Tag Archives: conflict

Ceasefire, What Ceasefire?

The UN backed six-point ‘Annan Plan’ for Syria is ‘on track’, according to Ahmed Fawzi, a spokesman for Kofi Annan, despite the continuation of violence throughout a number of cities in Syria. Whilst it has been acknowledged that the signs of progress, and indeed cooperation from the Assad regime, have been rather small, there still seems to be an expectation that the Annan plan is the best possible option with which to go forward. At least for the time being.

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Tried and Tested

The ‘Friends of Syria’ Conference, based in Istanbul last week, finally yielded some movements towards a unified opposition to the Assad regime in nominally forming the Syrian National Council (SNC) – similar to that formed in Libya at the beginning of the Benghazi uprising last year. The move is a late one – in a conflict that has lasted over twelve months already there has been little success in providing a unified front in the conflict, and sectarian fissures have been prolific in creating a confused and haphazard attempt to overthrow the regime.

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In the Line Of Fire

On the 22nd of February this year, British newspaper journalism lost one of its most fearless and resolute reporters to the Syrian conflict. Marie Colvin, who had long spoken of the dangers of front line war reporting, was killed alongside a French journalist, Remi Ochlik, and was among several others who were severely wounded and remained trapped in the besieged district of Babr Amr, Homs. In the days, and now weeks, that have followed, there has been a lot of debate over the ethics of foreign journalists being present during such volatile circumstances, and unintentionally becoming the focus of the news rather than simply acting as a conduit through which events are reported. This debate was further fuelled as video messages were sent by the injured and surviving journalists, asking for a ceasefire to allow their removal from Babr amr district, and then as several members of the Syrian Free Army lost their lives in aiding the removal of the journalists to neighbouring Lebanon. Continue reading

With Impunity

When  the uprisings started in Syria, just over a year ago, the regime denied that any such movement had started to swell up amongst the ranks of the Syrian people. It was easy to see why they would be in denial; between Bashar Al Assad’s slow moving reforms, an attempt to placate a population so often restless under his father’s rule, and the unrelenting comprehensive system of torture employed against any dissidents, those who were not so enamoured with their leader were at least fearful of voicing their opinions against him.

The outside world, too, for a time believed that the uprisings were nothing more than a faded mirror image of what was happening in the rest of the Arab world – a few isolated groupings trying to seize the regional momentum to push personal agendas. For state leaders in the United States, the UK and across Europe, their involvement in Libya meant that accepting that the uprising was factional, regional, and minor fitted better with their strategic military capabilities – with active engagement in two conflicts, in Afghanistan and Libya, they were not able to, nor were they prepared to, stretch themselves any further than they already had. The result was that the international community, its eyes turned towards its interests in Libya and elsewhere, largely ignored the increasingly bloody violence that was smouldering in Syria’s cities and the outskirts of Damascus.

When it did finally wake up to the fact that the conflict in Syria was not only more serious than they had first anticipated, but that it was also fragmenting along sectarian lines, there was a timid showing from the Arab League who made statements against Assad, and sent observers to the country, before trying to persuade the United Nations Security Council to step in and take action. But even then only in the form of selective sanctions.

By this time thousands of Syrians – military personnel, civilians, men, women, children and the aged – had lost their lives through gun battles which would erupt spontaneously in a suburb of Damascus, in the centre of Homs or Hama or Daraa, or through the torture and imprisonment dealt out by the Mukhabarat (Assad’s Secret Police) by anyone who voiced disagreement with the regime – notably this also includes children from the age of ten.

The regime weren’t even trying particularly hard to cover up the fact that the violence was happening, noting that the deaths had occurred, but asserting that it was limited to the suppression of extremist Islamist rebels. Throughout this time, and right up until Libya found closure with the death of Muammar Gaddafi, it didn’t really matter what Assad said – no journalists were in the country and, again, no one was really listening.

Then, towards the end of last year and after Gaddafi’s death – recorded as so much of that conflict was by crude camera phone video – the world finally woke up to the fact that Syria’s internal conflict was spiralling out of control. As already highlighted above, the response was still tepid, but as action started to slow in Libya US, UK and French rhetoric in particular started to acquire the sharp tones of impatience with the slow moving international efforts. The Arab League’s insistence that the UN acted in this matter, possibly out of concern for the impact on their own domestic situations just as much as the civilians suffering the brutal force of Assad’s military outfits, was not enough to get the gears in motion – however – as they ground to a halt with Russian and Chinese spanners thrown into works.

Now, as it stands, the international community are toothless – sanctions without Russia (Syria’s chief source of weaponry) and China (where Syria acquires the majority of its imported non-military goods) are a waste of time, and a military solution in a region that is currently chaotic in some corners, petrified of revolution in others, and has Israel and Iran staring at each other over nuclear potential, is simply not viable without creating a perfect storm for widespread and enduring sectarian conflict. What is more, there is not even a truly identifiable opposition with which to negotiate, to recognise, or even to support – with many different factions battling each other as much as they are battling the military mechanisms of Assad’s regime. For this to change, and it must change soon, a number of things have to happen.

First, the anti government forces in Syria need to form a single viable council or leadership group that acts as an umbrella group for all the disparate groupings that currently fight in amongst each other as much as they fight regime forces. This will not be easy, and it must find common ground and a common idea of what comes after the regime, not simply a path to its downfall, to avoid the country falling into chaos if the Assad regime does fall. This will provide a diplomatic core for the opposition which will offer an alternative instrument of government for the international community to back and rally around, but it will also ensure that grievances by and against opposition troops are addressed.

Second, once this entity has been forged, Russia and China must recognise that it is important to make new ties with the new representative body – in a similar way the international community did with Libya’s NTC – and resist blocking any movement in the United Nations. If they do not, it may be that frustrated members start acting outside of the organisation and end up risking a polarising of more than just Syria’s domestic situation. Worse, however, is if they do not act without the United Nations, and stand back to let the situation unfold by itself. The violence and torture against Assad’s opponents has increased dramatically since the failed UN resolution was vetoed, and the longer the international community stands by the more Assad will feel he can act with impunity.

Being Irresolute

The rapid movement of the United Nations diplomacy machinery in response to the brutal suppression of protest movements in Libya, by Gaddafi loyalist forces, seemed to set a precedent in international diplomacy. Of course there were obvious restrictions to this, the permanent members of the Security Council will never be likely to take up action against Saudi Arabia, with its lion’s share of the world’s petroleum supplies, and, despite the growing protest movements amongst their own populations, Russia and China are protected from any Security Council resolutions by their veto as permanent members.

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The Exchange Rate

Gilad Shalit, the most high profile prisoner in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, will be released at some point over the next week. In exchange, 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, currently residing in Israeli prison cells, are to be released in stages with female prisoners – all 450 in Israeli custody – being given priority on the time scale. The huge number of prisoners given to the Palestinians, not all of which will be given leave to remain in Israel of the Palestinian Occupied Territories, signifies the growing importance to the Israeli government, and more particularly to Netanyahu, that the hostage situation involving Shalit should be resolved. Whilst it may seem absurd to some that so much is being put at stake to secure the life of one Israeli Soldier, the implications of his release, and the manner in which both sides conduct themselves through the remainder of the deal’s delivery, have hugely wide-scale implications.

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Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

After a month of focus around the North-Western regions of Libya, where the Liberation Forces have been slowly advancing from the West towards Tripoli, the fight seems to be erupting in the East again, in the oil-port of Brega. This advance on Brega by Gaddafi forces earlier this week was a surprise for two reasons: first, because the city lies so far to the East, and second, because it’s unusual these days to hear anything of Gaddafi’s troops advancing. Continue reading

Gaddafi Stepping Out?

Hearing that Gaddafi is considering leaving the country should be cause for great joy, particularly as it would spell the end for the horrific conflict he has pursued for months on end – much to the detriment of his own people. The problem is, however, it’s very difficult to believe anything that he – or any of his regime – say. After enduring copious fallacies regarding the involvement of Al Qaeda, the proliferation of hallucinogenic drugs, and the corrupting influence of the West on protesters, all that was left sure was that the man is a liar. When he announced that he had ceased the bombardment of Misrata whilst the shells were still flying, this was further confirmed. The only question remaining of Gaddafi and his many lies is whether he actually knows what is truth and what is fiction. He may very well intend on leaving Libya, but he most probably isn’t. If he can comprehend anything fully any more, he will understand that both inside and outside of Libya, he has very few friends left. There aren’t many places for his to run.


Playing a losing Game

The position of Israel has gained in strength immensely since its formation in 1948. It has increased its Jewish population with ethnically slanted immigration policies, consolidated its borders through regional wars waged disastrously by various Arab leaders, and it has gained the absolute backing of Western allies, despite its continued actions against the Palestinians. Slowly, but surely, it has also eroded opposition from within the region through the promulgation of international treaties, agreements, and trade pacts with the very dictators which had previously been sat at the other end of the battlefield.With these Arab leaders of old falling like dominoes, though, where does this leave the multitude of agreements between the Israeli government and their neighbouring counterparts? Continue reading

A Little History Repeating

In March I wrote about the deadly assault in 1982 on the Syrian town of Hama, a city which dared to square up to the might of Hafez Al-Assad and his powerful Ba’ath party, in which up to 40,000 people were estimated to have been killed. In 1982, though, there were no mobile phones or readily available internet access. The siege, with all its victims and bloody legacy, went virtually unnoticed by the international community, and unreported by the world’s press. It simply slipped into the realm of infamy, a tale whispered throughout the region as a parable, a warning to those who would challenge the autocratic and dictatorial leaders of their country. Over 15,000 of the city’s population have still not been accounted for, nearly 30 years later. Now, after months of conflagrations flaring up throughout many of the towns and cities in Syria, Hama has yet again become a focal point for the Assad regime as anti-government protests engulf the city.

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