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.
But he cautions against military action.
As more violence was reported in Syria Tuesday, President Obama said the U.S. should work to isolate the country—and he said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will eventually fall. He dismissed attempts to liken Syria to Libya, saying, “The notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military, that hasn’t been true in the past, and it won’t be true now.” Assad has said he will continue to fight “terrorism” in his country, and forces loyal to him shelled towns held by rebel activists Tuesday.
By its own top official.
You know the situation is bad when one of the United Nations’ top officials blasts his own organization over inaction regarding Syria. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the U.N. General Assembly, told The Independent that the situation in the Middle East nation has deteriorated since Russia and China blocked two resolutions condemning Syria. “I am very upset because it sent the wrong message and people have suffered,” Nasser said. He said the system that permits any one of the five permanent members of the Security Council—the U.S., Britain, China, France, and Russia—to veto actions by the 10 non-permanent members is outdated and threatens world peace. Meanwhile, Syrian troops on Monday pursued further crackdowns in the besieged city of Homs and the southern city of Daraa.
After being blocked by government.
The Red Cross began handing out aid in the Syrian city of Homs Sunday after government troops had blocked access for days and prevented them from delivering supplies to besieged residents. Food and blankets were given to families who fled the neighborhood of Baba Amr and took shelter in nearby villages. People in Baba Amr had faced a humanitarian crisis as electricity, water, and communications have been cut off in cold temperatures, and food was running low. Some residents were killed when they ventured out to look for food.
As activists report executions by Syrian troops.
Syrian forces blocked a Red Cross convoy from entering Baba Amr, the besieged neighborhood in Homs, on Friday, despite having granted them approval to bring much-needed aid to the region 24 hours earlier. In a statement, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was "unacceptable" that aid was being denied and said convoys were staying put with the hope of entering "in the very near future." Meanwhile, activists said Syrian troops were searching houses and conducting execution-style killings. The rebel-run Free Syrian Army began withdrawal from Homs on Thursday, and the Syrian military had since declared the area "cleansed" of "foreign-backed armed groups of terrorists."
As regime vows to "cleanse."
Following a brutal month-long assault—and threats from the Syrian government that they would "cleanse" and "mop up" the city—rebels have fled from the opposition hub of Homs. Reuters reports that activists are calling it a "tactical withdrawal," brought on by a new show of force from the regime as well as a heavy snowfall that amplified the shortage of food and supplies for residents under seige. Meanwhile, the United Nations and the Arab League have opted to send in former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan to try to reach a peace agreement with Syria.
100,000 residents trapped.
Syrian government forces announced Wednesday that they are beginning a ground assault on the rebel-held Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, the city where violence against resisters has been most pronounced. The government vowed to "cleanse" the district within a few hours. Western journalists and 100,000 residents have been trapped in the area by three weeks of nearly ceaseless government shelling. British photographer Paul Conroy was smuggled out of the neighborhood yesterday, but two French journalists, including the injured Edith Bouvier, remain trapped.
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.