The Syrian Arab Army advances in Idleb, Homs and Daraa
By Pierre Khalaf
In Idleb, Homs and Daraa, the Syrian Arab Army regained the initiative, inflicting heavy losses to terrorists of Al-Qaeda and other groups created, funded, trained and armed by NATO, the United States and its Arab auxiliaries,.
The latest achievements of the Syrian army are from Saturday and Sunday, when she managed to break the six-month blockade around two military camps in the province of Idleb (northwest). "For the first time in months, the regime’s forces were able to break the siege of military camps and Wadi Deif and Hamdiya (near Maarat al-Nohman), after the army took the rebel side", announced the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), based in London and close to the opposition.
The army conducted a surprise attack at Babulin village and took control of two hills on one side of the Damascus-Aleppo international road, opening a supply route to the soldiers who were in the camps. Trucks carrying soldiers, equipment and weapons were able to enter the military camps for the first time in six months. The SOHR speaks of 21 dead in the ranks of the terrorists, but the losses are much heavier, according to informed sources. Dozens of insurgents were killed in their trenches, and many were taken prisoner. Only a few have managed to escape, leaving behind weapons, ammunition and sophisticated communication provided by NATO and its auxiliaries.
On the southern front, the Syrian army launched a counter-strike in the region of Daraa, pushing the terrorists arrived from Jordan away from the localities of Sanamein and Ghabagheb. The army massed important troops in preparation for a major offensive. The purpose of the military is to regain control of the border with Jordan.
The news from Damascus indicate a turnaround. According to information, the Syrian army has surprised its enemies by launching a series of raids in the countryside of Damascus and a broad attack on the borders of the eastern Ghouta. The results of these attacks by the Syrian army means that the rebel attack against the capital has become difficult.
Significant success has been achieved in Daraya, which was almost completely liberated and near the area of Al Sayeda Zeinab (southwest of Damascus). Some progress has also been recorded in Maadamiya. But the new development took place in the eastern Ghouta. A few days ago, the Syrian army has managed to break the blockade for months around one of its battalions in Adra. Syrian officials say the operation was a "light and fast attack" and had "brilliant" results. The most significant action of the army took place from Damascus airport towards the town of Oteiba (31 kms east of the capital). Many terrorists have been killed and injured in this operation which enabled the army to encircle the eastern Ghouta after isolated Oteiba, where the rebel headquarters for Damascus is located in, including al-Nosra Front and The islam Brigade. This blockade cut the supply lines that reached the rebels in neighboring regions in Damascus, including Jobar, allowing the army to advance in this area.
Terrorists bombed Lebanon
In Homs, the army launched a major offensive in the countryside of the province, taking the strategic hill of Mando, near Qoussair, and tightening the noose on this city, located 12 kilometers from the Lebanese border.
For revenge and diversion, the terrorists shelled border villages in eastern Lebanon, killing two children. The child Ali Hassan al-Qataya died in the early afternoon after the fall of shells fired on the village of el-Qasr (Hermel, Bekaa). Four people from the same village were injured. In Hawch el-Sayyed village, near the Lebanese-Syrian border, rockets fell, injuring two, including a 13-year-old who died from his injuries. A rocket also landed near the town of Khrab el-Batm on the road leading to the village of Kwakh, causing no casualties, according to the same source.
The defeats inflicted on terrorist came just days after al-Nosfa Front had pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader. "We, Al-Nosra Front, swear allegiance to Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri," said al-Nosra leader, Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, in an audiotape broadcast on extremist forums message. Few days earlier, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had announced that it was "time to proclaim to the Levantine and to the world that al-Nosra is actually a branch of the Islamic State of Iraq. "Both groups, he added, are now united under the name Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
In the message, al-Baghdadi is willing to join forces with other jihadist groups "on condition that the country (Syria) and citizens are governed by the precepts dictated by Allah." "The ’democracy’ should not be the reward after the death of thousands of you," still launches al-Baghdadi.
The al-Baghdadi message comes two days after Ayman al-Zawahiri called for an Islamic state in Syria, in a sound message posted on Islamist websites.
SALMANE BEN ABDEL AZIZ, Crown prince of Saudi Arabia
«Saudi Arabia hopes to see the appointment of Mr. Tammam Salam contributes to stability and prosperity in Lebanon. The kingdom is determined to develop its special relationship with Lebanon.»
SAMIR GEAGEA, Lebanese Forces leader (March-14)
«The formation of a political cabinet would require months, while only two months separate us from the elections. March 8 calls for a political government in order to find a pretext for a possible postponement of the elections, while our commitment to respect the election date is serious. It is wrong to think that the movement of Lebanese players does not affect the course of events. If the Lebanese parties had agreed to implement the Taif agreement correctly, they would have countered the emergence of Hezbollah.»
NICOLAS SEHANOUI, Lebanese caretaker Telecommunications Minister
«We will not allow anyone to take the ministries managed by the FPM and we will not allow anyone to rob the Lebanese people’s fortune which we brought to these ministries. The Telecom Ministry was able to achieve a great change in the telecom sector since it has become abreast with 21st century technology after the renewal of the country’s communication networks, putting Lebanon back on the international telecom map.»
ALINE GEMAYEL, Kataeb Party leader
«We are receiving cries of distress from residents of Mount Lebanon where refugees have become a problem. Refugees now constitute 10% of Lebanon’s population. We are for building of refugee camps as soon as possible. However, on the border, not inside Lebanese territory. We were requesting the formation of a salvation cabinet because of the refugee issue and the kidnappings, [among others]. We wish for the government to be formed as soon as possible.»
ALI ABDEL KARIM ALI, Syrian Ambassador in Lebanon
«The attacks are carried out from Lebanon to Syria and not the opposite. They are conducted daily by armed elements who operate from Lebanese territory. Every day, armed elements seep across the border and commit assault. Armed elements were killed inside the Syrian territory and the border itself, and this is not a secret. There are agreements that govern the relations between our two countries. Lebanon must have a firmer stand in the interest of both countries.»
LAURA CONNELLY, American Ambassador in Lebanon
«The democratic process in Lebanon is a very valuable achievement, which serves as an example for the region, especially in this period of democratic change in the Middle East. I sent to the Head of State’s assessment of the United States for extraordinary efforts to comply with legal and constitutional framework of Lebanon and hold elections on time. The Lebanese people deserve a government that reflects their aspirations and strengthens the stability of Lebanon, its sovereignty and independence, while respecting its international commitments.»
Clashes with heavy weapons took place late last week around Qoussaya (Bekaa) between elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)
According to Al Akhbar, a UNIFIL helicopter broke early last week airspace area south of the Litani River in the direction of West Bekaa, without prior coordination with the Lebanese Army, in violation of the resolution 1701. The UNIFIL command called for a "technical error" but the command of military intelligence in the South began an investigation.
The Russian Defense Ministry has initiated the formation of a permanent Mediterranean naval force. The group comprising the destroyer Admiral Panteleyev, buildings and projection Peresvet Admiral Nevelski, oil and Petchenega Fotiy Krylov left the South China Sea and headed for the Suez Canal. It will arrive by mid-May.
AS SAFIR (LEBANESE DAILY, CLOSE TO THE MAJORITY, APRIL 12, 2013)
Western diplomats are trying to predict the turn of events after the appointment of Tammam Salam. Their speech is virtually unchanged: the priority goes to legislative elections, the need to avoid the trap of a political vacuum to preserve stability in Lebanon and assistance to Syrian refugees in Lebanon. These are the main lines of Western policy vis-à-vis Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia prefers a non-Hezbollah-controlled government. Walid Jumblatt has perplexed diplomats, who are questioning his choices. They refer in their talks in a "gray phase", and consider that the controversy about the suspension or extension of the constitutional deadlines for the 1960 law could lead to a double reading: either it could announce a positive scenario assumes that Hezbollah is committed to maintaining stability. Hence the possibility of forming a government quickly enough to hold elections; or may, on the contrary, allow a glimpse of a negative scenario: the Lebanese will now be unable to complete the electoral process - scenario against which these diplomats warn-, and that could lead to the extension for at least two years, of the House mandate. If this mandate is not extended, the country will be thrown into a political vacuum as of June 20.
The same diplomats suggest a third scenario in response to the hypothesis: if Tammam Salam decided to form an independent government? Answer: The president will sign the decree, and the transfer of power will take place, but the government will not win the vote of confidence because of the negative vote of Walid Jumblatt and March-8 coalition.
AS SAFIR (APRIL 12, 2013)
The leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) will be the kingmaker in the process of government formation, just as he was at the time of appointment of the Prime Minister Tammam Salam. For his parliamentary bloc has the privilege of deciding whether the Cabinet established by Tammam Salam or not get the confidence of Parliament. Jumblatt will he attached to the condition it was placed on the need to form a national unity government to reassure Hezbollah and Nabih Berry and encourage them to opt for Tammam Salam in parliamentary consultations.
AN NAHAR (LEBANESE DAILY, CLOSE TO MARCH-14 COALITION)
SAMIR TUENI, PARIS (APRIL 12, 2013)
The visit of Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Paris is successful and has had a positive contrast to the first results in 2011. A warm welcome was reserved for him by President Francois Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. According to well informed sources, the French officials underlined the necessity to help Lebanon, faced with a growing number of Syrians refugees. Moreover’s, France has expressed concerns about the political situation in Lebanon, The name of Bashar al-Assad was not pronounced at any time during the discussions. In the government case, France wanted to avoid any interference in Lebanese affairs.
AL AKHBAR (LEBANESE DAILY CLOSE TO THE RESISTANCE, APRIL 13, 2013)
A Lebanese man kidnapped in the border area with Syria was freed on Saturday, prompting the release of 11 other people who had been held in a string of retaliatory kidnaps.
Hussein Kamel Jaafar, a Shia resident of an area near the northern Lebanese town of Arsal, was kidnapped last month and reportedly taken into Syria.
In response, members of his family took captive several local Sunnis, whose families also carried out retaliatory kidnappings.
"A delegation of Arsal residents returned from Syria at dawn this morning after receiving Hussein Kamel Jaafar," a security source told AFP.
"They paid a ransom of $150,000 to secure Jaafar’s release," the source said.
Local television showed footage of Jaafar arriving in Arsal in the early hours of Saturday, and being received by officials.
"I was kidnapped by bandits and thieves, not the Free Syrian Army," Jaafar told LBC news, adding that his captors "beat me and tortured me."
In a statement, the Lebanese military confirmed the release of Jaafar and 11 other men who had been abducted in recent weeks, both Sunni and Shia.
After Jaafar’s kidnap, armed members of his family from Hermel and Baalbeck kidnapped several Sunni residents of Arsal, security sources said, prompting additional counter-kidnaps of Shia Lebanese.
AL AKHBAR (APRIL 12, 2013)
As premier-designate Tammam Salam focuses on forming his cabinet, the March 8 alliance made three observations about Salam that, in their view, do not bode well for the future.
First, March 8 remarked, Salam announced his candidacy from the home of former prime minister Saad Hariri. This occurred during a theatrical March 14 meeting meant to signal their return to power via a “bloodless coup.”
Second, Salam did not reach out to any senior leaders in March 8 after his designation, as is customary for new prime ministers. Salam’s excuse: he was preoccupied.
Third, March 8 questioned why Salam did not follow in the footsteps of his predecessors Hariri and Mikati, by immediately visiting Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah after being named prime minister. Hariri and Mikati’s goal was to initiate strategic dialogue with Nasrallah and boost cooperation. According to sources in Hezbollah, the current premier-designate and the Resistance party are not estranged.
One explanation has come from former prime minister Fouad Siniora’s circles, which purported that Salam’s political directive is clear: lead a government of independents to oversee the elections – a longstanding demand of both Saudi Arabia and March 14.
In this context, Al-Akhbar has learned from informed sources that on Wednesday evening, Siniora was putting the final touches on his cabinet line-up. It was not clear whether the former prime minister had handed over his list to the premier-designate, or if the latter would even adopt it.
Siniora’s line-up is based on a technocratic government comprising 14 ministers (seven Muslim and seven Christian). Al-Akhbar learned the majority of names on Siniora’s list, including:
Shia ministers: Raed Sharaf al-Din, first deputy governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon (BDL) and Youssef Khalil, a director at BDL. Al-Akhbar could not obtain the third name.
Sunni ministers: In addition to Salam, Siniora’s “cabinet recipe” includes four additional names, two of which would be chosen: Abdul-Hafiz Mansour, head of the BDL’s anti-money laundering commission and close to the Future Movement; Mohammed al-Mashnouq, who is close to Salam; Ashraf Rifi, head of the Internal Security Forces, as a possible contender for the ministry of interior; and former minister Khaled Qabbani.
Maronite ministers: The list included three names, three of which would be selected: Bassam Yammine, former energy minister in Mikati’s 2005 government and close to MP Suleiman Franjieh; former finance minister Jihad Azour for the same post; Joseph Tarabay; Naji al-Bustani, who is close to President Michel Suleiman and March 8; and former Minister Ziad Baroud.
Druze ministers: Bahij Abu Hamzeh for the energy ministry. Abu Hamzeh is the “secret ingredient” meant to entice Druze MP Walid Jumblatt to give a vote of confidence to the proposed cabinet in parliament.
Sources believe that, if adopted by Salam, President Suleiman may endorse this line-up. For his part, Jumblatt pledged to Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri not to consent to a government that is not acceptable to all political factions, particularly Hezbollah. Jumblatt may give such a government a vote of no-confidence, setting off a new round of negotiations to form a new cabinet.
Prominent March 8 sources said that Siniora’s circles are presenting the line-up in question as a fait accompli. To be sure, the proposed line-up would be a gross violation of the national pact, the constitution, and all norms in place, and would hence be unacceptable to many factions.
On Thursday, President Suleiman met with Salam to discuss the outcome of the consultations. The premier-designate spoke to reporters afterwards, and said, “The main concern now is forming the cabinet. We will switch off our engines so that we can focus on reaching a good outcome.”
AL AKHBAR (APRIL 11, 2013)
Syria’s main jihadi group, al-Nusra Front, declares its allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and agrees to a merger with the Islamic State in Iraq in a joint effort to revive the caliphate.
After much speculation about the Syrian al-Nusra Front’s relationship to al-Qaeda, the group’s emir Abu Mohammed al-Julani emerged in an Internet audio clip, pledging his allegiance to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Julani also accepted a merger announced the previous day by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of Iraq’s branch of al-Qaeda, to integrate their organizations. All that remains in the merger process is for Zawahiri to name an emir to lead the new group, which should not be long in coming.
Many media outlets were confused about Julani’s intentions as his audio statement noted reservations about the timing of the merger, in addition to a mild protest that neither he, nor the al-Nusra leadership, were consulted before such a decision was made.
Julani’s statement suggests concern about how other factions of the Syrian opposition will react to the merger, and that although he has no problem pledging allegiance to Zawahiri, he has tactical reservations about the need to publicly announce such a merger at this time.
Notably, Baghdadi had anticipated this by recounting the history of his group under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the heavy cost the organization had to bear after declaring its affiliation with al-Qaeda.
He also revealed that it was he who had sent Julani, along with some of his men, to Syria to begin organizing the jihadi groups there: “We helped them draw up their plans of operation and shared our finances with them. We did not declare this before for security reasons, but it is high time that we declare that al-Nusra Front is an extension of the Islamic State in Iraq.”
All of this started with a speech by Zawahiri released on the Internet on April 7 calling on jihadi groups to unite their efforts. He managed to cover all corners of the Islamic and Arab worlds in his two-hour speech, advising his supporters “not to disassociate yourselves from your jihadi Muslim brothers.”
This in turn prompted Baghdadi to make his move and call for the merger of the two organizations by dropping their separate banners and uniting in an effort to revive the caliphate by establishing an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.
Many Syrian opposition figures, like head of the Syrian National Coalition Moaz al-Khatib, criticized al-Qaeda’s role in the uprising, asking the “revolutionaries” to take a clear position on these new developments, while others saw it as interference in their internal affairs.
AL AKHBAR (APRIL 11, 2013)
Al-Akhbar has learned that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov is set to arrive in Lebanon on April 26. According to Russian sources, Bogdanov will have a full agenda during his two-day visit, meeting with Lebanese politicians and senior officials.
The Russian sources also said that Moscow is in the process of developing a new policy in Lebanon with the aim of bolstering its presence. Several considerations have motivated the move, including the involvement of Russian firms in offshore gas exploration.
Three weeks ago, Russia’s Gazprom obtained a gas exploration concession in fields off the Palestinian coast, and is set to begin operations next June. In Lebanon, Gazprom is taking part in the pre-qualification round for gas licenses.
Moscow’s efforts to strategically position itself in the eastern Mediterranean’s natural gas sector aren’t only to enhance revenues. Instead, Russia is keen on defending its position as a natural gas leader worldwide, as well as a key supplier of gas to Western Europe. This requires Moscow to be prominently represented in any international scramble for resources.
Ahead of Bogdanov’s visit, Moscow issued a statement expressing support for the designation of MP Tammam Salam to head the next government. Russia’s foreign ministry has backed a figure with moderate views over the crisis in Syria for the premiership in Lebanon.
Moscow is averse to Saudi involvement in Lebanon, as well as Saudi attempts to use the country as a staging ground for the armed Syrian opposition. Furthermore, Moscow has qualms about Russian radical Islamic groups using Lebanon as a safe haven to plan acts that undermine Russian national security.
With Chechen Islamic movements fighting in Syria, particularly in the Homs countryside, Russia would like to see Lebanon monitoring these groups more strictly, especially as they have ties with Salafis in north Lebanon. Protecting Christians in the Levant is one of the key themes of Russia’s renewed engagement in Lebanon, especially in the wake of the conflict in Syria. In particular, an Orthodox Christian “dimension” has returned vigorously to Russian policy in the Middle East.
Moscow is keen to express this in a number of ways. For instance, the Russian embassy in Beirut was supposed to be relocated from Corniche al-Mazraa to elsewhere in the capital. However, the decision has since been cancelled. One explanation is that Russia wants to maintain the Orthodox symbolism of its embassy’s premises. The Russian embassy building dates back to the early 20th century, when it was acquired from Russian missionaries.
With the start of WWI, the educational mission was closed, as Russia and the Ottoman Empire, which occupied Beirut at the time, were on opposite sides of the conflict. Today, the Russians are proud of the origins of their diplomatic mission’s building.
The Russians also like to draw attention to the fact that the Russian missionaries, unlike their Western peers, did not seek to gain political influence in Lebanon, but only to contribute to education. For this reason, they say, they only taught in Arabic, rather than in their native Russian.
Naturally, the “Orthodox revival” seen in official Russian discourse on Lebanon has political undertones. Russia wants to emphasize a certain moral aspect in its stances in order to counter, among other things, allegations of opportunism in its attitudes in support of the Syrian regime.
AL YAWM (SAUDI DAILY, APRIL 15 , 2013)
Deputy Speaker of Lebanese Parliament Farid Makari said that Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam is part of the opposition March 14 alliance. “Salam is part of the March 14 forces and his political stances comply with their principles,” Makari told .
He also said that Salam’s designation to form Lebanon’s next government made sense given the current circumstances Lebanon is facing. "Salam is a symbol of moderation at a time of sharp alignments... he is accepted by all.” The deputy speaker stressed: "We consider that Tammam Saeb Salam is a good choice for this stage and this juncture. He has national and solid stances.”
Makari stated that “the regional changes and the position of National Struggle Front leader MP Walid Jumblatt drove March 8 to approve designating Salam with the government.”
Makari also said that “suspending the legal deadlines for elections nominations will lead to canceling the elections, because by canceling the electoral law currently on the books and not agreeing on a new one, there will automatically be no elections.”
AL JOUMHOURIA (LEBANESE DAILY, CLOSE TO MARCH-14 COALITION, APRIL 11, 2013)
There is no doubt that what is happening in Lebanon is a reflection of the bloody conflict in Syria. Security is the main concern of the Lebanese, well before the election law, constitutional deadlines, holding or postponement of parliamentary elections. The discussions held in closed political salons are different from public statements and are summarized as follows: 1-Reclaiming the fragile security by reducing sectarian tension, especially in regions that have experienced unrest and roadblocks; 2-Avoid the impact of the crisis in Syria on the Lebanese scene.
The security conditions and the danger of an imminent explosion in Lebanon imposed a quick change at the head of the executive and ensured almost unanimously around the person of Tammam Salam. These concerns will weigh on the balance in the coming period. In this context, Hezbollah is pragmatic. He did not object to the departure of the government and, therefore, at the opening of a new page as a partner in the new equation. Especially as the common goal of all actors is to reduce tension, to ensure the country’s stability and to avoid the shock waves of the struggle for power in Syria. Ultimately, the party has seized the opportunity to realize his desire to avoid sectarian strife.
Regarding the legislative elections, despite the efforts to develop a new law, security threats could prevent the organization of elections.
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