- US Secretary of State John Kerry, the (Syrian National Coalition chief) Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib and the Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi at a meeting of (Friends of the Syrian People) on February 28, 2013 in Rome.
Americans must accept their defeat in Syria, or...
By Ghaleb Kandil
U.S. President Barack Obama was quick to call his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin upon publication by the Russian ambassador to the Security Council a press release accusing the Rome Conference and its sponsor, the Secretary of State John Kerry, of being responsible for the the support for extremists and terrorists in Syria. It was agreed during the conversation to hold an urgent meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries to develop a new plan on the Syrian crisis.
Strong message to Russia underlies an even firmer one communicated recently by the Syrian leadership to Moscow. Syrian leaders had shown great flexibility and positive statements had increased since the speech of President Bashar al-Assad, January 7. In this speech, the head of the Syrian state had proposed a plan to end the crisis after consultations with Russia, China and Iran, which had previously talked with some components of the Syrian opposition. These organized a meeting in Geneva to choose the path of dialogue and reject terrorism and foreign intervention.
However, the latest U.S. measures, which consist of sending new shipments of weapons to the Syrian rebels and held conciliatory statements towards Syrian and regional extremists, are in contradiction with the recent widespread of a positive climate by Russian diplomacy. These positive aspects imposed by political and military on the field, had resulted in the removal of the condition for any dialogue consisting of the prior departure of President Assad.
The Syrian leadership measures American positions on the ground. Damascus knows that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, France, Great Britain and the Lebanese parties involved in Syria, are distributing roles among them. Syria knows that the command centers installed in Turkey under the direct supervision of American officers are more active than ever. Similarly, media centers operating in Dubai, Cairo and Beirut, continue their relentless campaign against Syria.
Syrian leaders test at these levels the true intentions of Americans, who are more belligerent than ever.
The first clause of President Assad’s plan on the mechanism of cessation of violence, based on the end of the funding, arming and training terrorists, is the entrance exam for the American intentions. The opportunity for a political solution given by Syria will not last long and the Syrian Arab Army will not give attackers more time.
Limit casualties among military and civilians is a priority of the Syrian leadership, which favored political solution to the crisis since the early stage. But if the United States decided to adopt a double standard, the army and the Syrian people are willing to pay the price it takes to destroy the enemies and impose a fait accompli the American decadent empire.
The head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, will inform his American counterpart that Washington must stop procrastinating and must pay the political and moral price to force his Arab, European and regional assistants, involved in the universal war against Syria, to stop their war.
Saad Hariri pushes Lebanon towards the fitna
By Pierre Khalaf
Whenever Lebanon overcome sectarian discord, the event is celebrated as a great national achievement. However, the periods between incidents is becoming shorter. The exacerbation of religious tensions, provocations campaigns and calls to arms are growing dangerously with political cover provided by parties who present themselves as "moderate", but which are at the origin of the emergence of extremist phenomena.
The mission to trigger the "fitna" was entrusted to Sheikh Ahmad al-Asir, whose statements are irresponsible acts, exceeding all red lines. But this religious fundamentalist is simply a platform invented and maintained by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. He created others across Lebanon, with one goal: to exacerbate sectarian tensions, undermine the authority of the state, discredit the army and tarnish the image of the Resistance. Sometimes these forums call for the withdrawal of the Army of Northern Lebanon, sometimes they require the opening of the airport Kléat to ensure supply lines of arms and equipment to extremists in Lebanon and Syria etc ...
The Future Movement has granted refuge, shelter and basic fallback to thousands of Syrian rebels and is counting on them in his military adventure in Lebanon.
Faced with these facts that everyone knows in Lebanon, political leaders are hesitating, because of the pressures exerted by Western ambassadors. While claiming to preserve Lebanon’s stability, these diplomats encourage Saad Hariri’s game against the Resistance. They hope that under threat of discord, Hezbollah will get back on its constants. But Westerners don’t know the determination of the resistance and the troublemakers in Lebanon misunderstand its real capacity.
HASSAN NASRALLAH, General secretary of Hezbollah
«Some parties are working day and night to cause strife in Lebanon and sectarian conflict. They want to provoke an armed conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. All facts on the ground prove it. Discord is not in the interest of Lebanon. We reject it and condemn it. We must not burn our country and thus make a gift to our enemies. Some members and sheikhs have adopted a vindictive discourse and want an escalation. They involve Hezbollah in any incident. First example: the death of Sheikh Abdelwahed in North Lebanon. Some have accused Hezbollah of killing him. Where is your proof? Why are we blamed? Another example: they accuse Hezbollah of obstructing justice in the case of Islamist detainees. Again, we do not have anything to do in this story. They also accuse us of killing General Wissam el-Hassan. We have also been accused of being involved in Ersal clashes. Again, where is your proof? What are you looking for? Some want certainly cause sectarian conflict. Shia families live for years in Sidon. Do we need today a permission to live in this city? We will not respond to your insults. We are all responsible for this country. The State must assume its responsibilities. We are for restraint, but do not make miscalculations with us. In Syria, it is the insurgents who attack the Lebanese residing in Syrian villages. In this region, the Lebanese residents, who are mostly Shia and some are members of Hezbollah, at no time controlled Sunni villages. What happened is the opposite. The armed opposition has taken over the last few months villages inhabited by Lebanese Shiites, have hunted and burned some of their homes. Displaced people have sought refuge in the Hermel region, while the rest of the inhabitants took up arms to defend themselves and protect their property, which is their right. What happened in the past few days, is a vast military offensive launched by hundreds of armed men to chase the residents of these villages. We must work towards reconciliation between the people of this region.»
MICHEL AOUN, Leader of the Free Patriotic Movement
«Let those who criticize the orthodox project go to Parliament and vote, then submit an appeal to the Constitutional Council which is the only body empowered to rule on the constitutionality of laws. The only acceptable project better than the Orthodox project is the proportional law with Lebanon turned into a single electoral district. If the Orthodox project is a blow to unity, this one provides a total unity, why refuse it? They are the children of the 1960 law and that is why they do not want another project.»
NOURI AL-MALIKI, Iraqi Prime minister
«If President Bashar al-Assad is overthrown, Syria will become a stronghold of Al-Qaeda, which will destabilize the Middle East. Lebanon and Iraq will then experience the civil war. »
➢ More than 50 demonstrators rallied early Sunday afternoon, after a French court postponed a hearing to discuss Abdallah’s parole Thursday, more than six weeks after he was due to be released.
Abdallah, 61, was due to be released on January 14 after serving 28 years in French prison over his alleged involvement in the 1984 killings an American military office and an Israeli diplomat. A court granted Abdallah parole on 21 November 2012 in a ruling that was upheld only days before his scheduled release. But France’s interior minister refused to sign Abdallah’s extradition order to repatriate him to Lebanon on the morning of his anticipated release, prompting accusations that France had capitulated to American and Israeli pressure.
“Freedom for Georges Abdallah,” the crowd chanted as Lebanese security forces stood guard, having blocked off a portion of Damascus Road to prevent demonstrators from moving closer towards the French mission.
Halfway through the protest, a makeshift wooden cage was wheeled in as part of a project by Lebanese-Palestinian artist Kassem Istanbouli to denounce Abdallah’s continued imprisonment. The hearing was pushed to March 20 and a decision regarding Abdallah’s case is expected to be announced the next day, although an organizer for the protest warned that another postponement was likely.
➢ Two Palestinians were hanged in Syria’s Yarmouk Saturday for alleged collaboration with the Syrian government, raising the specter of heightened violence in the embattled refugee camp. Rebels captured the two men and executed them in a square where government missiles had struck last month, according to sources in the camp. The two men were identified by a camp resident as Abu Salem and Abu Jaida. Witnesses said that the two men, shown in the photo to be bound by blankets, were so brutally beaten it was difficult to ascertain if they were still alive at the time of their hanging. Abu Salem’s pregnant wife died during the rocket attack he was accused of aiding the government with, according to camp residents.
➢ According to the daily Al Akhbar, a project to create a camp for Syrian refugees in Bekaa is under consideration. This camp should be built in the area of Faour in Central Bekaa on a land donated by a sheikh of the Faour tribe. This project is in contradiction with the agreements with the Lebanese government not to build camps that could become permanent.
➢ The Syrian daily Al Watan reported that the Syrian army has recently discovered weapons depots north of the city of Homs, near Talbissé, containing American-made M 47 Dragon antitank missiles and European ammunition. In addition, sources close to the terrorists said that Washington has promised to deliver to rebel armored vehicles, bulletproof vests and modern facilities that allow them to locate the positions of the Arab Syrian Army.
➢ A member of the UN force responsible for monitoring the cease-fire on the Israeli-Syrian Golan Heights is missing. "We can confirm that a member of staff is lacking and we are in contact with the parties involved to determine what happened," said Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the UN. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was deployed in 1974 following an agreement between Israeli and Syrian forces. The Israelis had occupied the Golan Heights during the Six Day War in 1967.
AS SAFIR (LEBANESE DAILY, CLOSE TO THE MAJORITY, MARCH 1, 2013)
After the latest clashes that took place in North Lebanon, the Lebanese and Syrian armed groups met in the town of Henayder, Akkar, to discuss ways to respond to attacks by the Syrian regular army. Fears of a major military reaction to amplify this region. But the clans refused to be dragged into a huge confrontation with the Syrian army.
AS SAFIR (FEBRUARY 27, 2013)
DENISE ATALLAH HADDAD
There are diplomats believing that elections will be held on time. Diplomatic sources say they are confident and ensure that the constitutional deadlines will be met, because Lebanon has no interest to postpone the elections. Therefore, these sources rely on the ability of the Lebanese to find a solution to the crisis that meets two requirements: a just law just and respecting deadlines.
AN NAHAR (LEBANESE DAILY, CLOSE TO MARCH-14 COALITION)
(MARCH 1, 2013)
After the withdrawal of his electoral project, Speaker Nabih Berry became a receiver. "Whoever has a better project is welcome," he said. It is no secret that Mr. Berry is unhappy with several components of the March-14 coalition and some of its allies in the March-8. He received a phone call yesterday from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who expressed his commitment during the conversation to "the need to organize the elections on schedule". Mr. Berry said: "Sheikh Saad Personally, I want the law first, but all want elections on time."
President of Parliament expressed concern about the security situation. "There are abductions, apparitions of armed men, insults against justice, the army and the security forces. What the government is waiting for to act? "
AN NAHAR ((FEBRUARY 28, 2013)
Is it possible that the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyeb Erdogan, the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are the real leaders on a daily basis of the popular revolution in Syria? It is quite appropriate to ask now: who are the personalities capable of effectively representing the opposition on the ground. Two years have passed since the beginning of the Syrian revolution without the emergence of a national political leader in Syria.
AL AKHBAR (LEBANESE DAILY, CLOSE TO THE MAJORITY, MARCH 2, 2013)
On the Syrian side of the Assi River Basin, there are 15 majority Lebanese villages and another 20 that are mixed. These towns have become a battle zone as opposition fighters attempt to seize control of the area.
It was not long ago that the media was buzzing with reports about battles between Hezbollah and opposition fighters in the villages of the Assi (Orontes) River Basin, where approximately 30,000 Lebanese citizens reside.
The area is a strategic point for the opposition as it tries to open up a route to Lebanon’s Wadi Khaled in the north, which has become an opposition support base, providing them with fighters and weapons. The Lebanese villages in Syria, the residents of which are a mix of Shia and Alawis are obstacles to their progress.
After the opposition al-Nosra Front and the Farouq Brigades managed to take control of several villages in the basin, the Lebanese villages began to organize themselves into armed Popular Committees.
The fighters of the Popular Committees are hardly the seasoned and well-trained fighters of Hezbollah, as the media portray them. Many are farmers and ordinary residents who have only recently taken up arms to protect their villages.
Hussein (borrowed name), a 22-year-old, is but one example. During the day, he works on his family’s farm tending to a modest herd of goats and sheep. After sunset, he goes home to pick up his Kalashnikov and put on a military vest.
Hussein is a typical member of the Popular Committees. He and 18-year-old Amjad (borrowed name) are tasked with nighttime guard duty, spending their evenings in a foxhole overlooking a field that separates them from the Syrian opposition fighters.
One Popular Committee official in the village of Hammam, where the media reported heavy fighting involving Hezbollah last week, explains that the attack on the village came after the Syrian army managed to route opposition fighters along the international road to the east, forcing them to flee toward Hammam.
He describes a recent battle where 300 opposition fighters attacked them using 14 heavy machine guns mounted on the back of pickup trucks. “We were able to repel them with 50 men,” he says, with a mix of exhaustion and confidence.
Fearing that the opposition fighters would commit a massacre in their village, they managed to kill 31 and injure 55 from the other side, while losing only three fighters from Hammam, according to Popular Committee sources.
How did this religiously diverse area reach this point? Residents of the nearby village of Aqrabieh – where Lebanese constitute 18 percent of the population – tell of the dozens of kidnappings and murders in the surrounding villages.
The worst case was the kidnapping of over 300 residents of the majority Christian village of Rableh during the apple picking season.
In the villages around Aqrabieh, the Popular Committees have started to merge with the newly formed National Defense Forces (NDF). The idea behind the NDF is to unite the various Popular Committees – which tend to be of one color in terms of religion or sect, depending on the village – into a single mixed formation in order to prevent sectarian divisions from becoming institutionalized in the area.
The NDF are organized along the same lines as the Syrian army, divided into groups of 30 that are then dispersed throughout the basin’s villages.
Rawad (borrowed name) is a new recruit to the NDF. Like many Syrian laborers in Lebanon, he was working in an aluminum workshop in Beirut, when he decided to drop everything to come here. “Say hello to Beirut for me,” he tells us, “I think I will die here.”
AL AKHBAR (MARCH 1, 2013)
The Syrian village of Ghassaniyah lies close to the western shore of Lake Qattinah, a few miles southwest of Homs. For decades, its population has been a mix of Syrians and Lebanese.
Geography and sectarianism have conspired to place it under siege by al-Nosra Front and the Farouq Brigade. Hundreds of locals – memories of the massacre in neighboring Haidariyah still fresh – have volunteered to defend it alongside the Syrian army.
The residents of Ghassaniyah have had no overland access for months. They use wooden fishing boats to get in and out of the village via the lake. Recently, they have built new aluminum boats to better ferry people and goods across the water to the village of Dibbeen, where a makeshift “port” was built.
Porters at the jetty unload crates of carrots and turnips from Ghassaniyah’s fields to be trucked to either the coast or Damascus. The boats sail back laden with returning villagers and various supplies, including those for the village’s defense.
The wind can be fierce on the lake, and since the boats are built by hand, some of them leak or get flooded by waves. A few days ago, two boats sank, and three passengers drowned. The lake can be as dangerous as Syria’s roads. Anything that moves on the water at night is a target for the Syrian army.
Battles and Loyalties Divide the Valley
For the people of this region, the world has been split in two by the Syrian conflict.
East of the Orontes River, between the town of Qusayr and the southern outskirts of Homs, armed opposition groups have taken over, even though the Syrian army still controls the main Homs-Damascus highway and a few villages in the area, including Ghassaniyah.
West of the river, the Syrian state still holds sway, though there are some opposition-held enclaves. The Syrian army’s retaking of the Baba Amr district of Homs was a curse for these villages. Armed opposition groups began eyeing them as a possible corridor to the Wadi Khaled district of northwestern Lebanon.
Whenever the Syrian army advances near Homs, the armed groups turn their attention to the Orontes Valley villages. A few weeks ago it ousted al-Nusra Front and the Farouq Brigade fighters from Jouber and Sultaniya. They attacked the villages of Hammam and Aqrabiyah, but were repelled by the local Popular Committees backed by Hezbollah and the Syrian army and suffered heavy casualties.
There is another reason for attacking these villages. Their inhabitants are Lebanese, most of them are Shia, and Hezbollah has a presence in them. The Syrian opposition can thus claim that Hezbollah is fighting against it. It attacks the villages, and if the locals resist, then it’s attributed to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah’s presence in the area, just as in Lebanese villages, is apparent. No Hezbollah fighters are visible, only those of the Popular Committees. But there are weather-faded portraits of Hassan Nasrallah and of Resistance martyrs of South Lebanon. Other more recent posters depict those who fell more recently in defense of the villages.
Similarly, every village in the area has its share of Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) supporters. It is an extension of Lebanon’s Hermel-Qasr district in almost every way.
The only difference between the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the Orontes Valley is the greenery. The Lebanese side is largely barren, while the Syrian side is lush. This is because farmers across the border, whether Lebanese or Syrian, are provided with fertilizer by the Syrian state, which also buys their produce. That may explain why manure is worth smuggling in from Syria, an activity that never ceases, even with battles raging.
Over the border, no voice rises above that of the war. Armed men in the Orontes Valley say that in addition to the foreign fighters, they know some of the people who have been attacking them. “We gave refuge to some of their families at the start of the crisis, and we haven’t forgotten that they gave refuge to our kin in the July 2006 war,” said one.
A young girl, whose family was expelled from their village by armed neighbors, now shares a small house with ten others. She said that she wants to be a fighter when she grows up. Who can dissuade her? The slow-paced rural life of the Orontes villages is punctuated by gun battles and forced expulsions.
Only Lake Qattinah sustains Ghassaniyah. At the Dibbeen “port,” on a headland near the village mosque, there is a look of exhaustion on the faces of passengers not yet accustomed to wartime life. But they cheerfully offer visitors gifts of locally grown carrots, reminding them: This is our land, and we will always remain here.
AL JOUMHOURIA (LEBANESE DAILY CLOSE TO MARCH-14)
MERLINE WEHBE (FEBRUARY 27, 2013)
Prisoners of Fatah al-Islam have put on the abaya of al-Nosra front, transforming the block B in Roumieh prison to a command center run by a secret committee of five sheikhs who never leave their cells. They issue fatwas, give orders to militant groups in North Lebanon, South Lebanon and the Bekaa. The investigation showed that their goal is to establish an Islamic emirate from Latakia, Syria, to Sidon, Lebanon.
Plans of the detainees were released after elements of the Free Syrian Army (SLA) were incarcerated in block B, assuming that they should be in harmony because they are all hostile to the Syrian regime. But one and a half month ago, the political and ideological differences between the two groups arose and turned into confrontation after the ASL had realized that al-Nosra is not fighting the Assad regime because it is oppressive but with the aim of creating an Islamic emirate. The investigation revealed that several groups of inmates are in constant contact in Roumieh prison, Kobbe of Tripoli, and Zahle. These groups, which coordinate their action, are headed by Abu Salim Taha, who recruited former Fatah al-Islam members on behalf of al-Nosra.
SUNDAY TIMES (BRITISH WEEKLY, MARCH 3, 2013)
Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad railed against Western “hypocrisy” in its approach to the Syrian crisis and called on Gulf Arab states to “stop financing terrorists” fighting to overthrow his government. Assad reiterated his willingness to engage in dialogue with certain opposition groups, but vowed to continue fighting armed rebels as the 23-month-long conflict shows no signs of abetting.
“We have opposition that are political entities, and we have armed terrorists,” he said. "We can engage in dialogue with the opposition but we cannot engage in dialogue with terrorists,” he added.
When asked about Britain’s role in the crisis, Assad said London had historically been “unconstructive” in the region with a “tradition of bullying and hegemony.”
He said: “How can we expect to ask Britain to play a role while it is determined to militarize the problem? ... We do not expect from an arsonist to be a firefighter.”
In the interview conducted last week, Assad criticized the United States for blocking a UN resolution condemning a massive explosion in Damascus on February 21 near the ruling party’s headquarters that killed dozens of civilians. To block the resolution was “beyond hypocrisy,” he said. “Beyond hypocrisy [is] when you preach about human rights and you go into Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and kill hundreds of thousands in illegal wars,” Assad continued. “Beyond hypocrisy is when you talk about democracy and your closest allies are the worst autocratic regimes in the world that belong to the medieval centuries.”
Regarding Israel’s air strike on a Syrian convoy in January, Assad said Syria will respond “in its own way,” without explaining in what form, or when the retaliation would take place. When asked about US Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to the region, Assad said he could help Syria by urging the leaders of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to quit interfering in the crisis. Assad said: “[Kerry] can do only one thing to help Syria. He can go to Turkey and sit with (Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan and tell to him stop smuggling terrorists into Syria, stop sending armaments, stop providing logistical support to those terrorists. He can go to Saudi Arabia and Qatar and tell them stop financing the terrorists in Syria.”
“Assad also denied speculation that soldiers from Lebanon’s Hezbollah were fighting alongside Syrian troops, saying that Syria is “in no need of foreign fighters to defend our country.”
New Orient News (Lebanon)