Thursday, March 31, 2005 

Syria releases Kurdish political prisoners

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has released 312 Syrian Kurds. They were imprisoned following violent football riots in Qamishli in the North East of the country last year.

30 people were killed in that violence, and hundreds were detained and questioned, with most released days later.

Fifteen Kurdish separatists were also released today.

The releases have been welcomed by Amnesty International.

Syria has one of the smallest Kurdish populations in the region (about half a million). The plight of the Kurds - spread across Iraq, Turkey (15 million), Iran and Syria is one of repression. They have been denied their national language and in some cases even citizenship in those four countries.

The prisoner release is the latest Syrian move to increase their rights - fearing that they will demand autonomy like their neighbours across the border in Iraq.


31 die in bus crash

Thirty-one people have been killed in a collision between two buses on the Damascus-Suweida highway, near the border with Jordan. Another 44 have been injured - four of them are in a critical condition.

It's believed that the buses were travelling too fast. It isn't clear where the buses were travelling to or from.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005 

EU spends $12m training Syrians

The EU is helping to put Syrians into jobs which are currently done by foreigners.

The European Union will spend millions training Syrians in alternative energy sources. The oil industry, which accounts for 70% of Syria's exports, is run by foreign companies.

$5m was spent last year, and $7m will be spent next year in solar and wind energy project education. Syria already has thousands of windmills.

But Syria's education system is often criticised for its archaic teaching methods. So the EU's not just sending money - professors from German and Austrian Universities will join Damascus University to impart some of their world-leading knoweldge.

Most of Syria's funding comes from the EU, Japan and the Arabian Gulf.

The focus on alternative energy sources highlights Syria's acceptance that within ten years the oil reserves will run dry.

Sunday, March 27, 2005 

Jumblatt: Hizbollah must keep their arms

Lebanon's opposition leader Walid Jumblatt has expressed his support for Hizbollah after a surprise meeting with Hasan Nasrallah.

Despite calling for Syrian troops to leave, he signalled that Hizbollah is a patriotic nationalist movement, and that they are the only group capable of liberating the disputed* Sha'ba Farms area.

He also said he wont support any Parliament which is anti-Syrian. He has repeatedly called for good relations with Lebanon's neighbour. A few days ago he said:
"Despite all that has happened, it was Hezbollah that liberated Lebanon from Israeli occupation. Hezbollah is a segment of Lebanese society on the basis of the collective enmity towards Israel. ... We will stretch our hand, despite our wound, to Syria for the sake of maintaining our historical, political and social relations with it. We will do so also to protect Syria."

So will this make Jumblatt the next target for 'assasination'?

*Sha'ba is occupied by Israel. Lebanon and Syria claim it is Lebanese territory, the UN says it belongs to Syria. If the UN gets its way, it means no Lebanese territory is occupied, and Hizbollah has no right to its 'resistance'.


Car bomb injures six in Beirut on Saturday - no deaths

A massive car bomb has exploded in Beirut injuring six people in the north-eastern industrial suburb of Dekweneh.

Earlier there were unconfirmed reports that two Indian nationals had died - they were in fact just wounded. The confusion over the numbers of dead and injured, and the chaos at the scene confirms the incompetance of the Lebanese security services which the UN identified.

The blast set several buildings on fire.

It's the third bomb to explode in Beirut in the past week, amid fears of violence as Syrian peacekeeping troops pullout.

The town's mayor said police had been tipped off about a bomb, and were searching when the explosion happened.

Edited Sunday 27/3/05 7.56pm.

Friday, March 25, 2005 

Lebanon accepts international inquiry

In the last few minutes Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud has said Lebanon will co-operate with an international inquiry into the murder of Rafiq Hariri.

And President Emile Lahoud has told Kofi Annan to do 'whatever is necessary' to uncover the truth.

The UN published it's report into Hariri's death yesterday and lambasted the Lebanese security services for failing to investigate the death properly. The UN said evidence was contaminated, and the road was re-opened too quickly. They said the Lebanese report failed to come to any conlusions, and said an international inquiry was essential.

Until this evening Leabnon was insisting there would be no inquiry.

The UN did not blame the Lebanese or Syrian security services (which have now withdrawn to the border region). But they did imply that Syria take some of the responsibility by isolating Hariri when Syria pressured MPs to extend President Lahoud's term of office last September.

When Israel was accused of a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp, the international community insisted on an inquiry. Israel refused. The UN set up a team to go to the West Bank and investigate but it was disbanded after Israel refused them entry three times.


Fight at the AUB

(corrected: apologies for the earlier error - the fight was at the Arab University of Beirut not the American University of Beirut)

Three students have been taken to hospital after sustaining stab wounds during a fight at the Arab University in Beirut.

100 soldiers and police intervened to break up the disturbance.

Many of its students are Lebanon's elite, as well as Lebanese who've grown up overseas. In the past, the fiercist fighting was restricted to the poorer parts of the country.

In other news, sales of guns and small weaponry have soared in the past few weeks. But economically Lebanon has not been damaged - the Lira held firm since the death of Hariri. The biggest indicator of an unstoppable spiral to war will be the economy's performance: Lebanon's proudest asset. Even if there's no real national unity, the one thing the Lebanese can't bear to lose for a second time is their flagship economy.

Thursday, March 24, 2005 


Lebanon's Christian Patrirach Nasrallah Sfeir and Jordan's King Abdullah have both been speaking in America.

Sfeir said Hizbollah should be disarmed by force. King Abdullah went even further: Syria and Hizbollah are the biggest threats to the Middle East.

But now both men have vehimently denied saying those words!

King Abdullah's furious attack - he warned Ariel Sharon that Syria and Hizbollah are likely to attack Israel to deflect attention from the Syrian troop withdrawal - was reported by two Israeli newspapers: Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth.

But he's claiming it's an elaborate hoax to harm Jordan's reputation and destroy its relationship with other Arab countries. He says he hasn't even spoken to Sharon!

It seems the source of the claims was Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice-Chairman of the 'Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations' (one of the organisations the King was speaking to). But the Chairman of that organisation has denied that Abdullah said any of that.

Meanwhile Christian Patriarch Sfeir said he didn't even talk to President Bush about Hizbollah and that he "did not say that Hezbollah should be disarmed by force." He praised Hizbollah's humanitarian work, and said that the reason they are still armed is because of the continuing Israeli occupation of Lebanese land (the Sha'ba Farms*).

Just like with the spread of the Syria-coup hoax: double-sourcing. That's all it takes to avoid this!

* n.b. Lebanon and Syria say Sha'ba belongs to Lebanon, the UN says it is Syrian - that's important because if it is Lebanese then Israel occupys Lebanon (Sha'ba) and Syria (Golan).

Wednesday, March 23, 2005 

Three dead near Beirut

Three people have been killed in an explosion in Jouneih in the last few minutes. No details about the cause of the blast in the city a few kilometres north of Beirut.

During the civil war, Jouneih was the playground of Lebanon's bourgeois escaping the fighting of Beirut.

It's the third act of violence in the past month, shattering fifteen years of peace.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005 

Opposition confusion

A Lebanese opposition leader, Christian Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir (below), has called for a coalition government to be formed - split evenly between the opposition and loyalists. In a visit to the US he called for the international community not to interfere in Lebanon. But he has changed his stance on Hizbollah - he now wants them to lay down their arms.

Meanwhile Lebanon's main opposition leader Walid Jumblatt (below) has dropped his calls for President Emile Lahoud to resign. But he says he still will not join a coalition government. He has told the pro-Syrian PM to hurry up and form a government without him so that an election can be called (under the constitution a government must be in office to call an election).

He said he's confident of winning the election (although it's not clear what post he'd take: under the confessional system established by the French the President must be Christian, the post of PM is reserved for a Sunni, and the Speaker must be Shia'a).

Meanwhile, in a speech at the Mukhtarah on Saturday, Jumblatt spoke about Lebanon's future relationship with Syria while still blaming them for Hariri's murder:
"We will stretch our hand, despite our wound, to Syria for the sake of maintaining our historical, political and social relations with it. We will do so also to protect Syria because I can perceive a certain threatening wave coming."

He rejected UN Resolution 1559:
"We have called for implementing the Al-Ta'if Agreement from the start. We opposed Resolution 1559."

And he affirmed his support for Hizbollah:
"Despite all that has happened, it was Hezbollah that liberated Lebanon from Israeli occupation. We
will talk with Hezbollah. There is no escape from this dialogue. Hezbollah is a segment of Lebanese society on the basis of the collective enmity towards Israel."

He noted that large sections of the Palestinian Druze population are still repressed by Israel.


Brazillian newspaper: Israel killed Hariri

Brazil's highest circulation daily paper the Buenos Aires Clarin carries an astonishing claim that Israel and the US were behind the assasination of Rafiq Hariri.

Today's awesome article goes further. The US and Israel wanted huge pressure to be put on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, and be sent to Iraq!

Sunday, March 20, 2005 

The Windy City

Syria is to turn to wind power. It has already installed 4000 wind electricty generators in Central Syria: Homs, Qalmoum and north of the capital Damascus.

There is a plan to build a new wind farm in Homs, which is the country's industrial hub: on the road into Homs the factory emmisions are clear to see. But now it's set to become the country's windy city (the winds flow from the Western mountains down to the eastern desert).

The turbines look like enormous fans (above). In other countries there have been protests against the sight of these huge white objects, which are placed in windswept vantage points.

But it is a far cleaner source of energy than oil which causes carbon pollution.

Unlike the Gulf Arab states, Syria does not have large reserves of oil. But it still manages to export huge amounts from the desert, which account for 70% of GDP.

But those reserves are running low. Within ten years Syria is set to be a net importer of oil. And the wind turbines make it seem like Syria has come to accept that.

Saturday, March 19, 2005 

Car bomb in Beirut

In the last few minutes a car bomb has exploded in Beirut. Witnesses say it destroyed the first floor of an apartment block and blew a crater in the road.

It is the first violence since the killing of former PM Rafiq Hariri a month ago.

Prepare for accusations that Syria is stirring trouble before it leaves, and Syrian counter claims that it needs a presence to keep the peace it has maintained in Lebanon for 15 years.

In recent years Israel has tacitly acknowledged responsibility for a number of car bomb attacks in Beirut and Damascus.

As one analyst sighed: "the war has started".

Friday, March 18, 2005 

No coup in Damascus

The 'Lebanese Foundation for Peace' has been reporting a military coup d'etat in Syria. They claim Bashar Al-Assad has fled to Aleppo and that Interior Minister Ghazi Kannan has overthrown him. The North and West is allied to Bashar but the capital is under the rebel's control. It's all in reaction to the Lebanese withdrawal.

There is no evidence in Damascus to support any of these claims: on the streets, at the political offices, at military barracks, from journalists or diplomats.

This is the first 'non-news' story I've done, and I hestitate to write this. But it's caused such a flurry on the net that it needs to be put down.

A bit of background to the LFP. They are members of the Phalange and South Lebanon Army (Israeli proxies) who fled when Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. They live in exile in Jerusalem, and are calling on Ariel Sharon to reverse Barak's decision to withdraw. They call themselves the 'Lebanese Government in exile'.

The Lebanese opposition outside the country have a very different agenda to the real independent nationalist opposition inside the country. Even Walid Jumblatt (Lebanon's de-facto opposition leader) has called for dialogue with Hizbollah, and said that Syrian troops are welcome to stay in Lebanon as long as Syria does not interfere in Lebanese politics.

After myself and others had refuted the article's claims, I contacted LFP but instead of withdrawing it they went even further. In an astonishing display of back-peddling they claim:
"Information is hard to get out of Syria, therefore the Press will have a hard time following the dynamics inside the Syrian Regime. When the massacre of Hama happened in 1982, it took almost 2 to 3 weeks to get the news out that something ugly was happening in this town."

And the World Tribune has picked up on it, justifying the incredibly shaky story with the label 'unconfirmed reports'. Can journalism be any lazier? All it would take would be a few calls to Damascus.

Thursday, March 17, 2005 


15000 Christian Lebanese still armed

A Christian militia member in Hanayna, Lebanon has claimed that 15,000 are armed and ready to fight. Overnight he's destroyed the commonly held perception that Hizbollah is the only Lebanese militia still left.

The man, who spoke under condition of anonymity to the BBC, revealed part of their arms cache.

He said they would not kill Lebanese, but would be willing to fight the Palestinians. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians live in Lebanon's refugee camps, and he blamed them for starting the fighting during the Civil War.

In Damascus, meanwhile, reporter Tim Whewell spoke to Ammar Abdulhamid (Damascene rent-a-dissident) and made an interesting revelation. The only reason Ammar can speak freely, he claimed, and the only reason Western journalists can work freely, is because all eyes are on Damascus right now.

Ammar has a very interesting plan for Syrian reform today. He says the French and US should be involved in high level secret diplomacy to sell their plan for Syria. Syria's very own reformer-in-residence Bashar Al-Assad would then announce the plan and be supported in this 'brave move' by Chriac and Bush. Bashar recieves a promise of peace talks with Israel in return (to talk about getting the Occupied Golan Heights back). Bashar emerges as the greatest hero since Saluhadin, free elections are held and Bashar wins a landslide.

Syria develops, and Bush is placated. The American Air Force saves those expensive bombs, and Syrians don't die.

Thumbs up from me! But two reasons this wont happen until 2008: George War Bush, and Syria's old guard.

In other news, Turkey and America have avoided a diplomatic row over Syria. Turkey was the latest victim of American Embassies meddling in domestic affairs of other countries. The Ambassador 'suggested' that Turkey's Foreign Minister shouldn't visit Damascus (wasn't Colin Powell in Syria two years ago?). But he quickly retracted that statement when it became clear that Turkey, unlike most parts of the Middle East, hasn't been colonised yet.

Last year the US Ambassador to Beirut met the opposition and urged that government to carry out his wishes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005 

People marching in, and troops marching out

In the latest tit-for-tat demo in Beirut 800,000 protesters took to the streets. This one marked the first month since the murder of the founding father of post-war Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri.

It was less political than previous marches: Sunnis and Shia'a, who had stayed away from opposition demos, joined in.

This makes it the largest demo in Lebanon's history, and a remarkable feat for a country of 3.5 million.

Meanwhile Patriarch Nasrallah Sfier (below) - leader of the Christians - called for dialogue not more protests. He called for Lebanon to move forward not stand still, echoing fears that the country's politics is in paralysis until May's elections.

On the troop front, 4000 of the 14000 Syrian soldiers have left Lebanon. But more importantly, mukhabaraat officers evacuated two intelligence positions in the North, as well as the intelligence headquarters in Beirut. That's a huge step. Until now Syria had denied that it even had intelligence in Lebanon.

Meanwhile Bush has been making concilliatory noises towards Hizbollah. For the US refused to deal with them - calling them terrorists at the request of Israel (Hizbollah forced Israel out of their 20 year occupation of Lebanon, inflicting the only defeat in Israel's history). But they got half a million people on to Beirut's streets: majority rule = democracy.

And finally, an excellent ABC of Lebanese Politics.

Monday, March 14, 2005 

1559 is dead. Long live 1559.

"It's all over." That is how one reporter described the situation in Lebanon after touching base with Western Embassies in Damascus. "There is no more threat of sanctions. No use of force," he was told. Now that the Syrians have agreed to withdraw their troops, UN Resolution 1559 is dead."

From Joshua Landis's Syria Comment.

Sunday, March 13, 2005 

Is it over?

"It is positive that Syria would begin to withdraw its forces out of Lebanon, not just to the border" (Condaleeza Rice, US Secretary of State)

"President Assad appears to have met most of the conditions for the withdrawal." (Dan Isaacs, BBC)

The world was a very different place four weeks ago. I've been ping-ponging: it's, the US jets are coming. It'll blow, Bush wont give up.

And Bush and Bashar had their own little game of ping-pong going on too.

Syria must implement UN Resolution 1559 - it's the will of the international community, said Bush. But, but, Taif, pleaded Bashar.

A battle of wills was on.

But now Bashar has met Kofi Annan's Envoy and agreed a timetable for pullout. We agree to the UN plan, and this is when we'll do it. Problem solved. All that's left now is to stick to that plan.

At the end of Bashar's Time Magazine interview (it was the same magazine that he announced he wanted to resume peace talks with Israel a couple of years ago) he said, I want to co-operate, I'm no Saddam Hussein.

And co-operate he did.

But I couldn't see beyond my own ping-pong psychology. So I asked a friend in a far away place who only knows about Syria because of me. Good news eh? He said. But it's no different, i challenged. It is, it is, it seems like something is really happening.

And then I read this:

"The UN special envoy...left Syria...with a promise that the international community had been trying to wring from the country's government for months. ... and the diplomatic pressure that had been mounting on Syria since the assassination last month of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri may now recede." (Keith Adams, BBC)

When the UN is satisifed, the world is satisfied with you.

Saturday, March 12, 2005 

Life on Death Row

2004, the year of US Envoys, the year of a trade deal with the EU, the year of Israel's continuing satisfaction with a Syrian presence in Lebanon (it keeps Hezbollah quiet), the year of a US Ambassador in Damascus, the year of the hawks looking in Iran's direction.

What a difference a day makes. The Valentine's Day rose that was sent to Lebanon and Syria had a sharp thorn. And we still trying to guess who sent it.

The man who rebuilt Lebanon might just destroy Syria.

The man who's life brought stability and peace to Lebanon, and who's death brings uncertainty and maybe war to Syria.

I'm counting down the days till the regime change. In Washington.

Friday, March 11, 2005 

Anti-government demo broken up in Damascus

About 100 human rights activists protested today in Damascus.

Their demo was broken up by a similar number of pro-government supporters on a counter-march. The incredible scenes are thought to have occurred outside the court and in Merjeh.

No arrests are reported.

The demo occured a day after the largely spontaneous march in support of Bashar - the largest demonstration in the last 40 years in Syria.

Has the largely peaceful turf war in the highest levels of government spread down to even Merjeh now?

Thursday, March 10, 2005 

Lebanese opposition looks for an 'Arab Solution'

Lebanese Opposition leader Walid Jumblatt (below) - who has called on Syrian forces to leave - has said 'NO' to UN Resolution 1559.

Jumblatt has told EU Foreign Minister Javier Solana that the withdrawal should be handled under the Taif Accord - the agreement which ended the Civil War - not the UN. Every Lebanese faction has one over-riding priority: peace. Everything else comes second. That's why all the demonstrations (opposition and Hizbollah) share one thing in common: a call for national unity 'wahda wataniyah'.

Jumblatt's call comes a day after Hizbollah organised the largest march in Lebanon's recent history rejecting foreign intervention. Half a million Lebanese attended.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said that Hizbollah should not be disregarded. They're saying 'no to foreign intervention', he said, and that's in the spirit of the UN Resolution. Just because we don't share their views (*glances across to George Bush*) doesn't mean we can ignore them - that's democracy: majority rule.

In a sign that Jumblatt has learnt some of the Hariri diplomatic skills, the Chouf MP called for dialogue with Hizbollah.

Meanwhile, Britain's Independent has claimed that the opposition demos are becoming "increasingly Christian". Over the last decade Christians have organised anti-Syrian demos, but the first time they gained widespread support was after the shocking murder of Hariri - father of post-war Lebanon. But this CNN report implies Christians used the cross and cresent symbols to claim inter-faith support which didn't exist. Which is a shame, because unity of all Lebanon, and freedom (from Syria, America and Israel) is what Lebanon deserves.

And finally, your friend and mine Michel Aoun has claimed that hardly any of yesterday's half a million were Lebanese. Journalists lied about the numbers and the rest...ahh, they're all Palestinians and Syrians. *cough* how can you see that from Paris *cough*.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005 

Syria: full withdrawal before May

"We will withdraw as soon as possible, without delay and probably a long time before the election" said the Syrian Ambassador to the US, Imad Mustapha.

He said they will pullout in a phased way so they don't leave chaos behind. That's what most countries of the world have been calling for...except George Bush - he said its not enough, they must leave overnight regardless of the chaos that's left behind. Because of course freedom is more important than peace.

The announcement came one day after a pro-Syrian march in Beirut became the largest demonstration since Hariri's death.

It was organised by Shia'a groups who have largely stayed on the fence in the recent political wrangling. Despite George Bush's calls to 'stand by the Lebanese as they call for freedom from Syria', he seems to have missed the point that Lebanon's majority group support Syrian involvement.

Walid Jumblatt, Lebanon's opposition leader and heir apparent, hailed the pullback to the Bekka as a 'positive start' and called for friendly ties with Syria after the troops leave. Lebanon and Syria have economic, cultural and historic ties which will remain long after the soldiers cross back through the Masna'a crossing.

Monday, March 07, 2005 

Regime Change

America doesn't "want regime change here, they want regime change of behaviour" says a Western Diplomat in Damascus.

But to many Syrians, the last two years of gathering crescendo are the run up to an Iraq-style war in ten years.

So lets turn to the Washington neo-cons driving this mad venture to find out just what their dreams are really made of.

It was Donald Rumsfeld who started the drum beating just days after they invaded Iraq. He accused Syria of sending night-vision goggles across the border.

Richard Perle, one of the founders of neo-Conservatism is one of the 'experts' at Benador Associates, a 'political PR company': one of the Washington Lobby, who blacken countries' names.

They turn for the Syrian opinion not to someone living in Syria but to a Syrian economist at the World Bank, an institution at the heart of the neo-con empire builders.

He says the 'Assad regime' should be removed. Their only reference to Syrians themselves is the predictable "Syrians watched with a mixture of awe and admiration as millions of Afghans and Iraqis queued up to vote in their first-ever free elections in recent months."

But the exciting part is what the neo-cons call for in Syria.

No invasion, they claim, what we want is a Gorbechov-style transition. Replace Assad with (Vice-President) Khaddam, a reformist and a member of the Sunni majority. He would then lead Syria to multi-party elections a year later.

Exciting stuff. But a few things are missing. Assad isn't the problem, he's made peace overtures, he's been trying to build up a relationship with the US and reform Syria in a way never seen before in the Middle East. Assad is no less of a reformer than Khaddam.

It also assumes there is Iraq style resentment to Assad's non-Sunni status. No. Assad has actively involved Sunnis and minorities (that's why the Vice-President is a Sunni!).

The problem isn't Bashar. The problem is his support base. He is supported by the old-guard who use US/Israeli threats as an excuse to hold back reform.

Interestingly in the days after Hafez Al-Assad's death Khaddam and Sharaa thought they should have been named President. They agreed to support Bashar only on their terms.

But at least we can take comfort by knowing that there isn't war, occupation and death at the end of George Bush's Road to Damascus.

Another Benador article suggests that Europe is the victim of a lack of religion, and questions whether the Pope can save Europe like he saved Russia.


Hamas and Jihad expelled

Reports are suggesting that Syria has expelled the political leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Khalid Meshal and Ramadan Shallah. It was one of the three key Bush demands on Syria (the 'Palestine demand', along with the 'Lebanon demand' and the 'Iraq demand').

"The government has closed their offices, cut off their phones and shut down their email" reports JPost.

Extra weight is thrown behind these claims because they come from an Israeli source. Syria would be reluctant to announce this themselves because it would show Syria bowing to pressure for the second time in two days, and because it would imply selling the 'pan-Arab' cause. It would also suggest Syria agrees with the Shual Mofaz (Israeli Foreign Minister) claim that Islamic Jihad ordered the Tel Aviv attack from Damascus.



The first stage in the withdrawal from Lebanon will start today, according to the outgoing Lebanese Defence Minister. The movement of all Syrian troops to the Bekaa border region will be complete by Thursday.

The Syrian government's best asset, the extremely eloquent, progressive Buthayna Shaaban (below) said the troops will be out of Lebanon "sooner than the world thinks". It is said that she has the President's ear.

The Syrian and Lebanese Presidents will meet today to agree a timetable for full withdrawal from Lebanon.

Al-Mustaqbal, the newspaper owned by the family of murdered ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri, hailed today's pullback as a "historic event".

Meanwhile, Hizbollah have reacted angrily to the withdrawal. They're calling for a protest on Tuesday. They realise that US pressure on Syria might now start to concentrate on Hizbollah.

However in a BBC interview yesterday, the Syrian Ambassador to London was asked whether he would press for Hizbollah to be disarmed once Syria withdraws: How can we, we wont be in Lebanon.

One of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry's top men thinks the US will soon apply sanctions on Syria for its support of Hizbollah.

Saturday, March 05, 2005 

Syrian News Wire nominated for an award!

The Syrian News Wire, just four weeks old, has been nominated for the 2005 Best Arab Blog Award (BABA) in the Syria category.


Thank you very much to the anonymous person who nominated me last night (who are you?). It's a privilege to have such recognition, and to have readers who keep coming back to the site. Thanks too, to the readers who've left comments lately saying they find the site useful.

You can't vote yet, but you can have a look through all the nominated blogs. Voting will start towards the end of the year.

The nomination puts this site up against giants like Ayman's Damascene Blog and Joshua Landis's Syria Comment.


UN Peacekeepers for Lebanon?

The UK has suggested that UN peacekeepers could be sent in to replace the Syrian troops in Lebanon. Bashar Al-Assad is expected to announce a date for their pullout tomorrow.

Syrian troops were sent in to end the civil war and keep the peace, with the gratitude of the international community which had given up on Lebanon seven years earlier. But now Lebanon is peaceful, the Syrians should get out, say the international community. But if that's the case, why send international forces in?

The last time international forces were in Lebanon they were massacred: the barracks of the US Marines was bombed in one of the first suicide bombings. Six months later the Americans 'redeployed'. Sending the internationals back in is a sure fire way to stir up hatred. But then Lebanese peace and freedom isn't really the motive is it?

Meanwhile, realising that a withdrawal is almost certain, Bush took the opportunity to turn the screw a little tighter. Now we want all your mukhabaraat (intelligence) out too. The problem is no matter what Syria says, Washington can continue accusing Syria of not completing the mukhabaraat pullout: i mean, they are 'secret'!

It's suggested that Bashar has been telling Arab leaders that he wants to keep 3000 troops in Lebanon, as well as early warning stations to warn of Israeli attacks. When Israel attacked Damascus in 2003, Israeli jets flew over Lebanon to enter Syrian airspace. Israel bombs Lebanon a couple of times a year. Israel's supersonic jets also fly low over Beirut to create a sonic boom which sounds like a bomb shattering windows and setting off car alarms.

Friday, March 04, 2005 

Syria and Iraq - the thaw?

The Syrian Ba'ath ('renaissance') party and the Iraqi Ba'ath Party split in the 1960s. Syria saw Saddam as an expansionist. There was a transfer of supporters - some Syrians supported Saddam (including the Ba'ath Party's founder Michel Aflak, a Christian), and some Iraqis supported Hafez al-Assad. Saddam's Syrians joined him in Baghdad. The Iraqis who favoured Hafez were shot.

The crossover of supporters meant that the hardline facists ended up in Baghdad, while a more watered-down Ba'ath Party ended up in Syria.

Things reached a head in 1990. Syria supported the American-led Gulf War, they even sent troops. Meanwhile, Jordan's darling of the West King Hussein vehemently cosied up to Saddam.

Iraq and Syria cut off diplomatic relations and the border was firmly shut.

In 2002, Syria - which was on the UN Security Council - supported Resolution 1441 which sent Weapons Inspectors back into Iraq - and according to Bush and Blair, provided a legal justification for the war. A few months later Bashar Al-Assad visited Downing Street effectively giving the Arab seal of approval to the war.

In the run up to war, there were demonstrations on the streets of Damascus, but these were tightly controlled. The joke was that police outnumbered protestors. Military police also formed a shoulder-to-shoulder human shield for weeks outside the American Embassy (one of the biggest Embassies in the city) and along the road leading up to the embassy. Taxis could not even stop to let passengers out.

In the days before the war the Syrian mukhabaraat (intelligence) started turning people away who were entering towns on the road towards the border with Iraq. Why? Yes, they were probably worried about Jihadists. But I think they were more worried about Syrians seeing the preparations for war.

The Syrian Red Cresent (effectively an arm of the government) had been building refugee camps near the border capable of housing hundreds of thousands.

In the event these were barely used: maybe Iraqis thought they'd face a closed border as they had done for decades. But the situation in Jordan was very different.

To this day Syria and Jordan deny the camps existed.

The Syrian and American Forces admitted that Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay entered Syria - but were 'escorted' out within hours of crossing the border. Rumours suggest Saddam faced the same fate.

At first Syria refused to recognise the Occupying Authorities. But then in 2004 Syria hosted a regional meeting, which the members of the Iraqi Interim Government attended.

Syria's home to the largest number of Iraqi refugees in the world - about three-quarters of a million. Many of them Shia'a fleeing Saddam's persecution. The Saida Zaynab area in Southern Damascus is home to many of them.

So all eyes were on Syria in January. Internationally-verified 'free and fair' elections took place on Syrian soil - and that was essential to the success of the Iraqi elections.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005 

Syria and Iraq - a new era of relations?

Iraq's Defence Minister has claimed that Syria is co-operating with Iraq to stop insurgents from crossing the border.

He claims that Syria helped to capture Sabawi Ibrahim, one of the most wanted members of Saddam's government. The claims have not been confirmed by Syria.

The American Forces in Iraq have repeatedly accused Syria of allowing insurgents to cross the border but according to official records, of the 10,000 detainees in US-run jails in Iraq, only 56 are Syrian. Many are held without trial.

America accuses Syria of supporting Baathist reminents in Iraq. But Syria had a frosty relationship with Saddam, severing diplomatic relations for decades. Syria supported the US-led first Gulf War, supplying troops.

The Telegraph says Sabawi Ibrahim was captured by Syrian Kurds. This would suggest a high level of involvement for the Kurds in the Syrian mukhabaraat (intelligence). Syria's former Prime Minister Mustafa Miro (above) was a Kurd, as was the late Grand Mufti of Syria.

Syrian Kurds live in the North East of the country near the border with Iraq, centered around Qamishli. There are concerns about their integration into Syrian society, but is not comparable with Turkish repression of the Kurds, or the Iranian and Iraqi experience. There is a large Kurdish population in Aleppo (Syria's second city) and Damascus.


Bashar Al-Assad has said in an interview with Time magazine:
"It [withdrawal] should be very soon and maybe in the next few months. Not after that. ... The security in Lebanon is much better than before. They have an army, they have a state, they have institutions."

About me

  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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