As Annan meets with Assad.
Kofi Annan began negotiations in Syria on Monday in an effort to save his peace plan, while Russia, one of Syria’s allies, said the government should take most of the blame for the violence in Houla. The United Nations envoy will meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday, in a trip that was planned before the violent massacre took place on Friday. “I urge the government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully, and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process,” Annan said. Separately, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claimed that he has prepared military options for the crisis in Syria. Meanwhile Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, France, Britain, and Italy all announced Tuesday that they would expel all Syrian diplomats immediately, a move coordinated with the U.S.’s hardline action.
For backing insurgency.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad this week warned foreign states against trying to "sow chaos" in an apparent reference to Arab Gulf nations during remarks to a Russian TV channel. Gulf powers like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have argued that Syrian insurgents should be supplied with weapons, and Assad's government has repeatedly accused countries of backing a "terrorist" campaign. The warnings come as an increasingly shaky ceasefire continues to unravel, as protesters were attacked Thursday at Aleppo University in Syria's biggest city.
Opposition calls vote a sham.
Syria held elections Monday as violence continued in the country, where more than 9,000 people have died since a popular uprising began more than a year ago. The vote for seats in the country’s 250-seat Parliament was a sham, members of the opposition against President Bashar al-Assad said. A total of 7,195 candidates from seven political parties are competing for the seats. Bashar al-Haraki, a member opposition coalition the Syrian National Council, said the election was “a farce which can be added to the regime’s masquerade.” Political parties that opposed Assad’s ruling Baath Party were illegal until the adoption of a new Constitution three months ago.
In the past week, the poorly armed Free Syrian Army has set off bombs in urban areas as a way to compete with the Syrian government’s firepower. But the bombs have not merely killed and wounded soldiers but dozens of civilians, too. This, along with the rebel habit of summary executions, raises more troubling questions about their methods and their ideology. By Tobias Havmand.
The first armed rebels emerge shortly after crossing the borderline. Near the western Syria city of Qusayr, in a small house in the middle of an idyllic sunny orchard, the young men lounge on mattresses while drinking green mate tea. On the wall the group's weapons are hung up on a long, improvised hanger instead of jackets: variants of Kalashnikovs, pistols, an antiquated rifle, an equally mossy rocket launcher and a few modern, American-made M16 assault rifles.
Gianluigi Guerica, AFP / Getty Images
The boys are from the nearest village and have bought their weapons themselves. A Kalas costs about $2,000, usually bought from the same Syrian government soldiers they fight against. An M16 is somewhat more expensive, around $3,500, but available in abundance on the other side of the border in Lebanon.
The young people maintain that they are not an offensive army. "None of us have fought before, but our friends and families were arrested and killed, and so we bought the weapon and began to fight. Mostly protection, sometimes attacking, if we can see a weak point in Assad's army. But we can fight less than an hour, we are not strong enough,” one of them acknowledges. They claim that the fight is not sectarian in nature, and claim friendship with local Christians as evidence, showing off a grenade-grazed church as evidence of their mutual interest in getting rid of the Assad-government.
Damascus reportedly hurting from sanctions.
So much for the ceasefire. Despite the U.N. observer mission now in the country, the Syrian regime widened shelling to another town, according to activists. After a brief lull when the ceasefire went into effect, the Syrian Army has been increasing attacks. At least 26 people were reportedly killed on Monday. French foreign minister Alain Juppé said on Tuesday that the tough international sanctions imposed on Damascus have cut its financial resources in half—and Juppé said the "ruling clan" of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been damaged.
As U.N. monitors head to Damascus.
Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad continued to pound the city of Homs with artillery fire even as an advance team of United Nations monitors is set to arrive in the country. The U.N. Security Council approved the measure Saturday. Activists in the country said they saw spotter planes in the skies over Syria Sunday, but that shelling persisted as soon as the spotters were out of eyeshot. Syria has restricted access into the country for journalists and claims the continuing violence is the work of “terrorists.”
But doubts remain about its success.
A U.N.-brokered peace agreement appeared to hold Thursday after the government of Bashar al-Assad halted attacks on rebel forces ahead of the planned deadline. But the country’s defense ministry reserved the right to retaliate against “armed terrorist groups,” casting doubt on the agreement’s longer-term viability. By 6 a.m. Thursday, the cease-fire deadline, the government had not yet launched any attacks on rebels, a hopeful sign after shelling was in progress on in Homs and Damascus only hours before. Top rebel leaders said they plan to test the ceasfire with massive protests on Friday.
Free Syrian Army soldiers driven into Turkey by Bashar al-Assad’s military are sneaking back into their country despite the regime’s failure to honor a U.N. ceasefire, and say they will keep fighting even with few weapons and no concrete Western support.
Refugees in camps on the Turkish border were preparing to return home to bury the dead. They had packed their bags and planned their escape routes. All they needed was a signal to start their journey. But that signal never came. As news broke of a failed United Nations–sanctioned ceasefire, they realized their trip would have to wait.
Rebels of the Free Syrian Army take cover from shells fired by the government tanks which have advanced into Saraquib City, April 9 (John Cantlie / Getty Images)
A troop withdrawal had originally been set to begin at midnight Monday, and Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem claimed the government had removed military units from several provinces. But the violence continued in the Syrian city of Homs on Tuesday, part of a conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people in the past 13 months.
Despite reports from activists of violence.
The Syrian government said on Tuesday that it has begun to remove troops as the United Nations’ deadline for a ceasefire draws closer—but activists said 12 people had been killed by government forces early Tuesday. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said that the government had already withdrawn forces and Army units, although even Russia—one of Syria’s few allies left—said Bashar al-Assad’s government could have implemented the ceasefire better. The ceasefire, brokered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, is seen as the last hope to avoid an all-out civil war.
As Human Rights Watch says 100 executed in four months.
Hopes for a peace plan brokered by the United Nations through envoy Kofi Annan showed signs of crumbling, with the Syrian government making a failed demand that the rebels give a written guarantee of a ceasefire on the eve of the withdrawal deadline. Fifty-nine more people were reported killed in violence Sunday. Meanwhile, more than 100 people, the majority of them civilians, have been executed by Syrian troops over the past four months, said the international rights organization Human Rights Watch. And that number could be low, as the group only included cases backed up by witnesses. Reports of other executions of civilians were not uncommon in the country where troops have implemented draconian measures to put down a more-than-yearlong uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Despite Thursday’s ceasefire.
Despite agreeing to a ceasefire that would have gone into effect at 6 a.m. Thursday, Syrian government troops broadened an offensive against opposition fighters in three Damascus neighborhoods on Friday, with fierce fighting breaking out. There was hope last week when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to a brokered plan, which calls for his forces to pull out of towns by next Tuesday. But United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan told the General Assembly on Thursday that the ceasefire is now in jeopardy. “Clearly the violence is still continuing at alarming levels daily," he said. “Military operations have not stopped.”
One of its most violent campaigns yet.
Syrian forces launched what activists called one of its most violent assaults yet on a Damascus suburb Thursday, shelling residential areas with tanks. According to Mohammed Saeed, an activist based in the suburb, they used troops as human shields as they marched into the area’s main square. A British human rights group, one of the most trusted observers of the uprising, confirmed a major military action in Douma, though there were no reports of deaths. As the violence was reported, Syria claimed to withdraw troops as part of a U.N. peace plan championed by Kofi Annan, an assertion that could not be confirmed.
Though opposition says violence rages on.
A day after Syria reportedly agreed to an international peace plan, Assad is sticking to his word. If you trust government officials, that is. The official told the Associated Press that troops were pulling out from calm cities ahead of the April 10 deadline. Opposition in Damascus, however, denied the claims, saying that 20 were dead in a fresh round of violence. In more tense areas, troops are reportedly heading to the outskirts of the action. Assad has a long history of breaking promises when it comes to ceasefires.
Ceasefire by April 10.
Is this finally the end of violence in Syria? Kofi Annan has reportedly said that the nation—mainly President Bashar al-Assad—has agreed to a six-point peace plan. The plan specifies a U.N.-supervised ceasefire in which all soldiers and weapons will be removed from cities within 48 hours of an April 10 deadline. Last week Syria had approved of the plan, though there were no signs that Assad was going to follow through. As violence rages on in the nation, the U.N. reports that 9,000 have been killed in the last year.
Just weeks after a Russian and Chinese veto derailed UN sanctions against Damascus, a diplomatic solution to the year-long insurgency may be taking shape.
Istanbul—In the battlefield cities of Homs, Idlib and Deraa, Syria’s security forces have fought the rag-tag opposition army to a standstill. At the negotiating table, though, the opposition has gained the initiative. On Sunday, representatives of most of the main opposition groups met in Istanbul, Turkey, to agree on a united front to negotiate with Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. The West’s foreign ministers also attended the meeting in a major show of solidarity with the opposition.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martony joined foreign ministers from dozens of countries gathered to set conditions for a new Syria. (AP Photo )
Earlier this week both Russia, a long-time backer of the Assad regime, and the Arab League backed a peace plan thrashed out by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan that calls for a ceasefire followed by talks between Assad and his opponents. Most significant of all, al-Assad himself signaled that he was willing to go along with the Annan plan. Just weeks after a Russian and Chinese veto derailed U.N. sanctions against Damascus, a diplomatic solution to the year-long insurgency may be taking shape.
“If United Nations Security Council does not take on the responsibility, the international community will have no chance but to accept Syrians’ right to self-defense,” Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the opening of the Friends of Syria conference. But he also signaled that he viewed the Annan plan as an exit strategy for Assad, not a way for him to remain in power. “It is not possible for us to support any plan that would help a regime that oppresses its own people stay in power.”
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.