Sunday, February 26, 2006 

Ambassadors return to Syria

The Danish Ambassador who left Damascus when the embassy was set alight three weeks ago is on his way back to Syria.

At the time, he said that he wasn't leaving for political reasons, but because Syria wasn't doing enough to guarantee his security.

The Embassy was set on fire by an angry mob protesting at a danish newspaper which published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb on his head.

At that time Denmark advised all of its citizens to leave Syria - very few took the advice.

A year ago US Ambassador Margaret Scooby left Damascus in protest at 'Syria's murder' of Rafiq Al-Hariri. That was three days after Rafiq died.

Thursday, February 23, 2006 

Syrian opposition says 'no' to US offer of money

Syria's opposition umbrella, the Damascus Declaration, says it wont accept any money from the US.

The bloc, which was signed by some of the country's top opposition leaders (Riyad Sayf (left), Jawdat Said, Samir Al-Nashar, Kurdish groups and civil society advocates), set out their vision for Syria's future late last year, calling for "democratic and radical" change. The full text is available here.

They tried to paint a picture of what Syrians really want, in the face of increasing pressure on the Damascus government.

One of their key points was a rejection of foreign military intervention. But it wasn't clear whether they'd take financial aid.

Now, the State Department has a clear answer: we reject "any financial assistance from any party”, the Damascus Declaration said.

They also distanced themselves from a meeting in Brussels between former Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam and the head of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Looks like the State Department has another set of names to cross off that list. The search continues - who will take our money?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 

Lebanon accuses Syria of hijacking their mobile network

That most precious of Lebanon's natural resources is being attacked by Syria, according to Telecoms Minister Marwan Hamedeh.

Lebanon has the highest mobile usage in the world - more minutes per person than in any other country.

And now Lebanon says Syria wants to get a bite of that apple.

Hamadeh says Syria has pointed its mobile phone masts towards Lebanon, and is selling pre-pay phone cards in shops in Tripoli. Users then log on to a Syrian network with a Syrian SIM card and pay the much cheaper Syrian prices.

Hamadeh says that any shop found selling Syrian pre-pay cards will be immediately shut down.

But I have never found it possible to connect to a Syrian network in Tripoli. On the contrary, along long stretches of the Damascus-Aleppo highway, my mobile switches to the Lebanese networks, costing me more money.

Lebanese phone experts say that Lebanon introduced mobile phone networks long before Syria (one reason was because after the civil war, much of the landline phone infrastructure had been uprooted). So Lebanon pointed its mobile masts towards Syria and boosted the signal, to get Syrian subscribers.

It's a modern version of Lebanese banks welcoming Syrian customers who cross the border to do their banking.

One fact Hamedeh may have overlooked (if he goes to Tripoli to raid one of these evil shops run by Bashar's infilitrators, he'll find that he gets no Syrian mobile signal) is that the shops selling Syrian pre-pay cards may be for Lebanese and Syrian businessmen and travellers who cross the border, just half an hour away.

Hamadeh says that the "act of agression" is costing Lebanon dearly. The two mobile networks are Lebanon's second biggest industry. Hariri Inc. (otherwise known as the Lebanese Government) gets $4 million every month from the two private companies which run the network. He admits he doesn't know how much money Lebanon is losing.

If Syria doesn't comply with Hamadeh's demand, he has threatened to go to the Arab League.

Sunday, February 19, 2006 

America gives $5 million to the anti-Syrian government opposition - who'll win the prize?

Washington has earmarked $5 for "accelerating the work of reformers". They want to give the cash to opposition groups.

But they might have a hard time finding someone who'll accept their money.

Riad At-Turk (left) has already ruled out working with the Bush government. The Muslim Brotherhood is seen as an Al-Qaida wing by the State Department. It's unlikely that the founder of the Human Rights Association of Syria, Haythem Al-Maleh, will dance with an administration with a human rights record that includes Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. There's Kamal Labwani - now, he has met US officials, but criticised foreign intervention in Syria.

But WAIT. What about Farid Ghadry. The man who wont work with other Syrians because - according to them - he "only wanted to be a leader" (that was said by Husam Ad-Dairi). The man who hasn't been to Syria since he was a child.

He's the man who approached Riad At-Turk and got a swift rebuke: Turk called Ghadry's understanding of what opposition means "nonsense" and said that he has "absolutely no support” in Syria. Ghadry's anger was fired up: he wrote an article in the Washington Times calling Turk - one of Syria's most liberal politicians - a 'Stalinist".

But he is the darling of Washington, and close to Elizabeth Cheney - daughter of the Vice President, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs. (Unknown in Syria, hated by Syria's liberals, wont work with anyone but himself, hasn't seen Syria since he was in short pants, loved by the State Department - does the name Ahmed Chalabi come to mind?)

Hmm. Let's think about other people to give the money to. Sa'ad Al-Hariri, I mean, his ancestors were Syrian weren't they? Write that cheque.

Or maybe Bashar can apply.

Take our money. Please. Someone?

Saturday, February 18, 2006 

Amnesty International: Most Syrians arrested for the Beirut embassy burning weren't even in Beirut at the time

Amnesty International has made the astonishing claim that most of the Syrians accused of involvement in the Beirut riots weren't even in Beirut at the time of the attacks.

It explains the high number of Syrians arrested (138 out of 400). Anti-Syrian politicians - Walid Jumblatt in particular - pointed to the arrests of Syrians as proof that the Syrian government had a hand in the violence. Although Samir Jaja did say that Jumblatt was being too quick to point fingers.


More disturbingly, Amnesty have evidence that the Syrians arrested are being beaten in the hope that they will 'confess'. Amnesty also point out that they have been denied access to lawyers.

Amnesty give the example of 42 of the prisoners - officers from the feared Internal Security Forces went to an apartment block in Tariq Jdeide while the demonstrations were still taking place and rounded up every man with a Syrian ID card.

The news comes on the same day that the Lebanese government was presented with a list of Syrians who have been missing since the Civil War. Most of them are feared to be dead, or are still in Lebanese jails.

Yet more evidence that Lebanon is blaming others for its own divisions - even if that means torturing innocent people and rounding up poor workers simply because of their race.


More wild claims in As Siyasseh

Why does every story in As Siyasseh newspaper only quote 'close and very personal sources'. Why do they never name names. Could it be because most are unsubstantiated pieces of gossip - or worse, stories dreamt up in the newsroom?

I have thought for many months about starting a 'Siyasseh Watch', where I will track the latest extravagancy to pour out of the Kuwaiti newsroom.

Today they quote extensively from private conversations between Bashar and cabinet members. He says he is willing to sacrifice Rustom Ghazali, Jameh Jameh, Mohammad Khalouf or Bahjat Suleyman.

And apparently UN investigator Serge Brammertz (the new Mehlis) has tape recordings of the conversation between Bashar and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, where he threatens to kill Rafiq Al-Hariri.

Oh yes, of course there's more. Stayed tuned.

Friday, February 17, 2006 

Plea for information about 'the disappeared' Syrians in Lebanon

The Lebanese government's Human Rights minister has been given a list of Syrians missing in his country.

Syrian families want to know what's happened to their sons - it's feared many are languishing in Lebanese jails or were killed by militias.

It's not clear how many there are. Most were soldiers and civilians captured during the Lebanese Civil War.

Syrian government spokesman Faysal Kouthoum said: "Some of those lost are liquidated or arrested in a coercive way by heads of some armed Lebanese militia and those who have become chairmen for many Lebanese parties or officials in the Lebanese state".

Although some say Lebanese militias and police have 'disappeared' Syrians in Lebanon during the current anti-Syrian frenzy which started with the death of Rafiq Al-Hariri a year ago.

During that year hundreds of Syrians have been attacked or killed, and many have had their houses burnt down by racist mobs.

Thousands of Syrian soldiers were killed or captured during the 15 year Lebanese Civil War - three days ago Sa'ad Al-Hariri thanked them for ending their war.

Recently Lebanese families demanded to know where their relatives were - they claim many of them are being held in Syrian jails.

Thursday, February 16, 2006 

Mamoun Homsi and Riad Seif arrested - and freed

Former MPs and opposition activists Mamoun Homsi and Riad Seif (below) were arrested today. They have since been released.

The pair were released last month after spending five years in jail. Seif recently returned from Paris where he met the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood leader.

It's unclear why either of the men were arrested, but it's likely to be just to gather information. Authorities recently banned the two men from holding a press conference.

Seif was picked up at dawn on Wednesday and taken into custody for a couple of hours. Homsi had been released just before Seif was arrested.

Homsi says police searched his house and his father's house and questioned his son.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 

Syrians turn back on hostile Lebanon rally

Excellent article by Khaled Yacoub Oweis. Some highlights:

"They say they want the truth about Hariri but don't care if their alliance with America ruins Syria."

"They are the same Lebanese politicians who used to bow for our officials. They were agents then and are still agents now, but to Western and Zionist masters."

"Forty years ago Syrians had many political parties and more expression but we did not abuse the freedom. We would not have used it to hurt Lebanon."

Here's the article...

Syrians turn back on hostile Lebanon rally
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Television sets in Damascus were tuned to football, dramas or the Koran on Tuesday, anything but a Beirut rally to mark the first anniversary of the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Although half a million people gathered 80 km (50 miles) west of Damascus demanding Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud step down, few Syrians cared, saying the Hariri issue has turned into a U.S.-backed campaign aimed at destabilizing Syria and blaming it for inherit divisions among the Lebanese.

"The people at the rally you talk about are being led by war criminals who turned Lebanon into hell for 15 years. Why should we be impressed?" said engineer Fares al-Baroud, sitting at the Havana cafe in central Damascus and watching a replay of an Italian football league game.

"They want to blame Syria if Lebanon turns into a banana republic. They say they want the truth about Hariri but don't care if their alliance with America ruins Syria."

Baroud was referring to tension between pro and anti U.S. players in Lebanon's sectarian system and the fact that Shi'ite Muslims, who are the country's largest sect, have largely stayed away from the rallies for Hariri, who was a Sunni.

Most Syrian popular anger was directed toward Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a warlord during the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war and a former ally of Syria. Jumblatt was instrumental in the events that eventually led to Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon after the Hariri killing.


Jumblatt denounced Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the "tyrant of Damascus" and called for revenge on him for alleged Syrian involvement in Hariri's killing.

"Who is moving these people? They are the same Lebanese politicians who used to bow for our officials. They were agents then and are still agents now, but to Western and Zionist masters," said Hussein Saleh, a government employee.

"They think they can create a future for America in the region?"

The United States, which imposed sanctions on Syria in 2004, has been at the forefront of international pressure on Damascus for its alleged role in the assassination of Hariri.

Damascus denies involvement in the killing and has pledged to cooperate with a U.N. investigation into it. The ongoing inquiry has implicated senior Syrian officials in the murder.

Syria however has not recovered from economic pressure on it after the killing and the government on Monday switched state dealings to Euros from dollars as a precaution against disruption to foreign currency flows.

"Hariri was well liked by the majority here. But the Lebanese response to his killing has been emotional and we have not seen hard evidence on Syrian involvement," said Mohammad al-Qahwaji, a retired French teacher.

"The Lebanese forget that we are really one family," he said. "It is rare to see a Lebanese without relatives in Syria and vice versa. Forty years ago Syrians had many political parties and more expression but we did not abuse the freedom. We would not have used it to hurt Lebanon."


2005: millions march in Beirut. 2006: thousands march in Beirut

Organisers of today's march in Beirut are coming to terms with a disappointing turn-out, one year on from Rafiq Hariri's death. Last year, millions marched on the capital in support of their slain leader. This year, a couple of hundred thousand went on to the city's streets.

But it was more of a rejection of the political mood than a rejection of the Hariri legacy.

Last spring, young Lebanese rallied round their political leaders, hoping that a new unity, a new political reality was about to be born. This spring, they are coming to realise that the unity was short-lived - torn about by the sectarian divisions of the election campaigns - and the new political reality is a political stalemate.

The mood on the Lebanese street is of lost opportunity.

And today's rally was boycotted by the main Christian leader Michel Aoun - the man who paints himself as the real opposition failed to ally himself with the Hariri-bloc last year, but still managed to win most of the seats in the Christian heartland.

Sa'ad Al-Hariri spoke to the crowd - well, the handful of people - from behind a glass screen. No, he doesn't think he's the pope, he's worried that one of his adoring fans might shoot him.

And he unveiled Lebanon's new mantra: 'Lebanon first', in a deliberate snub to the three-quarters of a million Palestinian refugees and thousands of Syrian workers.

But, in an interview with Lebanese television, Sa'ad Al-Hariri cut a more concilliatory tone:

"We do not ask for a change of regime in Syria, but that it makes peace. We thank Syria for having ended the war in Lebanon but we will handle our own affairs now ... The Syrian regime did a lot of wrong in Lebanon and spared her neither insults nor threats."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006 

One year on: Syrian arrested in Beirut for attacking...himself

A grenade was thrown under this Beirut car.

The owner, a Syrian, was unhurt. The police arrived in Awzai to find the culprit, and arrested - the owner. Well - he was the only Syrian around.

Twelve months ago today former Lebanese Prime Minister* / Syrian stooge* / Embezzeler-in-Chief* (*depending on the time of day) was murdered in Downtown Beirut.

This post is dedicated not to his death, but to the plight of the hundreds of poor Syrian workers in Lebanon who have been attacked, murdered, and had their homes set fire to over the past year.

With a poisonous racist atmosphere polluting Beirut for the past twelve months since the murder of Rafiq Al-Hariri, is it any wonder that more Syrians were arrested after the Beirut Embassy riots than Lebanese. Even anti-Syrian Samir Ja'ja conceeded that they might have made a bit of a mistake there.

Thanks As'ad.


The Valentine's Day Massacre


The Syria News Wire's FIRST BIRTHDAY!

After 1 year,
388 posts,
38,000 readers,
zero deleted comments,
and 1 new look...

THANK YOU for choosing the Syria News Wire, the web's most comprehenisve source of Syrian News. Fresh, original, independent. And it's still ad-free.

The Syria News Wire was one of first sites to break news of the bombings in Amman and stick with it as the night progressed.

Highest number of readers in one day: 850 (Tuesday 31st January 2006).

Most controversial posts:

Napolaoun Returns

Lebanese General*/Prime Minister*/President* (*depending on his mood) Michael Aoun has returned to Beirut. I've come to save you, it's ok now - let's continue where we left off 15 years ago: "Today is a day for joy, a day for jubilation. I'm back."

Now, where exactly did we leave off 15 years ago. Ah yes, he extended the Civil War by a year, prolonging the suffering of Lebanon. Aoun was installed as interim Prime Minister in 1988 to help work towards elections. But as a supporter of democracy, he ignored the elections, insisted that he should stay on as PM and exploited his position to help his military campaign. And this is the man who might run for office this month.

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'.

France washes its hands of Khaddam

France is desperately trying to get rid of former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, it emerged tonight.

A delegation of French diplomats arrived in Saudi, to arrange for him to be transferred out. Saudi said no.

Demonstrators set fire to Danish and Norweigan embassies in Damascus

The incident caused almost unanimous anger on the Syrian blogosphere, and set the comments section alight.

Thousands of protesters have broken through lines of police officers to break into the embassies of Denmark and Norway in Mezzeh.

They replaced the flags with signs reading 'La Ilaha ila Allahu Muhammadu Rasul Allah'. Danish and Norweigan citizens have been advised to leave the country urgently. No-one was hurt, and it seems that none of the protests were directed at people - they were highly symbolic.

The protesters then headed towards the French embassy nine kilometres away in Jisr Al-Abyad but police sucessfully blocked all roads leading into the area.

Monday, February 13, 2006 

Riad Turk rejects Khaddam's plan to return to Damascus

Leading opposition member Riad Turk has returned from Paris critiicising former Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam.

Khaddam's chorus of criticism against Bashar has been growing louder over the past couple of months, and many expected Turk to embrace him. But after Turk's visit to France, and meeting with Bayouni, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, he rejected Khaddam's plan to return to Damascus to take power.

Saturday, February 11, 2006 

Syrian government reshuffle

Farouq Ash-Sharaa becomes Vice-President (to replace Abdul Halim Khaddam who went into exile in Paris last year)

Walid Muallem becomes Foreign Minister (replacing Sharaa)

Bassam Abdel Majeed becomes Interior Minister (to replace Ghazi Kanaan who commited suicide)

Muallem is clearly a more moderate figure than Sharaa who has inflamed international opinion against Syria with his hardline stance. Is Bashar's promotion of Sharaa to Vice-President a way of keeping him quiet?

That is exactly what happened to Khaddam - he was seen as one of the strongest contenders for the leadership, and Bashar needed somewhere to put him out to graze. It is the ineffectual position of Vice-President that eventually drove him into exile.


Syrian bloggers unite against the Embassy violence

In an unprecedented move, dozens of Syria's bloggers have put their name to a joint statement condemning the attacks on the Danish and Norweigan Embassies in Damascus last week.

The statement - which will be appearing across the Syrian blogosphere - follows...

None of us believe in violence as a solution. The following is a compilation of the writings of Syrian bloggers, regarding the attacks on the Danish and Norwegian embassies. The intent of this post is to give our readers a different perspective, a perspective that the media ignores. We’ve all seen the images of riots in the streets, flag burning, and public protests. On the other hand, few have heard of the reasonable voices coming from the Arab world in general, and from Syria in specific. If you would like to add your voice to ours, let me know and I’ll be more than happy to add you to this post. Let’s work together to make our voices heard.

Ihsan: "I welcomed both the commercial and diplomatic actions in response to the cartoons that mocked the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and for once, I felt that we are reacting in a civilized manner! Not any more! While I’m 100% convinced that the Syrian Regime had a hand in what happened. I still cannot understand the concept of being driven like a sheep. To me, those people who were sabotaging and burning the embassies seemed like stupid sheep led by a smart shepherd."

Yazan: No, they were not attacking Danish or European "out of line" freedom of speech, they were not even taking revenge for the prophet, They were attacking the heart of Syria. The civilized idea of Syria. These ppl are criminals, And the ones RESPONSIBLE for letting them unleashed are CRIMINALS too...

Ayman: What happened in Damascus today is just shameful. I had expected the protest to be peaceful and civilized. Mobs ran into the streets, shouted and attacked embassies, without realizing the severity of the damage they inflicted to "their" cause and to Islam's image. Mobs controlled the protests today, and people who were there to peacefully protest were shocked and had to hide in their homes. I felt a bitter disappointment.

Sara: I couldn't believe that a mob of angry Muslims burnt the Danish embassy. Why?? That was seriously not necessary. They had no right. Islamically this is seriously NOT acceptable. I personally condemn this sinful act. You cannot fix something wrong with something worse... Innocent people could've died. They had nothing to do with the cartoons.

The Syrian Brit: "These acts were carried out in the name of Islam, under the guise of defending it.. What a sickening farce.. I say to all those bastards who attacked the Embassies and burnt flags and vandalised properties.. Not in my name.. Never.."

Omar Faleh: "I do feel ashamed of how things turn out in my home country, and I do feel very bad about where the country is going, especially that I believe that the government was not completely innocent of being involved in this matter.. and I don't agree with any political or social value in there.. but.. those people are not Syrians.."

Sinan: There is not in any imaginable way a valid reason to the attacks held against the Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish embassies, however I totally understand it. Have you ever heard of marches and demonstrations where violence didn't occur? However it's necessary and very crucial for the rest of the world to understand that these actions do not, I repeat, do not in anyway reflect what the Syrian people really believe, or at least what the elite in here believe.

Omar Salaymeh: "I hope people don’t take the actions of a few thugs as representative of the Syrian or Lebanese people. Just like we expressed our voices of concern over the cartoons in the first place, we’re all expressing our views again over the shameful acts. We, the rational, should work together to show the world that there’s more to Arabs than what they see on television. If I learned anything from the cartoon fiasco, it’s that our views, beliefs and culture are not well known to the west. I think this whole situation could have been prevented if there wasn’t much ignorance on both sides of the table."

Ammar: Everybody said it, this is not us, nor it is our Islam. Everything that happened in the last two days in Syria and Lebanon jeoperdised the efforts muslims made to keep the protests civilised and rational. Apologies to the people and countries hurt in the violence acts. Still, we'll keep protesting peacefully against the cartoons about our prophet Muhamad (PBUH).

Yaman: The problem for Muslims is not the Danish economy. In fact, the source of the problem does not even rest with the editors of the European newspapers or the cartoonists themselves. The problem is the cancer of the extremists who embrace and adopt their closed minded and violent world view based loosely on an erroneous understanding of the Qur'an. For, we must realize that the publication of the cartoons in the first place was a response to the extremists and ironically enough, succeded only in eliciting primarily the response of those same extremists further intensifying the problem. It was irresponsible of the papers to do this knowing what the response would be--but let us not forget that the cartoons were originally published five months ago on September 30, 2005. Why the delay? Obviously, it was more politically suitable for the Arab regimes to inflate this issue today. Why the riots 5 months later? If the cartoons were really the issue then the world would have been on fire in 2005, not 2006.

Digital Oasis: (post in arabic)

Gottfried: (post in Arabic)


Friday, February 10, 2006 

US Military on the Iraq-Syria border: there are no more foreign fighters crossing the border

Col. Greg Reilly of the 3rd squadron of the 3rd Armoured Cavalry, who is at Sinjar, patrolling the Syria-Iraq border, says the flow of foreign fighters from Syria has stopped.

The astonishing claim flies in the face of cries from Washington that Syria is doing nothing to stop militants crossing into Iraq.

Col. Reilly says he has stopped 130 smugglers in the area in the past nine months, but says "we did not find one foreign fighter."

He also pours scorn on suggestions that money to support the insurgency is pouring across the frontier: "If there was a strong relationship, we’d have found money caches or they would have tried to divert us from the border. That has not happened."

His claims seem to support a report from American journalist Kevin Sites, who was on the Syrian side of the border last week. He said: "The Syrian Army says it's done a lot to beef up security on the border after American and Iraqi complaints, including the creation of a defensive sand berm and increasing the number of border outposts to 557, each with eight to ten soldiers on guard."

And in the past few weeks, even Washington has been forced to concede that things are changing in the desert:

"The pouring of fighters on the Syrian border has declined now," said Henry Crampton, a U.S. State Department official. "And I believe the Syrians actually took certain measures in that regard, but they can do more."

When will the White House start singing a new song? These were George W. Bush's words four weeks ago: "there’s suiciders coming in from Syria into Iraq".

Thursday, February 09, 2006 

Danish newspaper: no freedom of speech on Christian and Jewish issues

Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper:

We wont publish cartoons that offend Christians.

We wont publish cartoons that offend Jews.

But Muslims are a different matter.


Samir Jaja: Syria WASN'T to blame for Beirut embassy burnings

Lebanon's most virulent anti-Syrian politician, and Hariri-ally, Samir Jaja says Syria wasn't to blame for the riots on Sunday in Beirut which burnt the Danish embassy.

The head of the Lebanese Forces says the claims of his coalition allies (he didn't mention Walid Jumblatt by name) that the rioters were backed by Syria were incorrect: "Because everybody wanted to reveal the truth behind Sunday's riots rapidly, the information provided by some politicians was not 100 percent accurate," he said.

Earlier in the week, Lebanon's acting Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat said that the accusations of Syrian involvement in the riots was baseless.

However, the accusations that the buildings were set fire by foriegners not Lebanese continue unabated. Former MP Fares Soueid now says that Jordanians were to blame.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006 

Danish paper prepares to publish a NEW set of controversial cartoons

Before I go much further with this post - an apology. I apologise for publishing a non 'Syrian' post. But I feel that this issue has affected Syria - and Damascus in particular - that it deserves mention.

Jyllands-Posten, the Danish paper has decided to publish a series of cartoons satirising the holocaust. When they published the Mohammed cartoons, they said they were doing it because they didn't believe they should respect any red lines, any self-censorship. And I agree. But I felt that they chose an easy, dangerous and racist stereotype to make their point.

Europe has its own red lines, Iranian newspaper Hamshari said, and so it would test their 'freedom of speech' argument by publishing a series of cartoons making light of the holocaust.

And now the Danish paper wants to publish them on the same day. And I support their decision to do so. It is easy to use your right to free speech when it only hurts a distant 'other'. But much more difficult, and uncomfortable when you challenge your own views.

It is vital for the paper to publish these new cartoons to show that they are not racist hypocrits, only willing to exert selective freedom of speech.

I know many people - moderate, liberal, tolerant Syrians, Europeans and Americans - are going to disagree with me, and disagree passionately. But I stand by this view, and I encourage you to disagree with me in the comments section.

This blog has always stood for freedom of expression ("I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy") and I defended the Danish paper's right to publish the Mohammed cartoons. I disagreed with their choice because I felt it was gratuitous and religiously stereotyped muslims as terrorists. I felt that their defence of freedom of speech was a thin veil for racism: especially because they chose not to publish a series of Jesus cartoons 'because of the widespread offence it would cause'.

Maybe their decision to publish the holocaust cartoons has been prompted by the revelation about the Jesus cartoons yesterday. But even so - well done to Jyllands-Posten for showing that freedom of expression does not only extend in one direction.

They have made their point. Let's hope that the holocaust cartoons are not replicated across Europe. Let's hope that this REALLY is the end of the argument.

As someone once said about themself: I'm not racist, I hate everyone.


Minibus crash kills 7 in Homs

Seven people have died after a serveece (minibus) collided with a crane.

Five others were injured in the crash in the central city of Homs.

The microbus was on a highway, coming from Al-Hasakeh, when the accident happened. The bus was heading for Hama, in northern Syria.

The dead haven't been named yet.


How the good turned bad

Syria was to blame for the embassy burnings in Beirut. How on earth could the Lebanese get their hands dirty and do such a menial task?

Walid Jumblat has taken yesterday's accusations a step further by claiming that the rioters weren't angry Lebanese muslims, but in fact, Syrian soldiers dressed up as angry Lebanese muslims. Yes, that's right.

It is an accusation that undermines the almost credible claim that Syria could be behind the series of political assasinations that - to use that awful journalistic cliche - have rocked Lebanon over the last year.

But it is also a clever tactic. The good old Lebanese 'bury your head in the sand and play happy families' trick. After all, it worked during the Civil War didn't it? Didn't it?

With American-French fire hitting Syria at an increasing rate, it also plays to the Lebanese trick of kicking the weak. It's an easy scapegoat. Lebanese yesterday also accused Palestinians - Lebanon's 'fifth column' - of also being responsible.

"Many people in Lebanon yesterday accused Syria of instigating the violence and said it was part of a broader campaign by Damascus to sow instability and sectarian division in Lebanon," says the Guardian's Rory McCarthy.

But wasn't it that same Syria that held Lebanon's stability and kept a lid on sectarian conflict for the 15 years since the end of the Civil War?

Sunday's protests destroyed a Beirut church. "If [muslims] attack us again, especially our religious places, the consequences will be very serious," said Safwat Said, 22, a Lebanese Forces student.

Monday, February 06, 2006 

Lebanon's justice minister says 'Al Qaeda' behind Beirut embassy burning

Justice Minister Charles Rizk says Al Qaeda organised yesterday's embassy burnings.

He resorted to the tried and tested Lebanese tactic of failing to accept that problems in Lebanon come from the Lebanese.

Meanwhile, Walid Jumblat has blamed 'Syrian workers' for the attacks, claiming that the Lebanese would be above that.

Other officials spoke of 'infiltrators' even though protestors spoke with Lebanese accents. The Guardian's Rory McCarthy was in Ashrafiyeh and he says he saw buses bringing rioters from other parts of Lebanon, and the Beirut suburbs.

Not spontaneous, but very much Lebanese.

Before the civil war, Lebanon buried its head in the sand. Through the civil war, with bombs going off, air raids, and foreign invasions, Lebanon continued to keep its head firmly stuck in the sand. And today, Lebanon - once again - did what it does best and buried its head in the sand.

Yesterday's attacks were carried out by Lebanese. As'ad Abu Khalil reports Christian-Muslim violence, chants for militias to be reformed, and thugs looking inside peoples' cars for Christian symbols.

It is disturbingly reminscent of 13 April 1975 when Phalange members murdered every Palestinian inside a bus in East Beirut. In retaliation, every Christian car in West Beirut was stopped, and the occupants' throats' were slashed.

Yesterday was more significant, more worrying than any of the political murders of the past 12 months. Because yesterday was the first evidence of civil unrest. CIVIL unrest.

Meanwhile, shedding some more light on the resignation of Interior Minister Hassan Sabeh yesterday, Rory McCarthy says that the police were clearly prepared for the attacks - pulling out barracades and riot gear as the demonstrators approached. Yesterday it was claimed that police were overwhelmed, that they were caught unaware, and that the only thing left for them to do would be to shoot - the Interior Minister said there were 1200 officers on the street. So the question has to be asked - was the embassy burning 'allowed' by a sympathetic police force?


Cartoon riots: Lebanon's Interior Minister quits, Syria apologises

Lebanon's Interior Minister Hassan Sabeh has resigned after protesters set fire to the Danish consulate in Beirut today.

Far less protection was given to the embassies in Beirut than in Damascus, and rioters easily managed to break through police lines to attack the buildings.

Sabeh said he refused to give permission for security services to use weapons against the protesters, and he has come under intense pressure to resign since that decision.

Meanwhile, Syria's Foreign Ministry has apologised for the damage caused to the Danish and Norweigan embassies in Damascus yesterday. Protesters burnt the buildings there, but caused less damage than in Beirut.

Nevertheless, only the Syrian riots attracted American attention. The White House said it held the Syrian government 'personally responsible' for the actions of the Syrians yesterday. I wonder if it will hold Siniora's Beirut government responsible for their trouble.

Syria says it has boosted the protection around the diplomatic missions. But denied claims that Danish and Norweigan citizens were at risk.

Sunday, February 05, 2006 

Terror group leader killed near Damascus

Syrian security forces killed the leader of a terror group in the early hours of this morning.

The clash happened outside Damascus, in Kafer Battna. Two other members of the group were also killed in the attack, which lasted more than half an hour.

Weapons were found in the flat which the group hired, along with inflamatory documents.

Officials say the group was planning terror attacks in Damascus, but it's not clear whether they were from Jund Ash-Sham, which has plagued Syria for the last year, condemning Syria's secular state.


Demonstrators set fire to Danish and Norweigan embassies in Damascus

Thousands of protesters have broken through lines of police officers to break into the embassies of Denmark and Norway in Mezzeh.

They replaced the flags with signs reading 'La Ilaha ila Allahu Muhammadu Rasul Allah'. Danish and Norweigan citizens have been advised to leave the country urgently. No-one was hurt, and it seems that none of the protests were directed at people - they were highly symbolic.

The protesters then headed towards the French embassy nine kilometres away in Jisr Al-Abyad but police sucessfully blocked all roads leading into the area.

It's unclear what impact the protests will have on Syria's relationship with the countries affected.

During the Iraq war, police lined the streets of Abu Roumaneh and encircled the American, Jordanian and Egyptian embassies to prevent anyone getting close. They succeeded.

Today's protests will surely bring back painful memories of the 1991 Gulf War when Syrians managed to get inside the heavily fortified American Embassy complex in Maliki and pulled down the American flag. They also broke in and caused millions of dollars worth of damage which Syria had to pay for (thanks Annie). Since then, embassies have been more heavily protected in Damascus than even government buildings.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 

Syria agrees with US on funding for Palestinian Authority

Syria has stepped up after the US requested Arab help in funding the Palestinian Authority. Bush is threatening to cut off aid to the newly elected Hamas-government.

But he wants Arab governments to fund the authority, fearful of the chaos that might reign in the West Bank and Gaza if the Palestinian state collapses.

So which country was the first to say yes to Bush? Syria.

Syria wants to lead an Arab funding package.

Also today Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad met Hamas's political chief Khaled Mishal, who is based in Damascus. Bashar has been under pressure to expel Mishal - but it seems that pressure will drop once the international community starts dealing with Hamas as a legitimate political force.

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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