence service.”

“Nothing indicates that this would change under the current regime.”

 

For more information, please see:

Ahram – Syria Puts New Constitution To Vote In Thick of Unrest – 26 February 2012

Al-Jazeera – Syria Holds Vote On New Constitution – 26 February 2012

BBC – Syria Votes On New Constitution Referendum Amid Unrest – 26 February 2012

CNN – Syria Says Referendum Results Coming Monday; Vote Punctuated By New Violence – 26 February 2012

The Guardian – Syria Votes On New Constitution As Shelling Of Homs Continues – 26 February 2012

NYT – Syria Offers A New Charter As Battles In Cities Continue – 26 February 2012

Reuters – Syria Referedum Goes Ahead Amid Military Onslaught – 26 February 2012

 

UN Panel Lists Syrian Officials to Investigate

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – On Thursday, 23 February, the United Nations (“U.N.”) panel announced it delivered a sealed list naming Syrian officials, including President Bashar Assad, whose actions may merit investigation by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to Geneva.  The U.N.-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria found the country “manifestly failed” to protect its citizens.

Homs has sustained its 20th straight day of shelling. (Photo Courtesy Al Jazeera).

The U.N. panel issued a report documenting reliable evidence exists to hold commanding officers and high-level government officials responsible for ordering security forces to commit crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations.  Since protests began in March 2011, security forces have killed approximately 8,000 people.  The U.N. Human Rights Council will meet in Geneva next week to review the panel’s report.

Brazilian professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, leader of this panel of experts, added the list includes armed opposition groups that committed gross abuses “not comparable in scale and organization with those carried out by the state.”

The U.N. panel relied on information from human rights activists and Syrian army defectors to compose the list because Syria denied the U.N. panel’s request to enter the country.  The government believed the panel exceeded the UN mandate and ignored official information.

The panel’s report asserts the ruling Baath Party’s National Security Bureau initiated the systematic arrest or killing of citizens by translating government policies into military operations.  The report also notes the country’s intelligence and security agencies “were at the heart of almost all operations.”  Furthermore, it describes how Shabbiha, informal pro-government militias, received funding and arms from businessmen.

Moreover, the report highlights the Syrian army and government ordered security forces to shell residential communities, kill unarmed women and children, and torture wounded protesters receiving hospital care.

The international community has sought avenues to support Syria’s citizens.  U.N. Secretary General recently expressed his desire for his humanitarian chief to negotiate access to Homs in Syria.  The U.N.’s top human rights official previously asked the International Criminal Court to review the situation in Syria.  This week the International Committee of the Red Cross requested a cease-fire in the worst affected areas to aid trapped and wounded victims.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague noted the European Union could tighten its sanctions against Syria further.  “It is a deeply frustrating situation that people have been dying in [the] thousands…that the Assad regime has continued to act seemingly with impunity – but I think we can agree to a wider set of measures across a large group of nations,” he said.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – UN Report Says Syria Committing War Crimes – 23 Feb 2012

BBC – UN Panel Draws Up Syria Crimes Against Humanity List – 23 Feb 2012

Haaretz – Assad, Top Syria Officials Could Face Crimes Against Humanity Charges, UN Report Says – 23 Feb 2012

San Francisco Chronicle – UN Panel Draws Up List of Syria Leaders To Probe – 23 Feb 2012

 

Syrian Officials Fall in Damascus and Physicians Become Targets, As The Protests Continue

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–In the northwest province of Idlib, several gunmen opened fire on a car carrying a senior Syrian state prosecutor and a judge, killing both of them and the driver. State news agency SANA reported that Idlib provincial state prosecutor Nidal Ghazal and Judge Mohammed Ziadeh were killed instantly in the attack. The deaths of these two Syrian officials are merely the latest casualties claimed by the perpetual chaos occurring in the country.

Protesters gather in the Mezze neighborhood of Damascus.(Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Earlier in the day, SANA reported that gunmen took the life of Jamal al-Bish, a member of the city council of the nearby northern city of Aleppo, which happens to be Syria’s largest. SANA stated that al-Bish was killed outside the city, a center of support for al-Assad that has been relatively quiet since the uprising began.

Syrian activists called for a “day of defiance” in Damascus on Sunday 19 February 2012 after security forces shot and killed a mourner at a funeral that turned into one of the largest anti-regime protests ever conducted in the capital. In a message to Damascus residents on their “Syrian Revolution 2001” FaceBook page, activists said: “The blood of martyrs exhorts you to disobedience,” after approximately 6,000 people have lost their lives since the demonstrations and protests began against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March 2011. Deeb Al-Dimashqi, a member of the Syrian Revolution Council based in the capital, claimed that Syrian forces clamped tight security around the city. He shared these words with the AFP.

“We expect huge demonstrations. There is a large security presence.”

A large security presence was seen all throughout Syria. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, security forces shot dead a woman when they stormed the town of Sukhna in the Homs province in an attempt to track down wanted activists. It also reported that a man was shot dead at a checkpoint in the northern province of Aleppo.

Opposition activists also reported that police and armed patrols fanned out in the Syrian capital’s Mezze district to prevent a repeat of protests against al-Assad that have threatened his grip on Damascus. On Sunday 19 February 2012, the body of young protester Samer al-Khatib was buried in Mezze early in the morning. Security forces maintained a heavy presence to try and prevent the funeral from turning into an anti-Assad demonstration, according to opposition activists contacted by Reuters.

Fifteen pick-up trucks carrying security police and armed pro-Assad armed men, known as “shabbiha,” surrounded the funeral as the funeral was quietly conducted. Police cars and militia jeeps patrolled Mezze while secret police agents spread out on foot, stopping civilians at random and checking their identification cards. Activist Moaz al-Shami shared these words with Al-Jazeera about the situation in Mezze.

“Walking in Mezze now carries the risk of arrest. The area is quiet and even the popular food shops in Sheikh Saad are empty.”

In addition to the crackdown on potential demonstrations and protests, opposition activists have offered more disturbing information: at least 295 doctors have been arrested. The activists are calling it a “fierce” campaign to shut down the work of physicians. In many situations, doctors have been overwhelmed with trying to treat the wounded and save lives without the proper medical supplies or equipment. The majority of them work in makeshift trauma clinics covertly, for fear of being shot.

A faction of Syrian doctors were in the United States this week to urge action that will allow critical medical attention to reach those in need of it. They claim that the regime’s interference amounts to a violation of the Geneva Conventions that is meant to protect victims of armed conflict. Dr. Monzer Yazji shared these words with reporters at the National Press Club in Washington.

“We lost last week two people carrying medicine. They killed them. Just carrying medicine inside.”

On the international community front, China has emerged as a leading play in the efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria and is one of al-Assad’s main backers. The Xinhua commentary shared these words with Al-Jazeera.

“China believes, as many others do, there is still hope that Syria crisis can be resolved through peaceful dialogue between the opposition and the government, contrary to some Western countries’ argument that time is running out for talks in Syria.”

Meanwhile, the West has ruled out any type of military intervention in Syria like what happened with Libya. British Foreign Minister William Hague supported this view with BBC on Sunday 19 February 2012.

“We cannot intervene in the way we did in Libya, we will do many other things. I am worried that Syria is going to slide into a civil war and that our powers to do something about it are very constrained because, as everyone has seen, we have not been able to pass a resolution at the UN Security Council because of Russian and Chinese opposition.”

Syria’s main opposition groups have rejected a newly drafted constitution that could end nearly five decades of single-party rule, and have urged voters to boycott a 26 February referendum on the charter. The opposition feels that until the requisite attention is given to its activists and civilians, there will not be a consensus. With doctors being targeted for trying to help wounded demonstrators and protesters, it seems that the chaos will continue until the proper attention is directed in the proper direction.

 

For more information, please see:

Ahram – Syrian Activists Call Mass Protests In Damascus – 19 February 2012

Al-Jazeera – Syrian Officials Killed as Protests Continue – 19 February 2012

CNN – Homs a ‘Bleeding Wound’ As Medical Aid Dire – 19 February 2012

The Guardian – Syrian Security Forces Increase Pressure on Damascus Protesters – 19 February 2012

NYT – Frustrated Protesters Fill The Streets in Syria’s Capital – 19 February 2012

Reuters – Syrian Security Forces Clamp Down on Damascus – 19 February 2012

 

 

As Syria Rejects Arab League Peace Plan, The Horror Continues

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–After Damascus rejected an Arab plan to send a peacekeeping force in a desperate attempt to quell the unrest, regime forces resumed their assault on the Syrian protest city of Homs on Monday 13 February 2012. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, just before sunrise, the military launched mortars into Baba Amr, a rebel stronghold in the central city, as forces swept through the southern province of Daraa, arresting dissidents. The Britain-based Observatory shared these words in a statement released to the AFP.

An activist stands in front of a destroyed building in Homs. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

“The neighborhood of Baba Amr has been subjected to sporadic sheeling since 5:00AM (03:00 GMT) by the Syrian army. Forces launched an assault and are arresting people in Basra Al-Sham after an explosion in Dael, in Daraa province. There were fierce clashes between defectors and the army which stormed Lajat and arrested the mothers of four dissidents.”

Activists and rights groups claim that al-Assad’s forces have killed at least 500 individuals in Homs since they began attacking the central city on 4 February 2012 with a barrage of tank shells, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades.

As the number of deaths continues to mount, the international community still is trying to find a way to end the violence in Syria. Yusuf Ahmed, Syria’s envoy in Cairo, said that the Arab League’s plan calling for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission to end Syria’s 11-month conflict “reflected the hysteria of these governments.” The European Union backed the Arab League’s plan but Russia came forward and said that the violence must end before any peacekeepers could be sent. Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said these words with BBC.

“We welcome these bold decisions and the strong and clear commitment and leadership that the Arab League is taking to resolve the crisis in Syria. The EU’s first goal is an immediate cessation of killings and therefore we are very supportive of any initiative that can help achieve this objective, including a stronger Arab presence on the ground in co-operation with the UN to achieve a ceasefire and the end of the violence. We renew our urgent calls on members of the Security Council to be constructive and act with responsibility at this crucial moment.”

The UN General Assembly started its own debate on the Syrian crisis. UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay, who has been very critical of the actions of al-Assad’s regime, is set to address the assembly in New York this week. The Arab League stated in a statement to the AFP that it was ending all diplomatic cooperation with Syria and promised to give “political and material support” to the opposition.

“We will open channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and offer full political and financial support, urging the opposition to unify its ranks. We also plan to ask the UN Security Council to issue a decision on the formation of a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force to oversee the implementation of a ceasefire.”

Burham Ghalioun, leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, welcome the moves as a “first step” towards the fall of the regime. As the military continued its destruction on Homs, refugees made their way across the border to Lebanon, hoping to escape the carnage. Abu Ibrahim, a resident of Homs, shared these words with the AFP. He made a point of bringing up his 10-year-old daughter, who has refused food since witnessing dead bodies in the streets of Homs.

“The army of Bashar al-Assad destroyed our homes. Before, we were bombarded by mortars or rocket-propelled grenades, but now they are using tanks and helicopters.”

The Syrian Aran Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross stated that their volunteers are “distributing food, medical supplies, blankes, and hygiene consumables to thousands of people in Homs.”

“The population, particularly the wounded and sick, are bearing the brunt of the violence.”

On Sunday 12 February 2012, Syrian state television showed an official funeral for the 28 people authorities say were killed two days earlier in twin car bombs in the northern city of Aleppo. The government still stands by its allegation that the blame for the attacks should be placed on foreign-backed “terrorists.” But the rebel Free Syrian Army had accused the regime of carrying out the bombings to divert attention away from its brutal offensives elsewhere.

Regardless of who is responsible for the attacks on Syrian civilians, the fact remains that deaths are still occurring every day without any sort of reason. The Arab League ended its observer mission last month, leaving the people of Syria at the complete mercy of al-Assad’s regime. Until countries such as Russia and China decide that it is acceptable to send help in, it does not appear that the violence will stop and civilians will continue to suffer as the international community stands on the sidelines. With al-Assad’s regime still calling the plays on the field in the form of bombings, there seems to be no chance for the violence against the people of Syria to cease.

 

For more information, please see:

Ahram – Syria Resumes Shelling After Rejecting Peace Force – 13 February 2012

Al-Jazeera – Russia ‘To Consider’ Syria Peacekeeping Plan – 13 February 2012

BBC –Syria Rejects New Arab League Peace Mission Proposal – 13 February 2012

The Guardian – Syria Rejects Arab League Call For Peacekeeping Mission – 13 February 2012

NYT –Rejecting Arab League Pressure, Syria Resumes Shelling, Reports Say – 13 February 2012

CNN – Arab League Proposes Peacekeeping Force, Support for Syrian Rebels – 12 February 2012

 

 

‘Homs Offensive’ Claims More Lives in Syria, As International Community Continually Debates Resolution

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

HOMS, Syria–One day after a UN Security Council resolution aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria was vetoed by China and Russia, the Syrian army has increased its attacks on opposition fighters in Homs. The Syrian Revolution General Commission, an opposition group, stated that 15 individuals were killed in Homs on Monday 06 February 2012 and at least three others were killed in Aleppo. Al-Jazeera received video from opposition activists that depicted apparent devastation caused by a military offensive in the Bab Amr neighborhood of Homs.

A wounded woman in Bab Amr with a bandage on her head.(Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

Activists and witnesses said the army had been shelling the neighborhood “indiscriminately” since the morning of Sunday 05 February 2012. Abu Abdo Alhomsy, an activist of a revolutionary council in Homs, shared these words with Al-Jazeera on Monday 06 February 2012 concerning the attacks.

“It is horrible right here. Rockets are falling. There are massive explosions that shook buildings. We don’t know really what to do. It’s a massive attack-a new massacre is happening here. Nobody can go out, we don’t know how many homes have been hit or how many people died.”

Danny Abdul Dayem, a resident of Homs, shared these words with Al-Jazeera concerning the shelling in Bab Amr. Video images have surfaced showing people who have been shot and hit by shrapnel, including children sustaining fatal injuries.

“It has been terrible. There is non-stop bombing with rockets, mortar bombs, and tank shells. There were more than 50 people injured in Bab Amr today. I saw with my own eyes kids with no legs, and a kid who lost his whole bottom jaw. It is terrible.”

Dayem also indicated that only one field hospital with four doctors was still operating in the city and that it was virtually impossible to get additional medication for anything short of a gunshot wound.

The Syrian state television has denied that there had been any such bombardment in the country. It stated that residents were setting fire to piles of rubbish on the roofs of their homes in an attempt to trick the world into believing that there was an attack. The phrase “terrorist gangs” was used to describe whom was responsible for the blown up buildings in Homs. The government has come out and said that it is fighting foreign-backed armed groups

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a London-based rights organization, army deserters in the northeast region of the country destroyed a military control post early on Monday 06 February 2012, killing three officers and capturing 19 soldiers. The fighting occurred in the village of Al Bara in the Edleb region and that none of the army deserters involved in the skirmish lost their lives.

The death toll in Syria rose to at least 88 people over the weekend, deemed one of the bloodiest since the demonstrations and protests against al-Assad’s regime began nearly 11 months ago. The chaos and turmoil in the country has claimed at least 6,000 lives total in Syria, according to various opposition groups.

The international community continues to react to the situation in Syria instead of taking a proactive approach. According to French authorities, The European Union (EU) is set to strengthen sanctions imposed on Syria in a bid to boost pressure on the government. Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, shared these words with BFMTV television on Sunday 05 February 2012.

“Europe will again harden sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime. We will try to increase this international pressure and there will come a time when the regime will have to realize that it is completely isolated and cannot continue.”

The United States closed its embassy in Syria and pulled out its remaining staff on Monday 06 February 2012, citing serious security concerns as al-Assad’s regime increased its crackdown, causing more bloodshed. The State Department released a statement containing the following on the decision to close the Syrian embassy.

“The United States has suspended operations of our embassy in Damascus as of 06 February. Ambassador Robert Ford and all American personnel have now departed the country. The recent surge in violence, including bombings in Damascus on 23 December and 06 January, has raised serious concerns that our embassy is not sufficiently protested from armed attack.”

With all of the attacks and death occurring the around the nation, it can only be extremely disheartening to Syrian civilians to see nations such as China and Russia veto a UN Security Council resolution and the US close its embassy. Regardless of what the “big-time” actors are doing, people are still suffering and dying on the ground. These are the same people that are continually at the mercy of al-Assad’s regime. It would seem that the only way for these people’s voices to be heard and acted on is the permanent absence of al-Assad’s regime. Much like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Moammar Gaddafi of Libya, the permanent absence of a multi-decade dictator is the only way for the demonstrations and protests to actually mean something for change.

 

For more information, please see: 

Ahram – US Closes Syria Embassy, Pulls Out All Staff – 06 February 2012

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/33861/World/Region/US-closes-Syria-embassy,-pulls-out-all-staff.aspx

Al-Jazeera – Syrian Army ‘Steps Up Homs Offensive’ – 06 February 2012

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/02/20122614732355122.html

BBC – Syria Crisis: Army Steps Up Homs Shelling – 06 February 2012

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16902819

CNN – US Closes Embassy As Fighting Rages In Syria – 06 February 2012

http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/06/world/meast/syria-unrest/index.html?hpt=imi_c1

The Guardian – Syrian Forces ‘Kill At Least 50’ In Homs Bombardment – 06 February 2012

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/06/syrian-forces-homs-bombardment

Reuters – Syria Bombards Homs; West Scrambles For New Strategy – 06 February 2012

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/06/us-syria-idUSTRE80S08620120206

Russian and Chinese Vetoes Prevent Passage of UN Resolution Condemning Syrian Violence

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — Russia and China voted against a draft resolution that would have condemned a crackdown on anti-government protests in Syria and called on Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, to step aside.

The United Nations Security Council (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera).

The countries, two of the United Nations Security Council’s permanent members, have veto power over resolutions put before the Council.

A statement from the Russian ambassador to the United Nations said the resolution, “sent an unbalanced signal to the Syrian parties” by not condemning violence on the part of the armed opposition to the same degree that it did for the Syrian government.

Internationally, the vetoes received tremendous criticism.  Qatar’s minister of state for foreign affairs said the vetoes sent “ a very bad signal to [President Bashar al-Assad] that there is a license to kill.” Other Western and Arab leaders echoed Qatar’s reaction.

Europe will strengthen sanctions imposed on Damascus in a bid to boost pressure on the regime, France said on Sunday. The United States has vowed to block funding and arms supplies to Syria.

“We will work to seek regional and national sanctions against Syria and strenghten the ones we have. They will be implemented to the fullest to dry up the sources of funding and the arms shipments that are keeping the regime’s war machine going,”  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday.

Despite these international efforts the opposition in Syria is now forced to attempt to stop the government crackdown by itself.

Colonel Riad al-Asaad, commander of the FSA, said that “there is no other road” except military action by his fighters to topple Assad.

Iran welcomed the vetoes from China and Russia, calling the sanctions “just.”

“The Security Council has become a tool for the West’s bullying … of other nations, and this time Russia and China stood up against it,” one of Iran’s top diplomat said.

The Syrian government also saw the vetoes as a victory, saying that the result should be an acceptance of the regime’s program for solving the evolving crisis.

The Tishreen, a state run newspaper, called the vetoes an incentive for Damascus to continue with its announced political reforms, which include drafting a new constitution, allowing the formation of new political parties, and holding parliamentary elections.

It further suggested that the international community support talks between the government and the opposition.

At the same time, it declared that the government would continue with its crackdown, saying it would “restore what the Syrians enjoyed for decades and what they are demanding today which is stability and security and confronting all forms of terrorism.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera —Qatar says UN veteos sent “bad signal” —  05 Feb. 2012

Al Jazeera — Veto power at the UN Security Council — 05 Feb. 2012

Huffington Post — Russia, China Veto Of Syria UN Resolution Sparks Outrage — 05 Feb. 2012

NPR — Syria Veto “Outrageous” Says UN Envoy Susan Rice — 05 Feb. 2012

Reuters — Clinton calls UN Syria vote a “travesty” — o5 Feb. 2012

 

 

 

 

As Arab League Vacates Syria, Civilians Continue To Pay The Toll

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–The Arab League suspended its mission in Syria on Saturday 28 January 2011, opening the door for more unabated violence in the country. The Syrian military has launched an offensive to regain control of the suburbs east of Damascus. Soldiers stormed neighborhoods and clashed with groups of army deserters in fighting that has caused civilians to bear the burden.

A Syrian army defector holds his rifle and independence flag in the Damascus suburb of Saqba.(Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Activist groups say that at least three civilians were killed on Sunday 29 January 2012 in the eastern region of Damascus. Six soldiers were also killed when a roadside bomb detonated near a bus line they were traveling on in the south of the capital. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 66 people, including 26 civilians, were killed across the country. The London-based right group reported that 26 soldiers, five other members of the security forces, nine army deserters were also among those killed as regime soldiers cracked down on protesters.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Anita McNaught spoke with activists in Al-Ghouta, approximately 10 kilometers from the city center of Damascus, and shared these sentiments. Al-Ghouta is historically known for being a hub of dissent against al-Assad’s regime and the crackdown appeared to deter any sort of mass-movement resembling what has occurred in Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

“People we’ve spoke to are too frightened to leave their homes, they’re locked themselves in.”

Dozens of amateur videos have surfaced from Al-Ghouta and Zamalka depicted tanks rolling into both cities. In the southern province of Deraa, there were reports that security forces had killed two students when they broke into a school in the town of Jasim.

The international community has come out with a strong response against the Arab League’s decision to end its observer mission in Syria. Considering the escalating violence, the Arab League said that the situation demands additional deployment of monitors and not their suspension. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, offered strong words of criticism against the Arab League’s decision to end the mission.

“We would like to know why they are treating such a useful instruments in this way. I would support an increased number of observers. We are surprised that after a decision was taken on prolonging the observers’ mission for another month, some countries, particularly Persian Gulf countries, recalled their observers from the mission.”

Since the Arab League ended its observer mission on Saturday 28 January 2012, allowing a spike in bloodshed to occur in the crackdowns on anti-regime protests. In the past four days alone, several hundred individuals have lost their lives. Jim Muir, reporting for the BCC in Lebnanon, stated that both the upsurge and suspension mean that even more attention to be put on the UN Security Council’s attempts this coming next to get a tough resolution on Syria.

The Syrian government expressed its own concern with the surprise and disagreement over the Arab League’s decision to end its observer mission. The Syrian Television gave the following statement concerning the exodus of the observers.

“Syria regrets and is surprised at the Arab decision to stop the work of its monitoring mission after it asked for a one-month extension of its work. This will have a negative impact and put pressure on the Security Council’s deliberations with the aim of calling for foreign intervention and encouraging armed groups to increase violence.”

Nabil Elaraby, the Arab League chief, headed to New York City on Sunday 29 January 2012, hoping to win support from the United Nations Security Council for a plan to end violence in Syria by asking President Bashar al-Assad to step down. He shared the following words with reporters in Cairo concerning his visit to New York City.

“We will hold several meetings with representative from members of the Security Council to obtain the council’s support and agreement to the Arab initiative.”

As the international community continues to debate the future of Syria, its people continue to suffer and perish under the current conditions. One activist in the town of Saqba discussed the deplorable conditions.

“They cut off the electricity. Petrol stations are empty and the army is preventing people from leaving to get fuel for generators or heating.”

In December 2011, the UN reported that more than 5,000 people had been killed since the demonstrations and protests began against the government of President al-Assad first began in March. On Tuesday 24 January 2012, Arab nations voted to extend the mission for another month. In less than a week, the Arab League has gone back on its decision to extend the mission.

The ban on international journalists that has been imposed for the last 10 months is already expected to extend its “authority” again. Journalists had been allowed in on short visas in recent weeks per partial fulfillment of Assad’s deal with the Arab League. But since the observers are departing, the agreement protecting the journalists seems to already be fading.

A western diplomat shared the following words with The Guardian concerning the absence of observers and the media in Syria.

“With no Arab observers and not much media presence left things could now get a lot worse. Any constraining hand has gone. It makes it all the more urgent to achieve something at the UN this week and that can’t be taken for granted.”

 

For more information, please see: 

Ahram – Syrian Forces Kill 33 In Attack On Rebel-Town Residents – 29 January 2012

Al-Jazeera – Syrian Army In Offensive Near Damascus – 29 January 2012

BBC – Syrian Army Moves To Wrest Damascus Suburbs From Rebels – 29 January 2012

CNN – Arab League Suspends Syria Mission Amid Violence – 29 January 2012

The Guardian – Syria Hurtling Towards A Bloodier Crisis – 29 January 2012

NYT – Sharp Rise In Violence Halts Monitoring By League In Syria – 28 January 2012


Arab League Struggles To Win Legitimacy in Syria

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–In the latest development coming out of Syria, the country has condemned a new Arab League initiative that calls on President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish his power by holding early elections and forming a “national unity government.” After a meeting of the 22-member body in Cairo, Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bi Jassim Al Thani, stated that the group came to a consensus on the political initiative that would hopefully result in the “peaceful departure of the Syrian regime.”

Arab League monitors, wearing orange vests, oversee the release of Syrian detainees as they leave Adra Prison near Damascus.(Photo Courtesy of BBC)

“After the establishment of the government of national unity, the Arab League will call on the international community to support this national unity government to fulfill its functions. We are looking into an Arab solution for this. We are not looking for a military intervention.”

The Arab League called for the government to begin a dialogue with the opposition within two weeks and for the new government to be formed within two months. The unity government should, within three months, prepare to elect a council that will write a new constitution and prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections.

The Syrian state television released the following statement from a government official, claiming that the resolution was part of a conspiracy against the Syrian people.

“Syria rejects the decisions taken which are outside an Arab working plan, and considers them an attack on its national sovereignty and a flagrant interference in internal affairs.”

In addition to a call for national unity, Al Thani announced that the Arab League’s observer mission in Syria would be extended for another month and the observers would be given additional equipment after Genera Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi of Sudan, the head of the monitoring mission, desired for his mandate to be bolstered.

On Sunday 22 January 2012, Saudi Arabi announced that it was pulling out of the Arab League’s 165-monitor mission in Syria because Damascus had broken several promises on peace initiatives. The decision to extend the mission for a month has been heavily criticized by several analysts and the Saudi decision to leave has cast the mission long-term future into serious doubt. Saudi Arabia is one of the key funders of the league’s projects.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo at the headquarters of the Arab League, shared these words about the situation.

“We understand that al-Dabi has said to the Syrian committees that the mission has not gained enough momentum yet to get a full judgment on it. He said that he needed more time with the added monitors that he’s received in recent weeks and the added geographical places in which the monitoring mission is now extended to see if this mission can in fact work.”

The Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC), an anti-regime activist group, claimed on Sunday 22 January 2012, that at least 840 Syrians have been killed since 23 December 2011, the date that the Arab League observers entered Syria. The SRGC also stated that the Arab League has failed to limit the bloodshed or successfully implement the Arab League Peace Plan.

While the Arab League continues to deliberate on how to deal with al-Assad’s regime, the violence did not wish to take a hiatus and deliberate as well. Activists reported that on Sunday 22 January 2012 battles between government troops and army defectors in Douma, a suburb of Damascus. Syria’s Local Coordination Committees reported that at least five individuals were killed.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby stated that the Syrian government has not complied with some parts of an Arab League agreement specifically aimed at ending a violent crackdown on demonstrators and protesters. el-Araby also stated that Syrian officials are treating the crisis as a security problem, noting that armed opposition factions controlling some areas make it increasingly difficult for observers to do their jobs. But he did state that overall, the presence of the monitors has resulted in improvements around the nation.

“The presence of the Arab monitors provided security to opposition parties, which held an increase in number of peaceful protests in areas where the monitors were present.”

But there has been a stark contrast regarding the presence of the Arab League monitors. Burham Ghailoun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), stated that the monitors have not seen the full extent of what is going on and thus, cannot adequately address the problems.

“The Arab monitors indicated that the regime did not follow protocol, did not release the detainees, did not remove all military tanks, did not allow press to travel freely, did not recognize even once the peaceful protests, and the massacre of Idlib yesterday is proof of that. The regime let down the Arab League, and Arab nations have the responsibility to respond.”

The UN has reported that more than 5,000 individuals have lost their lives since the anti-regime demonstrations and protests began in March 2011. Syria’s ban on international journalists remains in full effect, continuing to make it difficult to confirm and verify reports that occur around the nation.

If the Arab League wishes to save face and retain any sort of legitimacy, the ban on international journalists needs to be lifted and addressed as it continues to put plans together. The chances of things being hidden from the eyes of Arab League monitors can only decrease with the eyes and ears of experienced international journalists present.

 

For more information, please see: 

Al-Jazeera – Syria Rejects Arab League Transition Plan – 23 January 2012

BBC – Syria Unrest: Arab League Urges Assad To Reform – 23 January 2012

CNN – Arab League Calls For Unity Government In Syria – 23 January 2012

Ahram – Arabs Set To Extend Syria Mission, Rebels ‘Overrun Town’ – 22 January 2012

The Guardian – Saudi Arabia To Withdraw Arab League Monitors From Syria – 22 January 2012

NYT – Arab League Floats Ambitious New Peace Plan For Syria – 22 January 2012

Reuters – Arab League Proposes New Plan For Syria Transition – 22 January 2012

 

 

Syria Arrests American Without Reason

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria – On Friday, 20 January, the United States’ (“US”) State Department confirmed suspicions that Syrian officials arrested Abdelkader Chaar, a 22 year old U.S. citizen, from his home in Aleppo on 8 January.  Sam Chaar, Abdelkader’s uncle, stated Syrian officials have not disclosed why they arrested Chaar or identified the charges against his nephew.
22 year old Abdelkader Chaar arrested in Syria. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

Born in Syracuse, New York in 1989, the Chaar family moved to Aleppo, Syria when he was six years old.  Chaar currently attends medical school at Aleppo University.Chaar’s father has contacted the US Embassy in Damascus and New York Senator Charles Schumer.

The State Department has received notification of Mr. Chaar’s arrest.  Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the US State Department, said “We’ve been in contact with Syrian authorities and have requested confirmation of the arrest and requested consular access.”  Since the Chaar family did not sign a US Privacy Act waiver, Ms. Nuland did not provide more details about Chaar’s status.

Senator Schumer’s spokesperson Matt House added, “We have had multiple contacts with the State Department and are doing everything we can to find out the details of Mr. Chaar’s situation…We will continue to work with American and Syrian officials to assist in any way we can.”Syrian officials confirmed Chaar’s arrest in conjunction with Friday’s protests demanding the release of political detainees.  Opposition activist group Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported at least ten people died during Friday’s protests.

Furthermore, the Arab League has uged President Bashar al-Assad to free political detainees, remove tanks and weapons from cities, cease violence against citizens, and permit outsiders and international journalists to move freely throughout the country.

Syrians have held anti-government protests throughout the country since mid-March.  The United Nation (“UN”) stated over 5,000 people have died during the ten months of protests, but opposition groups in Syria estimate the clashes have led to over 6,000 deaths.

The United States has warned Americans to avoid travel in Syria and encouraged those traveling in the country to leave immediately before transport options evaporate.

Sam Chaar said his nephew plans to practice medicine in the US after he completes a six week rotation at the Cleveland Clinic that begins on February 11.

For further information, please see:
CNN – Official: American Arrested in Syria – 20 Jan 2012

Focus News – AFP: US Probes Reports Of US Citizen Arrested in Syria – 20 Jan 2012

The Post Standard – Liverpool Family Seeks Help For Nephew Reportedly Seized in Syria – 20 Jan 2012

YNN – Syracuse Native Detained In Syria? – 20 Jan 2012

In The Midst of Protests and Violence, Al-Assad Offers ‘Amnesty’ To Opposition

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–In the latest developments coming out of Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has officially offered amnesty to anyone accused of crimes in connection with demonstrations and protests that have occurred in the last 10 months of anti-regime unrest and ensuing violence. al-Assad has previously made similar statements on three previous occasions in May, June, and November of 2011.

Anti-regime individuals cheer for Arab League monitors in Zabadani. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

 

 

 

 

 

This time, al-Assad made the announcement on the official SANA news agency and broadcast on state television. According to the announcement, it would apply to army deserters who turned themselves in before the end of January, peaceful protesters, and those who handed in unlicensed weapons. The statement included the following segment.

“Amnesty is granted for crimes committed in the context of the events taking place since March 1, 2011, till the date of issuing the decree.”

Opposition groups did not respond immediately to the amnesty pledge, as this is the first time that al-Assad has made it since forces loyal to him have lost control of parts of Syria’s cities and towns.

Since the demonstrations and protests began in March 2011, SANA has reported that al-Assad has freed approximately 3,952 prisoners. The opposition claims that there are thousands more in Syrian prisons and said that 26 people had died on Sunday 15 January 2012, including a policeman and soldier killed by security forces for refusing to fire upon protesters. Among the individuals who lost their lives on Sunday 15 January 2011, five were factory workers killed when their bus was hit by a bomb in the northern province of Idlib.

In the past year, tens of thousands of people have been detained in the past year. The UN estimates that at least 5,000 people have been killed since initial peaceful protests against al-Assad’s regime turned violent. Many demonstrations and protests were met with brutal security crackdowns, which ignited an ongoing armed conflict that has seen both the military and the opposition orchestrate attacks.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon released a statement on Sunday 15 January 2012 concerning the ongoing situation in Syria.

“Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: Stop the violence. Stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end. The lessons of the past year are eloquent and clear. The winds of change will not cease to blow. The flame ignited in Tunisia will not be dimmed. Let us remember as well, none of these great changes began with a call for a regime change. First and foremost, people wanted dignity.”

Residents in the town of Zabadani, approximately 50 km (30 miles) northwest of Damascus, cheered as Arab League monitors visited their area. These residents, according to CNN, stated that their water and electricity had been cut off from the past three days and displayed fresh wounds from conflicts with pro-government forces.

When the monitors were ready to leave after their inspection of this designated area, many thousands of residents implored them to stay, stating that the attacks would resume once they had left. Many of the residents offered to show the monitors where Syria tanks were hidden in fields surrounding the city. al-Assad’s regime was required to pull its heavy weaponry out of the cities under the agreement that was signed with the Arab League in November 2011. But the residents of Zabadani claimed that the tanks were only absent when the Arab League monitors were present.

Fares Mohammed, a spokesman for the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, claimed that about 100 armored vehicles had surrounded the city for three days. Also, that the power and water were cut off, while the city faced sub-freezing temperatures. A member of the Free Syria Army, which is composed primarily of deserters who are siding with the opposition, stated that there were about 70 lightly armored fighters in Zabadani. He gave this statement to CNN, asking not to be named for security purposes.

“The situation is very bad. The siege is choking us, and even air is running out.”

Despite its large presence, the Arab League continues to struggle with its mission of holistically quelling the violence in Syria. The current delegation in the country has not stopped drawing fierce criticisms from both sides of the conflict and a general consensus exists that the mission has failed. However, there is also a general consensus that it is important to keep away intervention from outside of the Arab world, the same intervention in Libya that helped bring down Muammar Gaddafi.

Amr Moussa, who left the Arab League leader’s chair last year, showed support for a Qatari proposal to send Arab troops in Syria to deal with the violence. He shared these sentiments with a correspondent from The Guardian.

“This is a very important proposal. The Arab League should begin to study this possibility and begin consultations on this issue.”

The ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, shared these words with US news outlet CBS in his support of sending in Arab troops.

“For such a situation to stop the killing, some troops should go to stop the killing.”

It appears that the more al-Assad talks about making changes for his people, the more of them seem to suffer or be put at risk to suffer.

 

 

For more information, please see:

Ahram – Syrian President Grants General Amnesty – 15 January 2012

Al-Jazeera – Assad Offers ‘Amnesty’ For Opposition – 15 January 2012

BBC – Syria Crisis: Assad ‘Gives Amnesty For Uprising Crimes – 15 January 2012

CNN – Syria Toll Rises To 25; Monitors Cheered In Besieged Town – 15 January 2012

The Guardian – Syria Offers Second Amnesty to Anti-Regime Protesters – 15 January 2012

NYT – Fear of Civil War Mounts in Syria as Crisis Deepens – 14 January 2012

 

As the Arab League’s Mission In Syria Continues, One Monitor Quits and Labels It a ‘Farce’

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–In the midst of the Arab League’s mission to discover what exactly is happening inside Syria since the protests began, one monitor decided to call it quits after what he witnessed. Anwar Malek, an Algerian member of the monitoring team, has called the Arab League’s mission to the country a ‘farce.’

 

Arab League observers attend a mass prayer for individuals were killed during the violence. (Photo Courtesy of the AP)

Malek stated that he resigned due to what he saw and that the mission itself was falling apart. He also stated that security forces did not withdraw their tanks from the streets, but rather hid them and chose to redeploy them after the observers had gone. He shared these sentiments with an Al-Jazeera correspondent.

“What I saw was a humanitarian disaster. The regime is not just committing one war crime, but a series of crimes against its people. The snipers are everywhere shooting civilians. People are being kidnapped. Prisoners are being tortured and none were released. The mission was a farce and the observers have been fooled. The regime orchestrated it and fabricated most of what we saw to stop the Arab League from taking action against the regime.”

Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad addressed a rather large gathering of his followers and supports in the Syrian capital, Damascus. In his second speech in as many days, al-Assad stated again his accusations that the “homeland was reeling under the brunt of conspiracy.”

“You are standing against a desecration of our identity, and you are confirming your steadfastness and support for the armed forces, whose martyrs are falling every single day so you can live in safety.We will triumph over this conspiracy. It is dying; it’s the end of their plot.”

The United Nations has declared that more than 5,000 civilians have lost their lives since the protests began against al-Assad in March 2011. Conversely, al-Assad has declared that “terrorists” have killed some 2,000 members of his security forces.

A senior UN official informed the UN Security Council on Tuesday 10 January 2012 that Syria had accelerated its killing of pro-democracy demonstrators and protesters after the Arab League monitors had arrived. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, delivering the following statement concerning the increased death of civilians since the Arab League monitors began their observance.

“The under-secretary-general noted that in the days since the Arab League monitoring mission has been on the ground, an estimated additional 400 people have bee killed, an average of 40 a day, a rate much higher than was the case before their deployment. That is a clear indication that the government of Syria, rather than using the opportunity to end the violence and fulfill all of its commitments to the Arab League, is instead stepping up the violence. The Arab League has failed for six decades to take a position in the Arab interest.”

The Arab League condemned an attack on Monday 9 January 2012 in which 11 of its monitors were hurt by demonstrators and protesters in the province of Latakia. The monitors were upset, saying that Syria breached its obligation to protect them. al-Assad’s regime claimed that it was continuing to provide security for the observers and also condemned any act that would obstruct their mission’s work. The Arab League released the following statement concerning the attacks on its monitors.

“Failing to provide adequate protection in Latakia and other areas where the mission is deployed is considered a serious violation by the government of its commitments.”

Malek further expressed his disgust what the situation, stating that the government was not assisting the observers with their requests. He also stated that those who were supposedly freed and were shown on television, were actually people who had been randomly grabbed off the street.

“The regime didn’t meet any of our requests, in fact they were trying to deceive us and steer us away from what was really happening, towards insignificant events. The people were detained for four or five days in tough conditions and later released as if they had been real prisoners.”

“Around some of the buildings, there were even army officers in front of the building, while snipers were on the roof. Some on our team preferred to maintain good relations with the regime and denied that there were snipers. From time to time, we would see a person killed by a sniper. I have seen it with my own eyes. I could not shed my humanity in such situations and claim independence and objectivity.”

One can only wonder what the civilians on the ground are really going through if one of the Arab League’s monitors, sent to help their situation, felt so repulsed by what he saw that he had to resign. The civilians of Syria need all the attention that they can get so the violence against them ceases. But as long as the violence rages on, the voices for freedom will continue to be silenced.

 

 

For more information, please see: 

Ahram – UN Says Syria Killings Rise After Monitors Arrive – 11 January 2012

Al-Jazeera – Arab Observer Calls Syria Mission a ‘Farce’ – 11 January 2012

BBC – Ex-Arab League Monitor Labels Syria Mission a ‘Farce’ – 11 January 2012

CNN – Al-Assad Revs Up Pro-Regime Rally – 11 January 2012

The Guardian – Arab League Official Attacks Syria Mission as ‘Farce’ – 11 January 2012

Reuters – Arab Monitor Quits Syria Mission in Disgust – 11 January 2012


As Arab League Monitors Arrive in Syria, Mass Protests Continue

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–Arab League monitors have arrived in Syria to observe three key protest sites as the international community urges al-Assad’s regime to allow full access to the country. The observers must be able to adequately determine if the country is implementing a plan to end crackdowns on demonstrations and protests.

 

A Syrian protester in the city of Homs. (Photo Courtesy of Al-Jazeera)

The UN has stated that more than 14,000 people are in detention and estimated that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the government crackdown since anti-government demonstrations and protests began earlier this year in mid-March.

All of the detained demonstrators and protesters should be freed under a peace plan created by the Arab League.

Anti-government protests festered violence that continued on Wednesday 28 December 2011. Video shared by activists depicted the central city of Hama with gunshots being fired and black smoke rising above the city.

Dozens of men were seen marching through the streets, chanting and shouting, “Where are the Arab monitors?”

More violence was reported in the southern province of Deraa, where the Britian-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that army defectors killed at least four Syrian soldiers. The organization also reported that at least one person was killed in the city of Homs.

On Tuesday 27 December 2011, activists stated that Syrian police used tear gas to disperse an estimated 70,000 people who took to the streets of Homs as the monitors arrived. Some demonstrators were fired upon with live ammunition as they made their way to Sa’a square, and four were wounded, one of them critically.

Before joining the march on Al-Sa’a square, some tens of thousands of protesters staged a sit-in in the al-Khalidiyeh neighborhood, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. There were also demonstrations that took place in the Bab Dreib and Jub al-Jandalia districts of the country. On Monday 26 December 2011, at least 34 civilians were reportedly killed in Homs’ Baba Amro district. T

Mustafa al-Dabi, the head of the Arab League’s mission, stated on Wednesday 28 December 2011, that monitors would head to Hama and to Iblib, on Syria’s nortern border with Turkey. These two areas have endured intense fighting between security forces and fighters who support the protesters. al-Dabi shared these words with Al-Jazeera about the monitors’ arrival.

“Yesterday was quiet and there were no clashes. We did not see tanks but we did see some armored vehicles. There were some places where the situation was not good. But there wasn’t anything frightening, at least while we were there. But remember, this was only the first day and it will need investigation. We have 20 people who will be there for a long time.”

The Arab League plan endorsed by Syria on 2 November calls for the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt in violence against civilians, and the release of detainees. A Syrian security officer in Homs told Human Rights Watch (HRW), a US-based rights organization, that after the government signed the Arab League protocol authorizing the observer mission, between 400 and 500 prisoners were moved out of his facility to other places of detention, including a nearby missile factory in Zaidal. The official shared these words with HRW.

“The transfers happened in installments. Some detainees were moved to civilian jeeps and some in cargo trucks. My role was inside the prison, gathering the detainees and putting them in the cars. My orders from the prison director were to move the important detainees out.”

Other witnesses corroborated the official’s account. HRW spoke with a detainee who claimed that a transfer of other detainees took place from the Military Security detention facility in Homs on the night of 19 December.

“There were about 150 detainees. They took them out around 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning. These guys were in detention the longest. Not criminals, but people who worked with journalists, or were defectors, or involved in protests.”

HRW has accused al-Assad’s regime of hiding from the monitors hundreds of detainees held in its crackdown on dissent. HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson released a statement about the hiding of detainees.

“Syria’s subterfuge makes it essential for the Arab League to draw clear line regarding access to detainees, and be willing to speak out when those lines are crossed. Syrian authorities have transferred perhaps hundreds of detainees to off-limits military sites to hide them from Arab League monitors now in the country.”

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has urged Syria to give the monitors the maximum amount of freedom as they move throughout the country to complete their mission.

“We constantly work with the Syrian leadership calling on it to fully cooperate with observers from the Arab League and to create work conditions that are as comfortable and free as possible.”

The Local Coordination Committees in Syria stated that seven people had been killed so far on Wednesday 28 December 2011, four in Homs, two in Hama, and one in Aleppo.

The ban on international journalists in Syria continues to be in effect, making it increasingly difficult to independently verify casualty figures and other information.

 

 

For more information, please see:

Ahram – Observers to Deploy in More Syria Protest Hubs – 28 December 2011

Al-Jazeera – Arab Monitors in Syria Flashpoint Towns – 28 December 2011

BBC – Syria ‘Release 755 Detained During Unrest – 28 December 2011

Reuters – ‘Nothing Frightening’ Seen in Syria Protest Hotbed – 28 December 2011

The Guardian – Arab League Monitors Visit Homs – 27 December 2011

Human Rights Watch – Syria: Detainees Hidden From International Monitors – 27 December 2011