Doubles funding for opposition.
World powers stepped up their indictments of Syria today, meeting in Turkey for the Friends of Syria conference, where U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed to double America’s funding of the opposition to $25 million. “We cannot sit back and wait any longer,” Clinton warned. Meanwhile, Syrian rebels said their fighters are getting salaries. The opposition Syrian National Council said Sunday that wealthy Gulf Arab states will supply millions of dollars to them, and money will be given to soldiers who defect from the government’s army.
Will pull troops gradually.
The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad has declared "victory" over a year-long revolt, saying on Saturday that it will begin withdrawing the Army. This came after Assad agreed to a peace plan proposed by United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi claimed that the military remain in opposition cities "in a state of self-defense and protecting civilians" and will only gradually pull out "once peace and security is restored." Meanwhile, activists say fresh violence claimed more lives in the country.
'The deadline is now.'
United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan's spokesman said Friday that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must order a ceasefire without waiting for the opposition to make the first move. "The deadline is now," Ahmad Fawzi told a news briefing in Geneva. Assad has reportedly declared acceptance of the Annan peace plan, but it has not been popular with the opposition, since it does not hinge on Assad leaving office. There has been no let-up to the violence—especially in Homs—despite Assad's agreement.
Gives U.N.-Arab League envoy full support.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threw his full support behind the U.N.-Arab League’s mission for peace in Syria. “This may be the last chance for Syria to avoid a protracted and bloody civil war,” he told Annan Monday, insisting that Moscow would offer “full support at any level.” The former U.N. secretary-general has assembled a special envoy between the United Nations and the Arab League to end violence in Syria. Annan’s spokesperson also confirmed Monday that the Syrian government has responded to the plan, though no details on the response are available at this time.
Attempting to oust rebels.
Rebel-controlled neighborhoods in Homs were hit with shells by Syrian troops Monday in what looks like an effort to oust fighters from the third-largest Syrian city. According to various sources, somewhere between 5 and 10 people were killed in the Homs attacks. The Muslim Brotherhood declared its commitment to creating a “modern” democracy in the event that President Bashar al-Assad is ousted. The ousted organization represents Syria’s Sunni majority.
Citing security concerns.
Turkey brought a temporary suspension to its diplomatic activities in Syria Monday, closing its embassy in Damascus and recalling its ambassador. Turkish officials said concerns about security in a country wracked by internal conflict were the prime reasons for the closure. Diplomatic relations between Syria and its neighbor to the north have been strained in recent days, with the Turkish prime minister threatening to break ties with the country. Turkey has allowed refugees of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal yearlong crackdown to take shelter behind its borders.
As Annan seeks support from Russia.
Human Rights Watch accused Syrian security forces of using civilians as human shields, according to a new report released Sunday. The New York–based organization said the Syrian army and gunmen loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad forced civilians to march in front of them when they attacked rebels in the northern province of Idlib earlier this month. Meanwhile, United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan is in Moscow to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, hoping to secure support to end the violence. Russia is an ally of Syria and has repeatedly vetoed sanctions against Assad.
With weapons for the crackdown.
U.S. and European officials say Iran is providing broad assistance to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to put down opposition protests. Tehran is giving Assad's security forces electronic surveillance systems, technology to disrupt social media, drones, guns, and ammunitions a U.S. security official said. This as Syrian forces once again pounded the battered city of Homs on Saturday and tanks rolled into the northern town of Saraqib.
Travel ban and asset freeze for Assad's wife.
European Union foreign ministers on Friday slapped sanctions on the wife of Syria President Bashar al-Assad. Asma al-Assad is among 12 other close relatives and government ministers to be slapped with a travel ban and has had her assets frozen in a bid to stop the regime's violent crackdown on the opposition. Asma Assad, 36, was born in the United Kingdom and has British citizenship, so EU officials said she could probably still travel to England.
Police crush anniversary march in Damascus.
A car bomb rocked one of Syria’s largest cities, Aleppo, on Sunday as protesters gathered across the country to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the start of the uprising. At least three people were killed and 25 others wounded. The state-run Syria TV blamed the attack on “terrorists” and said the blast hit two buildings behind a post office, while the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bomb went off behind a security office. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad enjoys strong support in the city, as it does in the capital, Damascus, so it was rare that a march broke out there one year after protests began across the country. The opposition reported that security forces arrested and beat activists to crush the small demonstration of about 200 people.
U.N. says more than 8,000 killed since.
The Syrian opposition is marking the one-year anniversary of its uprising Sunday with mass protests in the capital, Damascus, and elsewhere. On March 18, 2011, thousands took to the streets in cities across Syria—the first nationwide demonstrations that many consider the beginning of the opposition against President Bashar al-Assad. Security forces killed protesters in the southern city of Daraa that day, characterizing the brutality with which the Assad regime has since answered the people’s demands. The United Nations says more than 8,000 people have been killed so far.
Activists accuse the regime of slaughtering 45 in Karm al-Zeitoun—and in a shift, state-run TV is acknowledging the civilian casualties, though blaming the rebels. Katie Paul reports on how Syrian society has come apart at the seams.
Monday morning brought grim news out of the embattled city of Homs. Activist Web pages filled up with grisly photos and videos showing the bodies of mutilated children and charred adults, one of whom appeared at least partially decapitated. In one video (warning: graphic), the bodies are shown gathered in a single room, as one young man sobs in the corner. The activists accused government-sponsored militiamen of slaughtering up to 45 people, including women and children, in the formerly rebel-held Karm al-Zeitoun. After using heavy shelling to push back the rebels, they said, the men entered late Sunday to carry out reprisal rapes and killings by hand.
Another, quite different, version of the carnage aired on state-run Syrian TV, though it also involved a massacre in Karm el-Zeitoun. One video showed a family killed inside their home, with a dead man on a couch surrounded by the bodies of women and children. In another, handcuffed men with no shoes lay outside a closed shop, executed. The state news agency didn’t say when the killings occurred or how many people perished, but did assign a motive to the “armed terrorist groups”: to “twist facts” and “elicit international stances against Syria.” It wasn’t clear if any of the bodies in the activists’ and Syrian regime’s videos were the same.
Aside from the utter brutality of the murders, the conflicting narratives on Karm al-Zeitoun are perhaps most notable because there are conflicting narratives at all. Though state-run news in Syria never misses an opportunity to take a potshot at those “armed terrorist groups” supposedly responsible for Syria’s ills, it rarely makes note of any activist claims of civilian casualties, instead simply omitting stories of civilian deaths altogether in favor of pieces on military funerals or diplomatic developments. In this case, however, both narratives agreed on one basic fact: something brutal happened in Karm al-Zeitoun on Sunday night, leaving yet more Syrian civilians dead.
That both narratives could contain some truth is perhaps not so surprising, given the account from Abdullah, 21, a resident of Karm al-Zeitoun who told his story in northern Lebanon two weeks ago, the day before he was about to head back into Homs as a new recruit with the Free Syrian Army. He described how his neighborhood, once half-Alawi and half-Sunni, had splintered along sectarian lines from the start of the uprising. As one of few such mixed communities, it is an extreme example of how society has come apart at its seams in Syria, in ways linking the local with the national, the corrupt with the sectarian, exploding into spasms of violence like those seen Sunday night.
After second round of talks with Assad.
No deal yet, but special United Nations envoy Kofi Annan said he was “optimistic” after meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad again Sunday in Damascus in hopes of getting the regime to end a yearlong brutal crackdown on the opposition. Although he was confident in an agreement, he acknowledged that “it’s going to be tough.” But fresh violence erupted once again across the country—at least nine people were killed Sunday as government forces shelled towns like Idlib, and fighting continued in Aleppo, Homs, and the Damascus countryside, opposition activists said.
In talks with Kofi Annan.
U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday in Damascus in an effort to get the Syrian regime to end its yearlong crackdown on dissidents. But Assad told Annan that dialogue with the opposition will not work when "armed terrorist groups" are operating. On the other end, the head of the opposition Syrian National Council has already turned down Annan's request for talks with Assad, similarly saying that negotiations with a "murderous" government are pointless. But a member of the opposition is due to meet Annan in the afternoon. Activists say at least 12 people were killed today as government forces continued attacks across the country, including in the northern province of Idlib.
While highest government official yet defects.
The United Nations humanitarian chief said on Wednesday that the Baba Amr district of Homs is deserted after the massive assault launched against its residents by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The neighborhood had been considered one of the birthplaces of the uprising against Assad, and activists said the government is trying to cover its atrocities there. Wednesday’s visit to Baba Amr by U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos is the first time an independent observer has been allowed into Syria since the monthlong crackdown on Baba Amr began. Meanwhile, the country’s deputy oil minister, Abdo Hussein, defected on Wednesday, according to a video posted by activists. In the video Hussein declared, “I join the revolution.” He is the highest-level government official to defect from Assad’s regime so far. U.S. officials said Wednesday that President Obama is weighing military action in Syria.
Former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab grabbed headlines at a press conference Tuesday, urging Syrians to rebel and claiming President Assad's regime is 'on the verge of collapse.'
Before jumping into Egypt or Syria, the U.S. needs to think about what comes next, next, and next. And then, don’t jump, writes Leslie H. Gelb.
A country at war with itself. Bombs and civilian massacres. Yet, in Damascus, the music plays on.
There is no sign of capitulation as the Syrian government’s bombardment of the city heads into its 20th day.