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of the Security Council—the U.S., Britain, China, France, and Russia—to veto actions by the 10 non-permanent members is outdated and threatens world peace.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.
Edith Bouvier may still be in Homs.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy retracted a claim from earlier Tuesday that French journalist Edith Bouvier had been smuggled out of Homs, Syria, where she had been trapped. Earlier, Sarkozy confirmed that opposition forces had smuggled Bouvier, who was injured last week in the bombardment that killed American reporter Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik, to safety in Lebanon. British photographer Paul Conroy was in fact rescued, but communication about Bouvier has left French authorities confused and uncertain about her safety. Bouvier appeared in a video posted on YouTube on Feb. 23, saying she needed an emergency operation.
Sitting in a hospital bed in Lebanon, a wounded Zakaria Moutlak, 26, talks about how he and two friends joined the rebels in Homs, what they endured, and what it cost them.
Unlike most of the jobless young men driving the Syrian uprising, Diaa al-Busti, 20, wanted for nothing. His family had money from years of working in Saudi Arabia. He’d trained to be an aircraft engineer. He had a car. Still, he became the unlikely powerhouse of the close-knit group of protest organizers in Homs, according to his partner in crime, 26-year-old Zakaria Moutlak. Together, they corralled demonstrators, made flags, and wrote graffiti on Homs’s walls. Busti was a relentless recruiter. He used to harangue any of the young men in Homs not participating in protests, recalled Moutlak. “He would tell them, ‘What are you afraid of?’” said Moutlak. “‘You could be killed or captured anytime in this country, randomly, for nothing. You only die once. Make it count.’” Each morning, he sent the other activists into fits of laughter as he reserved his first words of the day for cursing the president. He danced on the shoulders of other demonstrators. Determined to live without fear of the security forces, Busti never covered his face.
Zakaria Moutlak, 26, who was injured in Homs, in a hospital across the border in Tripolo=i, Lebanon. (Katie Paul)
Today, Moutlak sits in a hospital bed across the border in Tripoli, Lebanon, a bandage wrapped around the hole left by the 23mm antiaircraft bullet that ripped through his thigh. When I visited him, cigarette smoke filled the room as other men wounded in the rebellious enclaves of Homs and Quseir hobbled in and out, wearing scarves of the pre-Baathist Syrian flag knitted by old women from their neighborhoods. He arrived there 11 days ago, after he was injured the day before in a clash between his Farouq Brigade, the Free Syrian Army militia guarding Bab Amro, and the government forces trying to enter the neighborhood from next-door Inshaat. While some men in Bab Amro have taken up arms since the beginning of the revolution, the Free Syrian Army force there only began to coalesce, organize, and take concerted action there about two months ago, according to about a dozen young fighters interviewed for this article. From protest leaders in jeans and gelled hair to Kalashnikov-toting rebels comforting themselves with the discourse of martyrdom, Busti and Moutlak were a part of that trajectory.
After Moutlak was arrested for a month in May while trying to deliver food and medical supplies to Daraa, the two friends left for Saudi Arabia, trying to drum up support among expats and raise funds for those they’d left behind inside. But they grew tired of watching from afar. Along with a third friend from their Inshaat days, Danny Abdul Dayem, 22, they decided to convene in Lebanon, then sneak back into Homs together. “When we reached Bab Amro, we couldn’t have been happier, despite the death spreading around us, more and more,” recalled Moutlak. “The world felt so small. Bab Amro for us was the promised land, on the way to heaven.” Abduldayem joined the media team. Busti went straight into the Farouq Brigade. Moutlak started volunteering in the neighborhood’s field hospital. A week later, he decided to join the armed forces, too. “I couldn’t take it, seeing all those bodies—women, kids, blood, severed limbs—without doing anything,” he said. The officer in charge pushed back at first; he was only supposed to accept defectors, not civilian recruits. But two days later, Moutlak was trained and outfitted with his own Kalashnikov.
Including 64 fleeing embattled Homs.
On the day that the Syrian government said a referendum had been passed with nearly 90 percent approval from citizens, dozens of protesters were killed across the country, including 64 who were attempting to flee the embattled city of Homs. Opposition activists reported that 138 people had been killed, including the 64 in what was described as a “horrifying massacre” at a checkpoint outside Homs. The deaths vault the estimated death toll of the fighting in Syria over the last 12 months to more than 9,000. Ninety-eight people were said to have been killed in the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, where U.S. journalist Marie Colvin died last week.
On thousands of dissidents.
A 718-page digital document obtained by Mother Jones magazine appears to show that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has a hit list on thousands of dissidents. The spreadsheet contains names, phone numbers, neighborhoods, and the alleged activities of thousands of opposition members that are apparent targets of the government. Mother Jones says three experts were separately asked to examine the document, and all of them agree it is authentic. The document reportedly surfaced last month on Twitter during discussions about Syria.
Claims 89 percent support new constitution.
Really? That’s quite a landslide. The Syrian government claimed Monday that Sunday’s referendum on a new constitution passed with 89.4 percent support. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, citing the Interior Ministry, said the ballot drew 57.4 percent of eligible voters. This comes despite widespread criticism from opposition groups, who boycotted the vote, saying that the referendum was a complete sham. Meanwhile, at least 41 people died in the country Monday, according to Al Arabiya television, as government troops continued shelling the city of Homs.
As violence continues.
A referendum for change or a public sham? Syrian citizens head to the polls to cast a vote on the new constitution, touted by the government, that calls for parliamentary elections within three months. There are also provisions in constitution that suggest government permission is needed to form a party or conduct political activity. Attacks by government forces have reportedly killed dozens on Sunday. While some polling booths are empty, Syrian state television is showing video of overwhelming public support for the new constitution. Almost 100 people were killed on the eve of a national referendum on a new constitution, Syrian activists say, calling the vote a sham and promising a boycott. Almost half of the dead were in the city of Homs, which has been the target of a concentrated assault on opposition fighters for three weeks.
‘Friends of Syria’ stops short of arming opposition.
Residents of the Syrian city of Homs were despondent Saturday after an international coalition of leaders stopped short of providing military help to the rebels. “They [world leaders] are still giving opportunities to this man who is killing us and has already killed thousands of people,” said an activist named Husseni in the battered Homs district of Baba Amro. A group of more than 60 world leaders, calling themselves “Friends of Syria,” denounced President Bashar al-Assad on Friday after a meeting in Tunisia, and promised assistance presumably after Assad has stepped down. The Syrian Red Cross is continuing to evacuate Homs, the center of the uprising, with 27 wounded people being removed from the battered neighborhood of Baba Amro.
After Red Cross unable to evacuate.
The Red Cross was not able to rescue two Western journalists from Homs, despite being able to rescue seven people from Baba Amr. Edith Bouvier, a reporter with Le Figaro, and British photographer Paul Conroy, who works for the Sunday Times, were wounded when the Assad regime targeted a makeshift media center on Wednesday. They had asked for help leaving the city, but the Red Cross was unable to get to them and the two bodies of journalists killed in the fighting. Government forces said armed groups refused to turn over the reporters, but resistance activists said the journalists refused to leave the city. The Red Cross got to Homs on Friday and has tried to negotiate the evacuation of injured civilians, but has had difficulty navigating the hatred between Assad’s forces and the opposition.
Rescues wounded Syrian citizens.
Following U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s warning that Assad would “pay a heavy cost” if he continued to block aid, a mission to evacuate wounded people in the besieged city of Homs is at last underway. The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that the rescue mission began on Friday evening. Working with volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the ICRC staff members said they had negotiated evacuations of women and children with both government and rebel forces in the district of Baba Amr, a rebel stronghold in Homs. Though seven people have been taken to local hospitals, four Western journalists—two wounded and two who were killed in Homs—have not yet been evacuated.
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.