Syria – What now?

Imagine for a moment the plight of a Syrian refugee who, having fled his home after a raid from the local Shabiha – a paramilitary force loyal to President Bashar al Assad – now sits freezing in the snow on the Syrian-Turkish border. His only shelter is a plastic tent he shares with the remnants of his family who made the perilous dash to freedom with him. Consider the hushed silence that ensues when they learn of the unfolding situation in Mali: the international condemnation, the airstrikes and the forces on the ground. I don’t know the Arabic expletives that fly around the camp, but I can imagine their English translations. It’s a pretty safe bet that these refugees feel a little short changed considering the world’s response to events in Syria over the previous two years.

It’s a complex scenario. The ‘Arab spring’ took Arab watchers and government intelligence agencies by surprise. Who could have imagined the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit seller would trigger such an implausible series of events. After a little fence sitting to see which way the wind blew, the international community hopped off the fence and stood firmly behind the Tunisian and Egyptian rebellions.

Next came Libya and it wasn’t too long before French airstrikes halted the impending massacre in the eastern city of Benghazi. After a brutal ground offensive, the Libyan rebels, with great assistance from the West, triumphed over Gaddafi’s regime. The West’s airpower, the millions of dollars funneled by the CIA into training camps in the Zintan mountains and the covert Special Forces units acting as the eyes on the ground for coalition bombing runs, had the desired effect.

Of course there were vested interests, but Syrians could be forgiven for believing that the West supported the Arab spring, and by intervening in Libya, had given a symbolic thumbs up to the toppling of long-reigning dictators.

When the Syrians took to the streets the chants were for reform. There were no calls for regime change, no chants of “down with Assad”. Peaceful demonstration was the order of the day.

But, as in the case of Gaddafi, Assad’s reaction was swift and brutal. Troops opened fire and the slaughter commenced. The world’s television screens flickered to the mobile phone footage of citizens and activists caught up in the slaughter. All similarity with Libya ends there.

Why?

Syria is geographically challenged. It finds itself in the centre of a region rocked by war, instability and internal suppression for generations. Whereas Gaddafi had long since burned many of his bridges, Assad and the Syrian ruling elite still have powerful and obliging friends in Russia and Iran – Vladimir Putin and president Ahmadinejad

When I spoke with David Cameron last March on what, if anything, could be done in regards to Syria, we both concluded that Russia was the key. Putin not only supplied the Assad regime with its vast arsenals of weapons and munitions, but Syria also hosts Russia’s only naval base outside of the former Soviet Union. Russia stands to lose a lot if Syria falls. As a result, they have vetoed any attempts by the UN Security Council to pressurise or, more importantly, topple Assad.

Vladimir Putin’s greatest fear is possibly the key to his intransigence on the Syrian crisis. He understands only too well that the Arab spring could, very quickly, become a Russian spring. Russian elections must be viewed with a healthy dose of scepticism: the brutal and systematic repression of opposition parties and journalists is key to Putin’s hold on power. For Russia to back any UN sanctioned resolution that could lead to regime change in Syria, would be the equivalent to a turkey voting for Christmas. Putin has played a wise game, allowing street protests to take place only to pick off its organisers one-by- one afterwards. He has learned much from the Arab dictator’s mistakes.

Syria also had the misfortune to rebel during critical election years elsewhere in the world, most notably in America and France. Obama safely ducked out of the Libyan campaign after America’s early but short-lived commitment, handing over the reigns to European powers. It would have been electoral suicide to attempt any form of military or humanitarian intervention in Syria while he slugged it out with Romney at home. For a presidential candidate to commit to any action in Syria while trying to reassure the American populace that he was ‘bringing the boys back home’ from other parts of the world, was not an option. However, these considerations did not preclude the continued use of other modes of warfare, namely the president’s heavy reliance on drone strikes, which continued unabated during the electoral cycle. Drones are part of a perfectly ‘safe war’ when it comes to American lives and one that can be conducted out of sight of voters.

France – Syria’s former colonial master – was also struggling with election issues. Sarkozy was fighting to cling onto power and, in doing so, could not risk offering any practical, tangible assistance, which would have helped stop the slaughter in Syria.

And of course there was the Russian election. Not exactly one that caused the world to await the results with bated breath but, as mentioned earlier, one in which Russia had its own specific agenda when it came to Syria.

Assad has one last ace in his pack. The Iranians have no interest in seeing a Sunni majority seize power in such a strategically important country as Syria. Iran is in the business of building its strength and influence in the region, not watching it being nibbled away by the loss of an important ally. Consequently, Iran stepped up its efforts in Syria, both with advanced military hardware such as drones but also by placing boots on the ground. In areas in and around Homs, many eyewitnesses told me of Farsi-speaking officers dressed in Syrian uniforms, helping to conduct operations.

When it comes to intervention in foreign lands, Britain’s hands have been tied for many years, ever since Tony Blair committed to a war in Iraq and the search for the illusive weapons of mass destruction. The combined efforts of Tony Blair, John Scarlett and Alistair Campbell, resulted in the manufacture of a misleading document, which formed the basis for the war in Iraq that will taint British foreign policy for many years to come. To get involved in another foreign adventure, with a coalition government already starting to fray at the seams, makes any serious intervention in Syria out of the question.

The UN’s brainwave – to send in Kofi Annan – was as patronising to the Syrians as it was useless in its attempt to halt the bloodshed. Annan, whose reputation was already in question over corruption allegations, produced a peace plan that relied on the Syrian people laying down their weapons and trusting the very man who had ordered their slaughter in the first place. It provided cover for the international community to hide behind. “We can do nothing while Mr Annan is talking peace,” a common retort when governments were questioned on their apathetic approach to Syria. Eventually the penny dropped with poor Kofi and he was soon back home.

Nature abhors a vacuum, a scientific saying applicable to the Syrian conflict. Filling the vacuum created by worldwide inactivity, foreign fighters or jihadists soon arrived in the country. Let’s not rush to blame the Syrians here. Imagine if your hometown had been under siege for nearly two years and, despite your desperate pleas for help, no one came to your assistance. How would you then react if someone did eventually come to your aid, fought back against regime and offered you the first, viable, chance of seeing out the year alive? Personally, I think I would rather thank him than ask as to whether he was a moderate liberal, or Osama Bin Laden’s love child. If it meant the difference between life and death for my family, I would accept their contribution without question. Political and religious affiliations could be discussed at a much later date; staying alive would be my prefered option in such a scenario.

However, the arrival of foreign fighters in Syria gives rise to another excuse – we can’t arm the jihadists. But it’s now too late: they are there already, fully armed, and we are not.

Obama, meanwhile, has been busy with his crayon set, drawing red lines in the sand, rubbing them out as soon as they are crossed and then quickly redrawing another.

I spent hours at the height of the siege in Baba Amr, trying to explain to the shell-shocked residents why exactly there was no intervention on their behalf, why we did nothing whilst it was being played out in front of the world’s eyes. Maybe now it’s time someone went back and had a word with the freezing Syrian refugee in his plastic shelter and explained, exactly why we have sat on our hands and done little but talk for the last two years while the massacres continue. Oh, and while he is there, perhaps he could also explain why the Malians are doing okay thanks to an international intervention.

A word of advice to whoever goes to speak to this refugee: take a flask because it’s freezing out there and be careful not to trip over any red lines at night.

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Massacre about to occur in Jobar. Don’t say we had no warning

Just received this from a personal and trusted source

Personal note: This is a similar attack to what took place last year on besieged Baba Amr where Marie and Remi were also killed. During that time, March and April 2012, our village Jobar was stormed on land and people executed. Today, the same scenario of Baba Amr is repeated on Jobar that is held by the Free Syrian Army. So far confirmed personally, my fathers cousin Sa’da Al-Akraa and her disabled daughter Rajaa’ Al-Akraa have been executed. Sa’das elderly husband Abu Abdulhameed Al-Akraa and a couple of other men and women have been abducted, likely to be used as human shields to enter on land. We have lost touch with all family relations inside the village of Jobar, which lies right next to Baba Amr. Kafr Aya is an area housing thousands of displaced civilians from Baba Amr and Jobar and now has been shelled with a new massacre taking place. This is an urgent call for help, but little is expected to be done to save the remaining people besieged now.

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Syrian Revolution General Commission report:

Full-scale attack against Jobar, Sultaneyyeh, and Kufrayah village [southern part of Homs] – 20/1/2013
At least 17 martyred up until now – tens wounded by the continuous savage bombardment

The regime’s forces extensively bombarded the districts of Jobar, Sultaneyyeh, and Kufrayah village using MEG23s, rocket launchers, artillery, and mortars. The northern part of Homs is being subjected to the heaviest attacks yet, and these aforementioned 3 areas are the ones being mainly targeted as the regime’s forces attempt to invade the area, noting that Kufrayah and Jobar districts are packed with refugees and civilians. A massacre was committed in these few morning hours as 8 martyrs fell up until now and more than 80 civilians wounded, amongst them 30 in very critical conditions [most of them children and women]. The regime’s forces have also killed a woman named Sa’deh Al Akraa and her retarded daughter Raja’a on the outskirts of Jobar district; her husband, Abu Abdul Hameed Al Akraa, an elderly man, got kidnapped by the regime’s forces along with other men and was taken to an unknown location to the nearby orchards.

A plane similar to a civilian warplane flew on a very low altitude, noting that it has 4 engines and leaves no traces of smoke behind it.

Concerning the situation on ground, the regime’s forces are spread on Al Tahweeleh road in every 4 meters and they set up barriers, attempting to completely suffocate and surround the area in order to invade it. 3 tanks were stationed in front of the barrier near a school there, reinforced by a bus loaded with Shabiha (thugs) and an armoured Shilka (anti-aircraft vehicle). The regime’s forces have also spread in nearby Tal Al Shour area and snipers stationed themselves on the rooftops of high buildings, try to keep an eye on the soldiers on ground in order to protect them from any attack and observe the ground from above. 16 buses fully-loaded with shabiha (thugs) and regime’s forces parked on the junction of Al Nuqairah all the way to Baher Al Nujoom area. 2 pick-up cars carrying rocket launchers and 4 armoured vehicles loaded with arms and Shabiha (thugs) headed to Bab Amr district on Al Jeser road. 3 rocket launchers were also spotted near the water reservoir in Al Hadeedeh village, extensively bombarding the districts of Jobar and Al Sultaneyyeh and the village of Kufrayah.

The medical cadre, headed by Doctor Muhammad Al Muhammad, and the media office in the area, sent urgent SOS calls to the Arab and international community and to all human rights organizations to immediately condemn these attacks being waged by the regime and to pressure it to halt this savagery against innocent civilians. Do note that this attack is a repetition of a similar attack carried out against Bab Amr district in February last year; thus, there are true fears that the regime’s forces will renew these massacres by slaughtering civilians, noting that the area is packed with displaced civilians. The makeshift hospital’s ability to deal with all those severely wounded civilians is nearly impossible since it is small, does not bear with the severity of the injuries due to the lack of needed medical aid/equipment, and do not bear with the huge number of the casualties being rushed in.

SOS call sent by Dr. Muhammad Al Muhammad from the makeshift hospital inside Al Sultaneyyeh district:

“In the name of God we begin,
Tens of rocket and shells currently are hammering the districts of Jobar and Sultaneyyeh as a massive military campaign has been plotted by the regime’s forces, who have been planning for this since weeks whilst the eastern and western worlds and many of our own people have let us down. We are warning the world that massive massacres shall be committed against us in Jobar, Sultaneyyeh, and Kufrayah as there are up to 35,000 civilians and displaced civilians inside.
-Dr Muhammad Al Muhammad.

–Kufrayah village: massacre:

–Jobar: SOS calls from makeshift hospital:

http://youtu.be/mrrN4XYlISU (Dr Muhammad sending SOS calls)
http://youtu.be/aFeQhfMY6U0 (Dr Muhammad sending SOS calls)

–Jobar: bombardment:

http://youtu.be/XPFUNEX9Lpw (MEG bombardment)

–Kufrayah: bombardment:



Rose Alhomsi
Independent Syrian activist. Also working with:
The Syrian Revolution General Commission: http://www.srgcommission.org/
Homs Free Congregation – Homs news: https://www.facebook.com/Homs.Free.Congregation
Hand in Hand for Syria – Charity: http://www.handinhandforsyria.org.uk/
Syrian Martyrs Stories: http://syrian-martyrs.com
Skype: rose.freedom.2011
Email: rose.alhomsi@gmail.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/tweets4peace
Blog: http://rosealhomsi.wordpress.com