Syria’s main opposition coalition began a push Monday to form an interim government to provide services to people living in parts of the country now controlled by rebel forces.
The effort is the most serious yet by the forces opposing President Bashar Assad to establish a rival administration and bring together all the factions working to topple his government.
via Syria opposition pushes to form interim government – Yahoo! News.
A high-ranking Syrian general who once led a military intelligence office widely believed to be a torture site has defected from the army, he said Saturday, a day after the rebels’ top military commander again called for members of the armed forces to join the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, now entering its third year.
via Assad Issues a Worldwide Plea as a Top Syrian General Defects – NYTimes.com.
The U.S. announced this week that for the first time it will provide non-lethal aid to the Syrian rebels. One of the rebel leaders, Salim Idris, was a general in the army of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad until 10 months ago. That was when he defected. In a rare TV interview, Idris spoke to CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan in Turkey.
General Idris took command of the fighters in December. His safety is so precarious he does not sleep in the same place more than one night.
Margaret Brennan: You defected from Assad’s army?
Salim Idris: Yes.
Brennan: You’re fighting your friends right now. What is that like?
Idris: It is very sad. It is not so simple for us to fight against our friends and against our citizens because the army is destroying everything. It is not the army to defend the country. It is an army now to defend the killer, the murderer, Bashar (Assad).
Brennan: The U.S. says right now it’s giving food and medicine.
Brennan: What do you need?
Idris: What really we need is ammunition and I mean anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.
The rebels need those heavy weapons to fight Assad’s military — armed chiefly by Russia and Iran. The Obama administration fears those arms may end up in the hands of extremists. Idris also asked the U.S. for training to turn his fighters into a unified army and to protect against a chemical weapons attack that he thinks Assad may carry out.
via Syrian rebel leader: We need ammunition – CBS News.
The end is near for Assad:
The head of Syria’s military police has defected from the army and declared allegiance to the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Major General Abdelaziz Jassim al-Shalal was shown making a statement confirming his defection in a video broadcast on al-Arabiya TV late on Tuesday, saying he was joining “the people’s revolution”.
The defection came as a delegation of Syrian officials headed to Moscow on Wednesday to discuss proposals for ending the conflict following talks with the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus this week.
Wearing his uniform with a red insignia on the shoulder, Shalal spoke from a desk in a room in an undisclosed location. Some rebel sources said he had fled to Turkey. It was not clear when Shalal changed sides.
U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has always been about protesting oil interests. The welfare of the average Muslim or Arab matters very little to them. The fear of an Islamic state far outweighs the murderous acts of a dictator. This is the calculation that the Obama administration has made. We’ve seen it many times before:
We should grant American diplomacy under the stewardship of Secretary Hillary Clinton its due: It ran out the clock on the Syrians. There was always another “Friends of Syria” diplomatic gathering, another meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and always another test of pluralism and inclusiveness that the Syrian opposition had to meet before we deemed it worthy of our support. When Kofi Annan failed and called it quits, another United Nations envoy was dispatched, the Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.
Mission accomplished: The war in Syria never intruded on the U.S. presidential contest. Many months earlier, in August 2011, President Barack Obama had given up on the legend of Assad the reformer, and called on the Syrian ruler to abdicate. That declaration was the sum of U.S. policy. America had put itself on the side of good things in Syria, and no more needed to be done. “Complexity” was always the cover, and the pretext, for abdication.
[...]The political calculus had its own power: There was no constituency for a Syrian rescue. One would have thought that it is the burden of leaders to lead, to spell out to a skeptical, reluctant public what the stakes are in distant quarrels. But that is too much to ask for in this moment of American doubt and retrenchment.
Syria’s defected prime minister said Tuesday that Bashar Assad’s regime was near collapse and urged other political and military leaders to tip the scales and join the rebel side.
“The regime is on the verge of collapse morally and economically,” Riad Hijab told a news conference in his first public comments since leaving his post and fleeing to Jordan with his family last week. Hijab is the highest-ranking political figure to defect from Assad’s regime.
via Syria’s defected PM Riad Hijab says Assad regime on “verge of collapse” – CBS News.
It would be a mistake for the “rebels” in Syria to take on the pro-Assad forces directly. Whenever you are overpowered materially and in manpower history shows us guerrilla tactics are the way to go. Part of that strategy, which has had varying degrees of success against American troops, is the use of IEDs, ambushing, hit and run tactics. It’s not about territory but defeating and demoralizing the enemy. Drawback: such a strategy requires superior discipline and organization. It is unclear whether the freedom fighters in Syria have that kind of ability. But it can be developed. Let’s not forget the American Revolution was brought about by guerrilla tactics–with the help of foreign governments. The same will work in Syria:
A tense Aleppo braced for the gathering storm on Wednesday as both the Syrian government and the insurgents sped reinforcements to the city, Syria’s commercial capital, to battle over half a dozen neighborhoods where the rebel fighters attempted to assert control.
Sporadic skirmishes erupted throughout the day, with the rebels claiming to have attacked and burned down several police stations in those quarters. Government helicopters circled, residents said, peppering the embattled neighborhoods with machine-gun fire and an occasional rocket while ground troops periodically lobbed mortar shells.
There were no serious engagements reported. But all signs indicated one was looming. After withdrawing all visible security forces, even traffic police, for a day, Syrian Army troops brought in on trucks or buses suddenly deployed around the 13th-century citadel.
Thousands more were en route, according to rebel fighters and activists.
The stunning assassinations of several key Syrian leaders and the outbreak of serious combat in Damascus last week momentarily held out the possibility that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime will rapidly fall. Many hoped for a cascade of defections, a rise in popular demonstrations and a rebel surge to bring down the government.
Those hopes were exaggerated, fueled by a feverish rumor mill, psychological warfare and notoriously unreliable information coming out of Syria. While the regime has been shaken, its military capability stands as demonstrated by its bloody reassertion of control over Damascus. Along with the support of Russia, its determination to survive at any price could draw out the endgame.
via Preparing for Bashar al-Assad’s exit – CNN.com.
Fierce fighting is being reported in Syria’s two biggest cities. The street battles have left parts of Damascus and Allepo in ruins, and it’s forced thousands more civilians to flee the violence.
Until a few days ago, Syria`s two main cities – Damascus and Aleppo – had been bubbles of relative stability, but heavy fighting is now driving a flood over Syria`s borders, thousands of them fleeing to Turkey or here to Lebanon.
They`re seeking safety from a civil war that has finally come to their doorsteps.
via Syria’s biggest cities seeing fighting now – CBS News.
As one of the Sunni Muslim soldiers who form the bulk of the Syrian army, Lieutenant Adnan Suleibi kept being pushed to the front of units fighting in the rebellious city of Homs.Alawite personnel – members of the same minority sect as President Bashar al-Assad – remained in the rear. Alawites control the military through their domination of the officer corps and, crucially, direct the Soviet-style intelligence and secret police apparatus entrusted with preventing dissent.”The Sunnis are cannon fodder and morale has been sapped. There are 75 men left in my brigade out of 250. The rest were killed, injured or deserted,” said Suleibi, a slim 23-year-old in jeans and striped t-shirt.”As soon as the chance came, I made a run for it,” he said after crossing to the safety of Turkey last week with a comrade.They are among a new wave of Sunni defectors who have abandoned the military in recent weeks as the army, short of gung-ho infantry, relies more on heavy artillery to batter Sunni towns.
via Psychologically battered, Syrian soldiers abandon Assad – Yahoo! News.
Syrians recovered mutilated corpses and sifted through rubbish for body parts after death squads swept through anti-government districts near the capital Damascus, activists said.
Video shot by opponents of president Bashar al-Assad in the city of Douma, about 15 km north of Damascus, displayed gory scenes in homes they said had been overrun by pro-government “shabiha” paramilitary gangs, after army shelling over the weekend forced rebel fighters to retreat.
The state news agency SANA, reporting on a ministerial tour of Douma, painted a totally different picture which made no mention of killing or death.
via Syrian death squads leave grisly trail of destruction – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).
Turkey’s state-run news agency says nearly 300 Syrians have defected to Turkey, including 85 soldiers.
The Anadolu Agency says this happened Monday and that the 293 Syrians included a general and several other officers.
The report says it was one of the largest groups of Syrian army defectors to cross into Turkey at one time since the unrest began in Syria. Turkey is now home to more than 35,000 Syrian refugees.
via Report: 85 Syrian soldiers defect to Turkey – Yahoo! News.
At least the U.S. is doing something. Let’s hope it’s enough. The Russians and Chinese are arming the Syrian government. And their weapons are much more sophisticated. But addition to the arming the opposition, the U.S. and UN must continue putting pressure on the Assad regime. A no-fly zone along with a safe haven must be created. There is no hope of reaching a settlement with the Syrian government. They’ve slaughtered too many innocents. Assad must go. The danger is getting into direct confrontation with the Russians. But we must not turn our backs on innocent Syrians seeking to be free :
A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.
The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.
The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said. The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.
Source: NY Times
Sen. John McCain says the lack of U.S. aid to Syrian rebels is “shameful,” and that helping the opposition would be the biggest blow to Iran in 25 years.
The United States has refused to arm Syrian rebels in part to avoid a proxy fight with Iran and Russia, which back the Syrian government. The crisis in Syria is likely to come up when President Barack Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Mexico on Monday.
McCain tells NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that members of the Syrian opposition are being “killed and massacred and tortured and raped” and “the fact that Americans aren’t helping them is shameful.”
via McCain: Lack of US aid to Syrian rebels ‘shameful’ – Yahoo! News.
This would be shocking if it were not for the fact that U.S. foreign policy is amoral. It’s all about making money. Didn’t Eisenhower warn us about this?
The Pentagon on Tuesday defended plans to buy attack helicopters from a Russian arms firm for the Afghan government even though the same company has supplied weapons to Syria’s regime.
US senators have voiced dismay at the deal with Rosoboronexport, but defense officials said the contract with the firm was the only way to bolster Afghanistan’s fleet of Russian-made choppers.
“We’re not buying helicopters for the Syrian regime. We’re buying helicopters in support of the Afghan Air Force,” press secretary George Little told reporters.
Senator John Cornyn, in a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday, expressed outrage at the purchase of Mi-17 helicopters for Afghanistan from Rosoboronexport.
“I remain deeply troubled that the DoD (Department of Defense) would knowingly do business with a firm that has enabled mass atrocities in Syria.
“Such actions by Rosoboronexport warrant the renewal of US sanctions against it, not a billion-dollar DoD contract,” Cornyn wrote.
Why hasn’t the U.S. expelled the Syrian ambassador?
Canada will immediately expel the three remaining Syrian diplomats in Ottawa in response to a massacre in the town of Houla last week, Foreign Minister John Baird said on Tuesday.
Baird told Ottawa’s CFRA radio that the trio – a charge d’affaires and two other officials – had been told they were being kicked out. France and Germany have already announced they are expelling the Syrian envoys.
“Canada and our partners are speaking loudly, with one voice, in saying these Syrian representatives are not welcome in our countries while their masters in Damascus continue to perpetrate their heinous and murderous acts,” Baird said in a separate news release.