Wednesday, February 28, 2007 

Lebanese army clashes with Israel

Hizbollah is not the problem, Israel's target is the Lebanese nation.

When there were no Lebanese soldiers on the Israeli border, only Hizbollah fighters, Israel justified its agression on the border by blaming Hizbollah.

Now the Lebanese Army is along the border, nothing has changed. Israeli soldiers have been engaging in tense standoffs with the Lebanese Army across the border.

It has been revealed that Israeli troops were ready to attack Lebanese soldiers, until the UN stepped in half an hour later, and escorted them to safety. That happened four days ago.

Two days before that, the Lebanese Army used anti-aircraft weapons against the invading Israeli jets.

Israeli jets have been invading Lebanon five times a day since last summer's war, inclear violation of the ceasefire - according to the UN.

On February 7, Israeli soldiers entered Lebanese territory at Marun al-Ras, ostensibly looking for land mines (how kind of them to look for mines in Lebanon - well, after all, they did lay four million of them from their planes during the 2006 war). Lebanese soldiers fired on them, and the Israelis fired two shells at the Lebanese.

When Israel attacked Hizbollah last summer, Israel's targets included bridges, Christian residential areas, the airport, power stations, and other locations which the UN called "civilian infrastructure". It even attacked a Lebanese Army base just outside Tripoli, even though Lebanese soldiers were not fighting against Israel.

If that was not clear enough evidence that Israel's fight was with all of Lebanon - not just Hizbollah - then this month's developments are.

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Jordan bans Iraqi refugees from entering

Jordan has put in place tough new entry requirements which effectively ban Iraqi refugees.

They require Iraqis to have a new style passport which is only available at one location in Iraq, and only for a huge bribe.

Jordan already had restrictive entry requirements before today's effective ban.

Jordan and Syria are struggling under the weight of Iraqi refugees, and the UN has asked the international community to provide them with support. That support still hasn't arrived.

It comes just weeks after Syria tightened its visa rules - previously any Iraqi could stay in Syria as long as they wanted. Now Syria requires Iraqis go through the usual visa process which all other foreigners have to.

Kuwait, Iran and Saudi Arabia banned Iraqi refugees many years ago.

The US has taken just 700 Iraqi refugees in the past 4 years.

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Syrian bloggers unite again

We've all got different views. And we don't hesitate in battling it out in the comments section of eachother's blogs, and by challenging eachother in sharp-tongued blog posts.

But for the third time in a year, Syria's bloggers have united to put their names to a joint post challenging Egypt's decision to jail a blogger who insulted the president.

In February last year, we complained at rioters who damaged foreign embassies in Damascus during the cartoon protests. And then in July we condemned Israel's war on Lebanon.

Before that, there were barely enough bloggers in Syria to mount such a campaign.

Syria's blogosphere is growing in size - and power.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007 

Israeli newspaper's irony

'Liberal' Israeli newspaper Haaretz writes about the living conditions of Palestinian refugees, still cramped into refugee camps in Aleppo six decades after they were forced out of their homes.

By the time you get to the third paragraph, you are confronted with an advert encoraging Jews to emigrate ('aliyah' in Hebrew) to Israel, and create a new generation of refugees.


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Syrian Bloggers: Free Kareem

This is a united call by Syria's bloggers. We are demanding Egypt release imprisoned blogger Kareem. [Updated with more signatures.]

We, as a community of Syrian bloggers, condemn the arrest and sentencing of Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman for the peaceful expression of his dissenting views. We ask the Egyptian government to reconsider its decision to arrest and prosecute Abdel Kareem. The stated reasons for their action include the preservation of the public peace and state security, and the prevention of incitement against Islam. We contend that his arrest will achieve neither. Silencing such dissenting voices as Abdel Kareem’s, serves only to strengthen the hands of extremists who will not shy away from violence to achieve their goals. Moreover, we remind the Egyptian government that his arrest and prosecution violates at least two articles (see below) of the 1948 United Nations universal declaration of human rights to which Egypt was a signatory.

Relevant United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights articles:

Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Such rights for freedom of expression are also enshrined in the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam and the 2003 Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the World's religions.

Signed by,
Abu Kareem
The Syrian Brit
Sham in Ashrafieh
Philip I

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Syria to pay for embassy damage

Syria has agreed to pay more than one million US dollars in damages to Norway after their embassy was damaged by rioters last year.

Syrian protestors set fire to part of the building during worldwide anger at the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed were published first by a Danish newspaper, and then by other European newspapers.

A number of other embassies in the same compound were damaged by the rioters - it is not clear how much they will receive.

Embassies in Beirut were damaged, but Lebanon has refused to pay a cent to them. We know where Lebanese government money is going, don't we.



Syria and the US to talk

Syria and the US are planning to open talks about Iraq.

Bush stunned the world by rejecting his own top level commission's recommendation that he talk to Syria. He said the US would not take the initiative - but later said he would be willing to talk if Iraq set something up.

And that's exactly what they have done.

The meeting will take place in March. It was expected to include only Iraq's neighbours - but now the US has been invited, and has accepted the invitation. But Iraq's Foreign Minister said it took "tough negotiations" even to get them to come.

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Imagining Damascus - an update to an earlier post thanks to Razan.


The Golan border opens - but only for apples

It's that time again. The border between Syria and the Israeli Occupied Syrian Golan Heights has opened for the third year in a row. Syrian Druze farmers living in the occupied land are allowed to 'export' some of their apples into Syria.

One of my first blog posts ever was about the historic opening of the border in February 2005. SInce then it has become almost a tradition.

It is the only contact Syria and Israel have.

At 9am, a Red Cross lorry drives from Syria into the Occupied Territory. It is loaded with apples produced by the Syrian Druze who live under occupation, and then at 11.30am, the lorry crosses back into Syria.

The Syrian Druze are living in a no-man's land. They are not allowed to enter Israel, and prevented by the Israeli army from crossing into Syria. Many have had no contact with the rest of their families, living as refugees in Damascus. Much of their farmland has been stolen by Israeli settlers, and they have a hard time getting their produce into Israel.

Sending 7000 tons into Syria is a life-saving way for them to earn a bit of money.

Israel has repeatedly rejected Syria's peace overtures, and states that the stolen Golan will remain in Israeli hands. Just days ago the Syrians living under Israeli occupation held a demonstration, demanding the return of their land to Syria. Their demonstration marks 25 years since Israel illegally annexed the land - not even the US recognises Israel's claim on the Golan. The land was snatched in 1967.

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Monday, February 26, 2007 

Seymour Hersh: US funding terrorism inside Syria

Seymour Hersh, campaigning investigative journalist, says America is funding extremist groups inside Syria to carry out terrorist attacks.

Don't underestimate the weight of these statements. Hersh is one of the world's most successful investigative journalists. He made his name by breaking a story about a massacre during the Veitnam War. More recently, he was the man who uncovered the Abu Ghraib scandal.

He says the US has put together a plan to extensively attack Iran (but importantly NOT Syria) with just 24 hours notice.

And he says the US is funding Lebanese Sunni fundamentalist groups VIA THE SINIORA GOVERNMENT. Groups which, Hersh claims, are aligned with Al Qaeda. These fighters are based in the Bekka Valley, and have received billions, he says.

Not so sweet and fluffy now, are we Mr Hariri.

The full, remarkable story, is here.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007 

Cities [updated]

Thanks to Arima, Princess Anarchy, Razan, and via Arima, Abu Fares, and via Abu Fares, Dubai Jazz for their wonderful replies to my tag, 'The City I Love'.

It showed me two things.

First, that this tagging thing is another way we're using the Syrian blogosphere to communicate with eachother. We're not just posting on our own blogs, throwing ideas into the air...instead, we're actively bouncing that ball of ideas between eachother. I really think the Syrian blogosphere is developing into our a forum, an arena that we own, and that we have the power to use to discuss the future of the country. No wonder Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak got a bit wobbly.

Ok, the second point's a bit more ethereal. It showed me that our cities mean something fundamental to who we are. And they have different meanings to each of us. But our cities do have a real character, that we can identify independently of eachother. (Portuguese poet Goncalo Tavares has written about the nature of the city, a body created by a set of individuals all pulling in different directions).

Arima's Damascus is someone who brought tears to her eyes as she returned to her, her truest love, a city of innocence, a city that could do no wrong. My Damascus.

The Angry Anarchist has given her characteristically angry anarchical take on her city, Beirut. (Although I sensed a little bit of love...the kind of love that hides between the lines in a lot of her writing...when she talked about the town of Shusha).

The grotesque I Love Life poster campaign by the Haririst reminants crops up a lot in Beirut, the Phonecian city which killed Arabism. And there's a l o t of driving.

Tartoussi Abu Fares names Tripoli as his top choice. It may be the other side of the Syria-Lebanon border, but it's only 60km away and Abu Fares treats it like home: "The Tripolitans speak with my accent and share my inherited values. This is the only place in Lebanon where the line between Syrian and Lebanese is almost nonexistent."

Dubai Jazz picks his birthplace, Aleppo, a city he calls his mother. He's now living with his mistress: Dubai.

Razan imagines Damascus. The city has become part of who she is, a city she dreams of when she is away, and which fulfils her when she is home. The pictures tell a story of smells, sounds and people. A story of dreams. Long dreams after lonely nights speaking English and French in Beirut.

Arima, the Dove of Anarchy, Razan, Abu Fares and Dubai Jazz, you crafted the little bubbles I sent into the Syrian blogosphere into beautiful works of art...thank you.

Update: Karin's written about Jerusalem.

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Lebanese editor Joseph Samaha dies

Editor of the Lebanese Al Akhbar newspaper Joseph Samaha died in London this morning after suffering a heart attack.

The anti-sectarian, leftist, secular journalist founded As Safir in the 1970s, and then Al Hayat.

Just yesterday, he wrote a column entitled "Tuning of moves and slogans" in Al Akhbar. It criticised the government and the opposition for failing to break the deadlock.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007 

Nine Months in Syria

This is a new blog spotted by the wonderful Ayman.

Bob's left America to spend nine months studying Arabic in Syria. His writing offers all the insights of someone casting their fresh eyes on this city, just like I was talking about a couple of days ago. It's beautifully written too.

This post about paper sellers jumped out at me.

And oh, oh, here's InHouse (the trendy Starbucks-esque coffee shop which started life near the American school in Maliki, but has now spread across Damascus).

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Who's listening?

Are they the only ones who'll listen? Apart from an extremist who wants to make Syria a religious state, and the former deputy of a man he calls a thug (the deputy with the blood of 10,000 people from Hama on his hands). Beggars can't be choosers, I guess.

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Middle East vs Arab World

They are not interchangeable. The Middle East is a loaded Eurocentric term.

The Middle East refers to a geographical point to the east of where I'm standing, but not as far away as the Far East. It is a term coined by the European explorers, and puts white Europeans at the centre of the world.

But more dangerously, the phrase normalises Israel's position in the region. It creates facts on the ground.

Israel is an anomily in the objective sense. Let's not get into the rights and wrongs of Israel's existence or its behaviour. I am just talking about its place in the region.

First, let's look at the Middle East - Israel sits comfortably here, because when we use the term 'Middle East', we're looking at the region through Western eyes. We have Westernised the region, making room for Israel (a white, Judaeo-Christian, European state).

But where is Israel in the 'Arab World' - Israel stands out, it has squeezed itself in, and looks uncomfortable. It has nothing in common with these 'Arabs' all around it.

So by calling ourselves the Middle East (and even more worryingly, Middle Easterners), we are making room for Israel.

The compressed term MidEast is simply Orwellian New Speak - it encourages us to forget where the term came from, or to question its use. The Middle East - and even more so the 'MidEast' validates Israel's right to exist.

George Orwell was right, language is where the battle for ideas is fought.



"Iran and Syria"

"including Iran and Syria..."

"...backed by Iran and Syria"

"hoping to split Iran from Syria..."

"...dialogue with Iran and Syria"

Again and again and again, we almost never hear the word 'Syria' in a news sentence without that other part of the rhyming couplet: Iran.

I am beginning to think this is a new country. A bit like Trinidad and Tobago, maybe?

But no, Syria is an independent state, with independent motivations and independent needs. It is not an 'and'.

It is true that Syria and Iran share a lot of goals - mainly foreign policy (Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, the Golan Heights). But they also disagree in other areas - the role of religion and the state, for example (Syria is secular - in practise, not just name ... Iran is theocratic - in practise, not just name).

So why isn't Syria mentioned in a sentence on its own? Maybe it's a good thing - the only substantive* thing the US seems to have on Syria is that it is Iran's friend.

*The only substantive accusation? Doesn't the US blame Syria for:

(a) letting militants cross into Iraq (not according to US military commanders in Iraq, who have said that Syria has done a good job of sealing the border - it is now a political complaint, not a military one)

(b) killing former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri (the UN investigators have repeatedly said there is no conclusive evidence, despite initial accusations - furthermore, they have praised Syria's "full co-operation" with the inquiry, and complained that 20 other countries...thought to include the US...have not co-operated)

(c) sending weapons to Hizbollah (the Lebanese Defence Minister said this month that not a single weapon has come across the border from Syria)

(d) supporting Hamas and Islamic Jihad (Syria has repetedly offered peace talks with Israel - Israel has been tempted to dip its toes in the water, but Washington has ordered them to ignore Syria).

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Friday, February 23, 2007 

US demands Israel not to have peace with Syria

"The United States demanded that Israel desist from even exploratory contacts with Syria," Haaretz reports.

"In meetings with Israeli officials recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was forceful in expressing Washington's view on the matter."

Israel wants peace, Syria wants peace, the United States wants chaos. What right does the belligerant Bush regime have to order Israel not to talk to Syria?

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rejected talks, Israel's Defence Minister Amir Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni both want negotiations. Their time in government must surely be limited - no wonder Olmertists are portraying Peretz as short-sighted:

The greatest danger to the world is not Iran or North Korea, but the United States, according to the majority of the world's population.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007 

The city I love

Which city do I love the most in the world? Not a hard choice, but I came to thinking about why I love Damascus so much. It can't be put into an oversimplistic list of tangible reasons, but I've tried anyway.

Reasons I love Damascus, in no particular order:

1 - Jebl Qassioun ... the mountain that rises up above the north of the city (it IS the north of the city), you can see it from almost anywhere in the city, it's like Damascus's comfort blanket, it smiles at sunset, hugs you when it rains, and has a sparkle in its eyes as the rest of the city sleeps

2 - the people ... in what other city will a taxi driver refuse to charge you for the ride, simply because you're upset after spilling juice down your top

3 - the serveece ... life, compressed. (A serveece is a minibus, for the non-Damascenes reading this)

4 - the language ... no, not Arabic, Shami. (Specifically, the (very) elongated syllable at the end of a sentence, and the phrase 'yateek al afiyah')

5 - the Old City ... a world away from the rest of Damascus, it is the oldest continuously inhabited place in the world, and a UN World heritage Site, step into the city walls, and you have left Damascus, and entered a world of dreams.

6 - Umayyid Mosque ... one of the most beautiful Islamic buildings in the world, men and women pray next to each other, and still a place of pilgrimage for Christians too (the head of John the Baptist has been preserved inside the main prayer room)

7 - food ... allepine food in damascus

8 - sweets ... kanafee, ice cream, and the taco chocolate bar

9 - drinks ... what would like be without Abu Shakr, thank you for making Damascus fruit juicy and fruit salad creamy

10 - nightlife ... buzzing, fun, but not opressive and overwhelming

11 - foreigners ... there's something special about non-Syrians who choose to live in Damascus, they're often interesting, open-minded, well travelled people who offer a new insight on to this city

12 - cost ... sorry, this is the cheapskate in me, but I prefer an eye-contact making 7 cent serveece ride, to a rude $2 taxi ride in Beirut, or a lets-all-sit-in-uncomfortable-silence $8 tube journey in London

(Just to be fair...I also love London and's why:

Rome - the food, the ice cream, the clothes, the language, the weather, the politics, the pace of life

London - the diversity, the music, the shopping, the language, SOAS, the tube)

I tag Arima, Razan, George, the Angry Anarchist.



Standing by Egypt's bloggers

A very disturbing development. Egypt has jailed a blogger for four years for 'insulting the president'.

Egypt has a strong track record of pursuing and harrassing bloggers. It is the bloggers who are standing up against Mubarak-facism, now that the journalists have gone quiet.

Abdel Kareem Soliman fell foul of a law which threatens anyone "dissmeninating news".

He now joins the 40,000 political prisoners in Egypt. Free them all NOW, and Syria's 600, although Syria, unlike Iran, Egypt and Saudi, has never jailed a blogger.

I wonder how America, and An-Nahar will react.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007 

Britain's Foreign Minister: we want a better relationship with Syria

Britain's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has opened up the chance for dialogue between Britain and Syria.

She told MPs she was encouraging the government of President Bashar Al Assad to help secure the Iraqi government: "We for our part, do continue a dialogue that we have with the Syrian government to encourage them to better relationship with the government and the people of Iraq "

But she hinted that she is being held back by the US: "There is really no need for me to persuade the United States.

The United States, in common with ourselves, would like nothing better than to feel that there is a possibility of constructive discussion and negotiation with Syria over a number of these issues - not least in the context of their relationship with Hamas.

Although we look constantly for signs that this is the approach it is not as evident as we would like to see.

We continue to look for further signs of Syrian willingness to act more constructively in the region and continue, therefore to keep under consideration whether or not there is merit in further contact in the coming months and so too does the European Union."



Lebanon accuses Syria of shooting at fishing boat

Lebanese authorities have accused Syrian border guards of shooting at a Lebanese fishing boat that approached the Syrian coast during the night.

Tensions on the border have been growing - with Lebanon desperate to show it is patrolling its border well, as Israel accuses it of allowing Hizbollah weapons to come in. Meanwhile, Syria is worried that Islamist militants are crossing into Syria from Lebanon.

Last year, Lebanese soldiers shot dead a Syrian man near the border.

Syrian authorities have also held, and released, several Lebanese fishermen who entered Syrian waters.

One of the problems (on land, at least), is the lack of a clearly defined border.

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Michel Kilo trial delayed

The trial of Michel Kilo (referred to interestingly by AP as a 'militant') has been delayed again.

The Criminal Court postponed the trial because two of his co-defendants failed to turn up.

Dissident writer Michel Kilo was one of 11 people arrested when they called on the Syrian Government to change its attitude towards Lebanon. Seven were released. Kilo was ordered to be released, but then new charges were brought at the last minute.

It's thought Kilo is caught in a tug of war between reformist elements and hardliners in the Syrian government.

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Gisele Khoury would be proud

More from Ciezadlo.

But despite [the Shias'] numerical superiority (which some of their adversaries dispute to this day)--and perhaps also because of it--the Shiites were always perceived as an inconvenience, Persianized outsiders, intruders in their own country.


With Iranian funding, [Hizbollah] set up a parallel state that relieved the Lebanese government of much of its responsibility--military, financial and psychological--for its largest sect. They had their own clinics, their own schools and their own mosques, all in "their" neighborhoods. This autonomy came at a price: No matter how much power the Shiites attained, they were still unwanted, still the "grungy" peasants who belonged in the south or in "their" neighborhoods.

They're not the biggest group, they're peasants who belong in the south - sounds like a perfect description (almost word for word!) - of Gisele Khoury's repugnant views.

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Hariri: we love life ... except the lives of poor people

One of the most important articles I have ever read about Lebanon.

Sect Symbols
Annia Ciezadlo
The Nation

For most Westerners, the words "downtown Beirut" conjure up two distinct images: a farrago of bullet-scarred buildings, car bombs and machine-gun-toting militiamen, and a glitzy, picturesque pedestrian mall. Nobody remembers Wadi Abu Jamil, the old Jewish quarter of downtown Beirut, a warren of winding alleys, antique Ottoman and French Mandate houses, and a lonely crumbling synagogue. By the mid-1990s, it was home to everything the Lebanese government would rather forget. Most of those who lived there were Shiites from the south of Lebanon, routed from their homes by the Israeli occupation and shunted into the neglected neighborhood by a city that didn't want them.

But somebody wanted Wadi Abu Jamil. Solidere, the private company that had the contract to rebuild the city center, was determined to raze the old downtown by any means necessary. So when the Ayad family refused to leave their home in February 1996, Solidere dispatched a crew of Syrian and Egyptian guest workers to begin tearing down the four-story building--with the family still inside. As the laborers began to dismantle the building, not surprisingly it collapsed. Seven workmen and six of the Ayads, including a 2-year-old boy and a 3-month-old baby, were crushed to death by the march of reconstruction.

Rafik Hariri, the billionaire prime minister who founded Solidere, expressed his "sorrow" while attending a banquet at a five-star Beirut hotel.


Instead of letting the rebuilding founder amid the factional infighting and corruption that curse the Lebanese state to this day, Hariri proposed an alternative: A private company, not subject to civil-service hiring requirements, would use the authority of the state to seize several hundred acres of privately owned land. Freed from the shackles of bureaucracy, this new company would revitalize the shellshocked old city center. And if the 20,000 or so souls who lived or owned land downtown were upset at being forced to render it up, the company had a plan for them: The value of their claims would be determined by special committees--paid for, indirectly, by Solidere--that would award them compensation in the form of Solidere stock. If Kenneth Lay had been governor of Texas and granted Enron sweeping powers to seize Texans' homes and land, giving the homeowners nothing but Enron stock in return, it would have been something like Solidere.


The deal was negotiated between Hariri's company, Hariri's government and one of Hariri's former employees, who was head of Lebanon's reconstruction authority.

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Monday, February 19, 2007 

The man who could be Lebanon's next Prime Minister visits Damascus

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Salim Al Huss is in Damascus for talks with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Is he being courted by Lebanon's growing opposition as a replacement for Fouad Siniora?

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Sunday, February 18, 2007 

Happy Birthday Syria News Wire

Ok, I started blogging (I have seen at least three blogs starting with that line in the past month...including the wonderful Razan...maybe the Syrian blogosphere's coming of age...) two years ago today (almost). At that time, there were a handful of blogs. 10, 15 at most (correct me if I'm wrong).

The Syrian blogosphere was tiny. Ayman's Damascene Blog has got to be one of the first, and it was also a reference point. He listed all of the Syrian blogs. Getting a mention on there was a huge highlight of my first month's blogging.

But now, the blogosphere has it's own directory (right) listing at least 200 Syrian blogs and new sites are springing up all the time - and more often than not, they are great reads. I've spent most of the past fortnight stumbling across new blogs.

It seems many of my readers are themselves bloggers. Have a look in the comments section, click on the name, and you'll probably find a blog.

Blogging almost seems like our way of talking to eachother. The Syrian blogosphere is a stylishly designed forum to discuss the future of our country, and we all own a little part of that arena.

So techies...the tools we use to blog have got to adapt to that new reality. (And besides I think the Syria News Wire needs a birthday present). We need a site that can track all our comments around the blogs. So I can log on and see a list of comments I have left on other people's blogs - that way I'll be able to keep up to date with the replies. How easy is it to leave a message and forget to check for replies on someone else's site.

I know I should just give the site a present myself. But I am either too lazy or too cheap. It needs a new header, but my design skills can't compete with this

or this

can they (they're both Jordanian). Hmm.

Back to the real world. There are reasons why Syrians are blogging more and more - Syria has found place on the political map in the past couple of years (because of Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq), and internet access is becoming cheaper.

So happy birthday Syria News Wire: 2 years (and four days) old today! And long live the Syrian blogosphere.




" Samir Geagea, the Phalangist - a convicted murderer whose party now supports the elected government - was self-assured enough to tell his audience that "we will pursue the criminals across the world and to the end of time". "


Sunday, February 11, 2007 

Old and young

I like this post. Old and young.

It says so much. How mobiles are taking over e v e r y o n e ' s lives, making even the grandparents look like teenagers again. And how the little people become less little everyday.

Maybe it wasn't that profound. I just like it.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007 

Lebanese government says weapons truck wasn't from Syria

Lebanon's Defense Minister Elias Murr says the weapons truck intercepted outside Beirut didn't come from Syria. And he went on to say NO weapons have come across the border.

"The ammunition did not come from Syria, but are from within Lebanon," said Murr. "We are in full control of the Lebanese-Syrian border."

"Not even a mosquito enters without us knowing," said Murr. "There are no arms entering from Syria."

Hizbollah has admitted it owns the weapons, which were being transported down to the south. The Defence Minister is refusing to give them back - he says it is a "gift" to the Lebanese army.

The weapons "will be presented to the Lebanese troops stationed in the South who proved themselves that they can protect Lebanon against Israeli aggression."

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Oooh, hello to the Americans dropping by from 'that' US newspaper article.

First, have a look at the status of women in Syria.

Feel free to look around. And when you're done here, if your craving for the real feelings of Syrians isn't satisfied, you must visit:

Syria Planet, it re-posts what every known Syrian blog is saying.

And have a look at Syria Comment for some of the most informed words on this beautiful country.

Don't forget - Syria wants PEACE. Syria has repeatedly asked for peace talks WITHOUT CONDITIONS with Israel and America. Why haven't we got an answer? Letters on a postcard please (or in the comments section if you can't afford a postcard).

And what about that thorny issue of democracy:

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Khan Asad Pacha, Damascus

Khan Asad Pacha, Damascus. Photo: Zelidar.


Friday, February 09, 2007 

US talks to Syria about refugee crisis - UN promises Iraqis won't be sent home

Just days after the major protests in Damascus over the refugee crisis, there have been some important developments.

Photo: John Wreford. The sign reads: "How can we return and the violence is still there?"

The US and Syria are talking - for the first time in years. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice says she has authorised negotiations to 'launch a new initiative' to help Syria deal with the flood of Iraqi refugees (lets hope it is more sucessful than their previous 'initiatives').

They will apparently talk about co-operation on refugee issues, and speeding up processing of refugees - to get them from Syria to America more easily.

It all comes from a change in Syrian visa laws. Until now, Arab citizens had been exempt from rules allowing visitors to stay for just 15 days. But strained under the weight of one million Iraqi refugees, Syria finally changed the rules, to make Iraqis subject to the normal limits. Syria has taken half of all the people who have fled Iraq.

Finally, America has accepted responsibility for part of the mess they have caused in Iraq, by talking with Syria about the refugee crisis they have imposed on Damascus.

Let's just hope they are talking WITH and not just talking AT Syria.

The last time there were any positive words between Washington and Damascus was in September when Syria foiled a terrorist attack on the US embassy.


The other major development is a statement by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has thanked Syria for taking in such a large number of Iraqis. And they say Syria has promised not to send anyone back to Iraq despite the change in visa rules.

He made the annoucement in the Damascus suburb of Sayda Zeinab, one of the main destinations for Iraqis arriving in Syria.

Guterres has also visited Saudi Arabia and Kuwait - both of those countries have banned refugees from entering.

It seems people power works.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007 

Army officer attempts to overthrow the President

This officer "is on trial effectively for calling for a military coup d’etat to overthrow [parliament] and the president."

No, no, it's not in an Arab country. This is America. Uh huh.

Oh but hang on just a second, have you changed your mind: "[This officer] does not call for the ouster of the president." But I thought...

Never mind, let's keep reading: "The real "wholesale slaughter" is the one carried out daily by al-Jazeera’s terrorist bombers."

Excuse me?



Israel attacks Lebanese army

Israel and Lebanese soldiers have exchanged fire across the international border.

It comes after Israel spoiled for a fight - Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz today announced his army was preparing for a new war of agression.

And today Israel 'found' bombs near the border. Hizbollah says they were planted before last summer's war.

Now, Israel has attacked Lebanese troops. This time, the soldiers returned fire - they were ordered not to during the summer war.

If it had been Israel and Hizbollah exchanging fire, I have no doubt who some Lebanese commentators would blame. Let's see who the March 14 rabble point the finger at this time.

This is going to be interesting.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007 

Deletling dissent

I've said this many times. But when you attack someone's personality, it only points to the weakness in your argument.

Case and point.

Tony Badran's latest rant against Joshua Landis. He goes on to rail against Sami Moubayed, taking in a few other people he dislikes.

They are two of the most knowlegable writers on Syria. You may disagree with their views, but you'll struggle to dispute their insight. That's when we turn to personal attacks.

I left a comment challenging Badran's tactics against Landis, and pointing his readers in the direction of Moubayed's webpage so his readers can make up their own mind. The comment has been deleted.

Personal attacks and a lack of tolerance for dissenting views. Perhaps a few democracy activists should look a little closer to home before deleting dissent. Have a look on the sidebar of my page: "the information democracy". Feel free to post a comment, disagree with me, debate, discuss, argue. You won't find me erasing views I don't agree with.

It seems Bashar's access to a major US TV network (ABC News's week of Syria specials ... scroll down this page to find my links to the videos) has really made some people throw their toys out of the pram. Boo hoo.

UPDATE: My second comment ("Am I right in thinking you deleted my comment") has also been deleted. We run a tight dictatorship here.

UPDATE2: And again. So I've posted this: Just tell me Tony, what do you find so threatening in my opinion that you find it necessary to hide my views instead of replying to them.

How long will it take him to delete that.



The First Lady

More from ABC News's Diane Sawyer, this time on Bashar's wife Asma. A quote:
"The couple famously lives in a modest home with three children that they drive to school themselves. They still protect family dinners and even bike through villages. She has already begun programs to excite Syria's children about business and challenge them to compete in a global world."

Before we get started, this is a must see - oh my god, her accent is SO English. (The video content is different to the article below).

Syria's First Lady Wants New Conversation With West
ABC News, New York

Feb. 6, 2007 — Her husband, the president of Syria, is crazy about her. Asma Akhras Al-Assad is the first lady of Syria.

Her Syrian title is "al akilatu al rais" — simply translated to "the president's wife." But make no mistake, this beautiful, athletic woman is a force for her country's future.

"Good Morning America" anchor Diane Sawyer first saw her at one of her charity projects called Basma, which means "smile" in Arabic. The charity supports a cancer center.

She sent word she was not ready to give on-camera interviews, but greeted the crew warmly and in her perfect British English ventured a statement about the cause.

"A real example of the way that Syrians from all walks of life have come together and taken responsibility and making a real difference in their communities," Assad said.

Later, Sawyer met her at one of her private offices overlooking Damascus at sunset, where the pair sat for two hours, talking about Assad's country in the new century and her life.

She grew up very much part of two worlds. Born in Britain, she is the daughter of a Syrian cardiologist and speaks perfect Arabic, French and Spanish.

After college she says she loved working on Wall Street in New York and in Paris and London as a banker with J.P. Morgan. She was contemplating an MBA at Harvard.

In 2000, she decided to marry a family acquaintance — a tall quiet man who happened to be Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

After the private wedding, she spent three months out of view, traveling quietly, sometimes anonymously in jeans and a T-shirt, to meet the people of her country, take note of hopes and needs, sit among the farmers to ask about their crops and devise plans for microloans she passionately tries to promote today.

Her official introduction to the world came when she and her husband returned to England to meet the queen.

The couple famously lives in a modest home with three children that they drive to school themselves. They still protect family dinners and even bike through villages. She has already begun programs to excite Syria's children about business and challenge them to compete in a global world.

"She's an amazing woman. Ever since she got here she got deep into things in every single sector," said Thala Khair, founder of a Syrian private school. "As much as she's working for women's rights, she's working on children's rights and culture."

The cancer center where we first met her is breaking ground in Syria — the private and public sector working together. The children show her pictures they drew in therapy — drawings with names like "magic."

So while the world debates the intentions of her husband on the world's stage, the two of them remain symbols of a new generation in the Middle East. The former doctor and the former banker were schooled in England, are steeped in Syria and, she might say, are asking the West for a new conversation about a new day.

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Syria's President Says He Needs Iran's Support

More from the ABC News series of week-long Bashar Al-Assad interviews, being shown every morning in the US here.

A quote: "So should I tell them, 'You have to go away from me. I don't need your support,' when the rest of the world is trying to isolate Syria? Of course not. We need the support of Iran. We need the support of every other country."

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ABC sells Syria to America

ABC News's Syria special continues.

Diane Sawyer finds out about Syrian food.



Bashar on freedoms and democracy

ABC News's Diane Sawyer asks Bashar about a list of political prisoners.

His reply: "We are still at the very beginning, we have a long way to go."

Watch the video here.

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Letters from Beirut

Some of the achievements of the Siniora government (from UNESCO via the excellent Blogging the Middle East).

- Only one in ten Lebanese primary teachers have received training (equal to Sudan - in Iraq and Palestine, all teachers are trained).

- 12.7% of government expenditure is spent on education (compared to 20% in Djibouti, Morocco, Oman, and UAE).

- There were fewer power cuts during Israel's war on Lebanon (when Israel was targeting power stations) than there are now.

- The government gave the Ministry of Energy and Water 0.5% of all the money it spends in 2005 (before Siniora came to power it was 1.1%).

- The government gives the National Lottery 0.7% of all the money it spends.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007 

Seizing the Golan Heights by war, keeping hold of it by media

Rime Allaf deconstructs an article on the Golan Heights.

Unlike most posts on the blogosphere, this is not simply a comment on something in the mainstream media, this is itself original journalism, and something we are desperately in need of in Syria.

She looks at how Israel is de-Syrianising the Golan Heights to make its return to Syria impossible, and out of bounds of any future peace talks.

Well worth a read.

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Monday, February 05, 2007 

Bashar talks to America - full interview on ABC News

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's given a long sit down interview with ABC's Good Morning America about Iraq. It is a rare event. Full video here.

Some quotes:
"We are the main player."

"What's the benefit of democracy if you're dead."

On the insurgents: "They have to stop looking for scapegoats and whipping can't stoke the fire because it will burn you." But Syria needs American and Iraqi help.

On intelliegence sharing: "We have to and we are willing to co-operate with the rest of the world on terrorism." (That answer followed this question: "Do you know where Osama bin Laden is?").

Who do you admire the most: "President Bush, the elder, and Clinton, because they had the will to achieve peace."

Diane Sawyer also has some interesting feature pieces:

Syria's young people talk about American stereotypes of their country: People ask if we live in tents and ride on camels, they think we all wear veils.

And find out what's on Bashar's iPod, if you care.

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Iraqis protest at new Syrian visa laws

As I reported yesterday, Iraqis are now subject to the standard visa rules - 15 days stay in Syria. Until now, all Arabs had been allowed to stay in Syria without restriction.

So today there's been an angry protest by Iraqis who face going home outside the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) office in Damascus. They're angry not enough is being done.

Photo: John Wreford. Check out his site, he has some of the best Syrian photography around. The sign reads: "How can we return and the violence is still there?"

Iraq is angry that their citizens might be forced to come home. Syrians are angry house prices and food prices are rocketing in Damascus. Iraqis get free health care and education.

Syria, of course, is already strained under the weight of 1 million Iraqi refugees, 400,000 Palestinian refugees, 100,000 refugees from the Israeli Occupied Syrian Golan Heights and countless Lebanese refugees whose houses were destroyed by Israel's war on Lebanon last summer.

Long ago, Jordan imposed visa similar restrictions on Iraqis, and trapped Iraqi refugees in deplorable conditions at the border post. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iran have banned Iraqi refugees.

Interesting analysis here.

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Making Al Jazeera sexy

My favourite satire programme's take on my favourite news channel.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007 

More Dabbaghisms

Ahhh. Half of Iraq's insurgents are Syrian. And now we have a new accusation.

Syrian authorities are restricting visas for Iraqis to 15 days (the same restriction given to all non-Arabs). "Thousands of Iraqis are being put in a difficult situation," he said. Syria's reply: "Some Iraqi parties, which are linked to Washington, are unhappy with the positive developments that have occurred in Syrian-Iraqi relations."

I wonder how many days a Syrian would be allowed into Iraq before being kidnapped and put in an Iraqi prison without trial by Dabbagh's militia (they're called the Iraqi police force).

Syria currently has more Iraqi refugees than any other country in the world. Iraqis get free education and health care.



The gaping hole in reporting Lebanon

When will Western journalists realise that March 14 is Saudi backed?

Let's join up the dots in Jim Muir's report.

"For many Lebanese, the most worrying confrontation was between Shia and Sunni Muslims, respectively opponents and supporters of the Western-backed Beirut government."

"On one side of that battle, the United States and its strategic ally Israel, with a certain measure of wider Western support; on the other, Iran, and its strategic ally, Syria."

"Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the custodian of Sunni Islam, has seen the dangers. It has been talking intensively to the Iranians, and that dialogue is partly credited with persuading the factions in Lebanon to draw back from the brink."

Ahhhhhhh, so THAT'S how Saudi Arabia had control over the Sunni militias in Lebanon: because it is the custodian of Sunni Islam. Ahhhhhh.

And the custodian of Hariri's power.

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Syrian fighters in Iraq

"Fifty per cent of terrorism enters Iraq from Syria, and we have evidence," claims Ali al-Dabbagh - the same man who said Saddam's execution was respectful and dignified. OOPS.

And, oh, is that the sound of Americans disagreeing with you Mr Al Dabbagh? The military revealed 93% of all terrorists in Iraqi prisons were Iraqi, and SEVEN people were Syrian. SEVEN. There were more Jordanian terrorists in Iraq.

Now, I wonder how many Saudis are there.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007 

Teaching hatred

Syrian schoolchildren are taught the language of war. Palestinian text books deny the existence of Israel. Iranian classroom maps say 'Occupied Palestine'. Common accusations from the enlightened West.

Arabs are often portrayed as forcing war down the throats of our children. But who is exposing youngsters to this tragedy? Arab parents and teachers, or the American soldiers and Israeli settlers illegally occupying Arab land?

It is often said that we shouldn't forget our history, so that we don't make the same mistakes again. It is even more difficult to ignore our present. If we do, nothing will change. Maybe that's what our enlightened friends want.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007 

The most disruptive force in the Middle East

They want to interfere in other countries' business and damage chances for peace in the Middle East.

Sound familiar?

But it's not Syria. It's America.

According to Alon Liel (former head of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the Syrian government - America is blocking a peace deal between Syria and Israel.

Syria AND Israel want peace. America doesn't want them to do a deal.

America has got its hands deep in other pies in the region too.

Of course we've got the occupation of Iraq, and the colony of Israel.

In the past few days we've heard Sa'ad Al-Hariri (Lebanon's spiritual leader) blame Iran for Lebanon's tension. We've heard Egypt blame Iran for the murder of a diplomat in Iraq in 2003. And today we've had Mahmoud Abbas blaming Iran for formenting civil war in Palestine.

Co-incidence? Or do puppets all speak the words of their puppet master?

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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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