Monday, March 26, 2012

Russia says Annan initiative could be last chance for peace in Syria

The Guardian
Syria and Middle East - live updates
Amateur footage from social media websites purports to show the continued shelling of the city of Homs on Sunday.
1.53pm: The campaign group Avaaz says a Syrian activist who helped injured journalists flee Babr Amr, in Homs, after Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed, has been arrested by government forces..
Avaaz says Jassim Khaled Diab, 35, was ambushed on Saturday outside the village of Nazariya bordering Lebanon near the city of Qusair in Homs.
It describes Diab as "instrumental in securing the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid to besieged cities and towns across Syria". He is also credited by the group with saving the lives of a number of people by evacuating the injured across the border into Lebanon so that they could receive appropriate medical care. Avaaz says he was trying to help one such person across the border when he was arrested. His companions managed to escape and transfer the injured person to a safe area.
Avaaz campaigner, Wissam Tarif, said:
Jassim embodies the courage shown by the Syrian people who are locked in a bitter and bloody struggle against a murderous barbaric regime. Jassim has saved dozens of lives by evacuating patients across the border so that they could receive medical treatment and by delivering humanitarian aid to besieged cities. He was fighting for a brighter future.
"Avaaz believes that the bloody Syrian regime will not hesitate to take revenge on Jassim because of the role he played in the Syrian Rrevolution. At this time the brave activist is facing the worst kind of torture regularly employed in the regime's prisons and detention centres. This torture could result in his death. We hold the Syrian regime fully responsible for his safety and demand his immediate release together with that of all activists and protesters arrested during the year.
Live blog: recap
12.50pm: Here is a summary of the main developments so far today:
Turkey has suspended its embassy in Damascus, the Turkish foreign ministry said. Last week, the ministry called on all Turkish citizens in neighbouring Syria to return to Turkey as soon as possible, saying it planned to close the consular section of its Damascus embassy.
Syria's divided opposition groups are due to meet in Istanbul today to try to draw up an agreement for "peaceful political transition" after an invitation from the Turkish and Qatari foreign ministries.
• Syrian activists say troops are shelling rebel-held neighbourhoods in the central city of Homs. They say a number of people have been injured.
• Jordanian authorities have confirmed the arrest of 10 Syrian army defectors on suspicion of spying for the Syrian regime, the Jordan Times reports. A security source told the paper there is increasing concern over attempts to inflitrate the Syrian refugee community.
Reports suggest Syrian men aged under 42 are being barred from leaving the country if they have not obtained permission from the military recruitment authorities. Some reports suggested the ban was more wide-ranging and was being applied to all people over 42.
There have been 31 extrajudicial killings in Bahrain since a state-sponsored report on human rights violations in the kingdom was published in November, the Bahrain Centre of Human Rights claims in a new report. The BCHR also accuses the regime of torture, kidnapping and arbitrary arrests. It calls for an immediate end to violations, as well as reparations for victims and punishment of offenders. The BCHR also says the international community should end arms deals with Bahrain.
12.47pm: A letter from the Turkish and Qatari ministries of foreign affairs invites "all major opposition groups and figures committed to a peaceful transition in Syria" to a conference in Istanbul today. It says:

At this critical juncture, Syria needs your help, support and active involvement more than ever.
This conference will enable the participatns to express and share their visions for a free and democratic Syria with a view to agreeing upon a unified vision around the Syrian National Council on a set of shared principles for a peaceful political transition in Syria which is indispensable for the empowerment of the Syrian regime.
11.49am: On the reported travel ban on Syrian citizens (see 11.25am), a Syrian activist based outside the country tweets that it is actually more wide-ranging than described:
2 separate sources in #Syria told me it's not just guys 42 years+under. Their sisters were prevented from traveling, & both fathers over 42
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11.25am: There are unconfirmed reports that Syrian men aged between 18 and 42 have been barred from travelling overseas unless they have permission from the military recruitment authorities.
11.02am: Back to Syria. The large funeral in the Kurdish neighbourhood of Derbassiye, livestreamed his morning (see 9.55am), appears to have been that of the activist Khalaf Mohammed al-Shab.
The British-based Observatory of Human Rights says Shab, a nephew of the late Kurdish leader Mashaal Tammo, who was assassinated in October, was found on Sunday night, hours after being abducted near Derbassiye.
The Observatory also reports army raids and arrests on Monday in the north-eastern city of Deir Ezzor, on the road to Iraq, and the suburbs of Deraa, which lies close to the border with Jordan.
It is intended to document human rights violations since the BICI report, which was commissioned by the King and published in November. It accused the kingdom of using torture against opposition protesters.
The BCHR claims there have been 31 "extrajudicial killings" since publication of the BICI report. Most of the deaths were from teargas exhalation, including three in the last week alone and three were as a result of torture, it says.
It also reports arbitrary arrests, torture, kidnappings, sackings, student dismissals and suspension of scholarships and harrassment of the media and witnesses.
It estimates that 4,000 people have been arrested since the start of protests against the regime in February 2011.
The reports contains this disturbing account of an alleged kidnapping:
Ali al-Singace, 16, was kidnapped and found later unconscious in a garage in Sanabis, half naked with his hands tied behind his back. This is the fifth time Ali has been subjected to kidnapping. He claims that they continue to target him due to him refusing to work as an informant.
Ali was picked up in a black Tida Nissan by a group of civilian clothed, non-
Bahraini CID agents. He told the BCHR that they stripped him naked, and sexually assaulted him using a black hose. They also used a knife to cut him, beating him in the process. Ali was then dumped in Sanabis unconscious, his hands still tied behind his back with a cable tie. His trousers were down to his knees, and he had no underwear on.
Ali attempted to file a complaint at the police station. As reported to the BCHR, the officer in charge of the Exhibition Road police station told Ali that if he files a complaint he will indict him of burning a police jeep linked to his former arrest. He also reportedly told Ali that there is no law in the country and he could do as he pleases. He then showed Ali a picture of a known activist from Sanabis, and told Ali to identify him in the public prosecution as the one who kidnapped and sexually assaulted him.
The officer then reportedly told Ali that if he does what he is told he will be released with no charges. At the public prosecution, Ali presented his case
despite the earlier threats, and was interrogated for four hours. Minister of Justice Khalid bin Ali al-Khalifa, who also made false claims about the medics last year, then wrote on Twitter that public prosecution had found that Ali had self inflicted his injuries, and made a false claim. Lawyer Faten Haddad said the medical examiner himself said that there were injuries on the boy which were impossible to self inflict. Ali may now face charges
and court for "making false claims".
The BCHR make a number of recommendations to the Bahrain government, including:
• Immediately end ongoing human rights violations
• Bring offenders to account and end the culture of impunity
• Provide redress and reparation for victims
• Create a new independent justice system
The group also calls on the EU and US to end arms deals with the Bahraini regime.
The sound of shelling and gunfire can be heard.
9.55am: A funeral in Derbassiye, a Kurdish neighbourhood near Qamashli in north-east Syria, is being livestreamed on Bambuser.
9.51am: Syrian activists say troops are shelling rebel-held neighbourhoods in the central city of Homs with at least five people seriously wounded, AP reports.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday's shelling in the central neighborhood of Warsheh seriously wounded five civilians.
9.35am: Jordanian authorities have confirmed the arrest of several Syrian army defectors on suspicion of spying for the Syrian regime, the Jordan Times reports.
According to the Public Security Department (PSD), police forces in Mafraq arrested last week 10 alleged army defectors who entered the Kingdom earlier this month suspecting that they concealed their true identity ...
According to a second security source who requested anonymity, the arrest comes amidst rising concern among security forces of attempts by Syrian "agents" to infiltrate the Syrian refugee community and report on the movements of activists and defectors.
9.09am: In case you missed it, the Independent ran a very interesting analysis by Patrick Cockburn on Sunday, in which he concluded that the attempt to unseat Assad had failed for now.
He identified one of the problems for the opposition as the reluctance of the international community to get involved despite their rhetoric.

In the second half of last year, Assad appeared to be facing an all-powerful international coalition. It included Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the US, EU and Turkey. It emerged, however, that everybody was in favour of somebody doing something to bring him down – so long as that somebody was somebody else. There was talk of "safe havens" being established on the Jordanian or Turkish borders, but neither Jordan nor Turkey showed any enthusiasm for an act that would lead immediately to armed conflict with Syria.
Cockburn also writes that Syria is very different to Libya:
The Syrian protesters did everything they could to give the impression that what happened in Libya could be repeated in Syria. They are now being criticised for their divisions and lack of leadership, but probably they felt they had no choice.
The uprising had begun among the underclass of Syrians, but by last summer had spread to the middle class. But the use of snipers and death squads by the regime made street protests highly dangerous and they have got smaller in recent months (one of the benefits of the Arab League monitoring team was that it opened the door again to street demonstrations).
Protesters now seldom wave olive branches and chant "Peaceful, Peaceful". Militarisation of the protest movement and the increased sectarianism played to the strengths of the regime. Sectarianism not only weakens the opposition inside Syria, it helps divide the coalition facing it abroad. In a presidential election year, US voters do not care much who rules Syria, but they care a lot about al-Qaida.
9.01am: Syria's divided opposition groups are due to meet in Turkey to try to draw up a "national pact" on how to unseat President Bashar al-Assad's government, the BBC reports.
The main opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), says all other anti-Assad groups have been invited to the gathering in Istanbul ...
The SNC says it wants to hammer out a pact of shared objectives with all opposition groups – including those that have recently broken away from the council – during the two-day meeting in Istanbul.
8.59am: The Revolutionary Leadership Council of Damascus has sent through video it says is of activists blocking off "one of the most important streets of the capital" with a fire blockade as an act of protest. Friday's protests in Syria were called "Damascus, we are coming" by opposition activists.
It says the street in question is al-Jisr al-Abyad street, one of the busiest streets in a shopping area at the heart of Damascus. The video was purportedly filmed last night.
8.46am: Good morning. Welcome to Middle East Live. Clashes are continuing in Syria as Russia has warned that Kofi Annan's initiative to bring peace must succeed if the country is to avoid all-out civil war.
Here is a round-up of the latest developments:
Russia's outgoing president, Dmitry Medvedev, has warned Syria may be facing its last chance for peace. In a meeting with the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, in Moscow, Medvedev said:
This may be the last chance for Syria to avoid a protracted, bloody civil war. Therefore we will provide any assistance at any level.
Russia, along with China, vetoed two UN security coucil resolutions condemning the Assad regime but has recently shown signs of impatience with the Syrian government.
An administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the US had already begun to supply some aid, including communications gear, to the rebel Free Syrian Army. The agreement with Turkey would formalise and increase that aid, though officials insist that no weaponry would be sent.
The two countries also agreed to set up a framework for further humanitarian and technical aid at the Friends of Syria meeting to be held Sunday in Istanbul, according to the deputy security adviser, Benjamin Rhodes.
Witnesses from the towns of al-Janoudyah, Kafr Nabl, Kafr Rouma, and Ayn Larouz in the Idlib governorate in northern Syria told Human Rights Watch that they saw the army and pro-government armed men, referred to locally as shabeeha, force people to march in front of the advancing army during the March 2012 offensive to retake control of areas that had fallen into the hands of the opposition. From the circumstances of these incidents, it was clear to the witnesses that the purpose of this was to protect the army from attack.
• Syrian forces have attacked flashpoint areas, carrying out raids and clashing with rebels, AP reports. Syrian activists reported clashes Sunday in Deraa, the southern province where the uprising began last March. A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, Muneef al-Zaeem, said government troops invaded the town of Nawa, in Deraa governate, with a population of 100,000.
Amateur footage posted on the internet purports to show continued shelling of the restive city of Homs on Sunday.
• Turkey has suspended all activities at its embassy in Damascus, the Turkish foreign ministry said. Last week, the ministry called on all Turkish citizens in neighbouring Syria to return to Turkey as soon as possible, saying it planned to close the consular section of its Damascus embassy.

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