Tuesday, May 30, 2006 

Syrian plan to put Walid Jumblatt on trial falls flat

The Lebanese Parliament has rejected Syria's summons of anti-Syrian Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt and Telecoms Minister Marwan Hamadeh.

In a rare move, a Syrian military court summoned them to appear for treason. It was also highly unusual for the Lebanese Parliament to issue a statement rejecting the move.

Parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri said they refused to accept the summons "in form and in content". What's interesting is that Berri (leader of Shia party Amal and a key ally of Syria) was heard speaking those words.

The Hariri party voted for the statement, but Syrian allies and Hizbollah all stayed quiet by abstaining rather than voting no.

America criticised the summons as evidence of Syria's influence in Lebanon. But could a Lebanese statement have been imagined just a year ago? Isn't that the strongest evidence that Syria has little influence in its western neighbour?

Monday, May 29, 2006 

Israel and Lebanon agree a truce

UN peacekeepers say they've negotiated a truce between Lebanon and Israel after a weekend of violence.

There were gun battles across the border which left a Lebanese Hizbollah member dead and a Palestinian militant was also killed.

Earlier Israel air bombed two Palestinian refugee camps: one near Beirut and another near the Syrian border.

That attack followed missile launches into Israel.

It all started with Israel's assasination of the brother of an Islamic Jihad leader in Sidon on Saturday.

Sunday, May 28, 2006 

FLASH: Israeli jets bomb Bekka Valley

Israeli jets have attacked Palestinian camps in the Bekka Valley. Apparently they hold the PFLP responsible for the missile attack into Israeli this morning.

The missiles were fired from Lebanon into Israel this morning, according to the Israeli army. They were in retaliation for Israel's assasination of the brother of an Islamic Jihad leader in Sidon, southern Lebanon yesterday.

The PFLP camps are unrelated to Islamic Jihad, but they are on the border between Lebanon and Syria - could that be the real reason for the air raid?


Israeli soldier injured near Lebanese border

An Israeli soldier has been lightly wounded near the Lebanese border, after what the Israeli army claims was a barrage of rockets from Lebanon.

There has been no independent confirmation from Lebanon - Hizbollah or Palestinian groups are normally quick to claim the credit for such attacks. This atttack was also deep inside Israeli territory - in the town of Safed. No rocket from Lebanon has ever reached that far south.

Lebanese soldiers are frequently hurt by Israeli air raids which illegally cross the border. The Israeli government says it holds the Lebanese government responsible for the attack, and it is normal practise for a bombing raid to follow.

Friday, May 26, 2006 

Bomb kills one in Sidon

A car-bomb has exploded in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon killing one person and injuring another.

The target was the injured man, an Islamic Jihad leader. Israel has been targetting Jihad leaders in the West Bank and Gaza, but they say they are 'unaware' of any involvement in the Sidon blast.

The dead man was the leader's brother.

The explosion was almost identical to the car-bombs that have plagued Beirut for over a year.

Monday, May 22, 2006 

Philip Weiss: My Trip to Evil Syria

An American in Syria. New York Observer journalist Philip Weiss has visited the country demonised by his government, and posted his thoughts. They might make uncomfortable reading for the average American.

Here's what he found...

—I went all over Syria and the people were gracious everywhere I went, hospitable in the way that Arabs are famous for. When I got lost in Damascus, people invariably went out of their way to escort me to the right place, often speaking English. They also wanted to have political conversations at every turn, and to put down Bush and America. Of course, these people have witnessed (I witnessed some of it myself) a lot of suffering from Iraq, the spillover of hundreds of thousands of refugees often with horrifying tales of murder and kidnapping. "The Arab street," which I engaged with whenever I could, was genuinely enraged about American policy. And, yes: they feel completely misunderstood by us.

—The English-language newspaper, The Syria Times, was full of anti-Israel talk. It was the major theme of the paper, to show America and Israel in a corrupt alliance, and sometimes had an anti-Semitic flavor. This tended to support the claim I'd heard from Jewish critics in America, that these dictatorships rely upon stoking anti-Israel feeling to distract their people from their own political problems. I'd add that in a number of conversations with ordinary people I said I was Jewish, and got a neutral response.

—I was surprised by how little evidence I saw of militarism. There were few police in the streets, no soldiers that I can remember, except for a couple of guys with semiautomatic rifles lolling outside an official building. In touring the country, we passed many military bases with watch towers. They were all unmanned. Syria is a poor country, and you see it in the absence of soldiers. I have no doubt that Israel could defeat Syria in no time.

—Partly because of the absence of guys in uniform, I sensed a great deal of personal freedom. The streets are active, lots of people are in business, and only one conversation I had was stopped (when an Arab friend, a woman, held up her hand in a fancy Damascus restaurant as we were talking about the lack of freedom for women in Arab societies, to say that one shouldn't talk about these things in public). People seemed to be leading pleasurable lives, by and large. Commerce was lively. The internet cafes were hard to find, but they were teeming with young men. I am trying to convey my feeling that this is not a totalitarian place. In his book, which describes Syria as fascist, Berman imagines women in Arab societies throwing off their burkas with joy when they are finally liberated. This seems to me obviously wrong: women appeared to me to be covering themselves or not to varying degrees as a cultural norm, in line with their traditionalism and religiosity.

—That said, Arab society is very male. Women are excluded from public life. A New Year's party I went to in a small city was all men, but for a couple belly dancers and tourists. Awful. And it seemed to me that this masculinity is very hierarchical and authoritarian. Very traditional too—like America in the early 20th century. Again and again, I said to myself, I want Islam to experience a reformation, and soon. The upside is I saw no evidence of crime. Indeed, I felt completely safe walking the streets, and never worried about leaving a bag outside my hotel for a few minutes. My companions and I said Syria felt like a Mafia town that way.

—Political complexity. When we were in Tartus, on the coast, we learned that a man from the American Embassy was staying in our hotel, had been there for months, dealing with grain shipments in the port that were destined to go on to Iraq to make bread for the U.S. troops. Does the Syrian government know about this? I asked my informant. Of course. So Syria has aided the occupation of Iraq, in subtle ways. And the State Department is funding education programs in Damascus.

—Finally, per Islam's reformation. Syria has a high literacy rate, but: I never saw anyone reading. They didn't read on the buses I rode. They don't read on public benches. They aren't reading in cafes. Few people seem to wear glasses. Once at a crusader ruin, I saw a schoolboy with a notebook crammed with his writing. A glorious exception, and one that proves the sad point, the intellectual life of the place is not very advanced.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, May 21, 2006 

Syria frees three political prisoners

Three of the twelve people arrested last week for signing a petition calling on the government to mend relations with Lebanon have been freed.

Khaled Khalifa, Abbas Abbas and Kamal Chekho have been released according to Ammar al-Qorabi, the president of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.

Three are free - nine to go.

Thursday, May 18, 2006 

Anwar Al-Bunni arrested

"Yes, there has been a crackdown on opposition leaders in Syria,"

They are the words of Syria's liberal Ambassador to the US, Imad Moustapha. "But," he adds confusingly, 'it is not the long term policy of Syria.'

He's not partisan. He's not calling for the government to be overthrown. He's not calling for a foreign invasion. He doesn't even condemn Bashar.

So why has Anwar Al-Bunni (above) been arrested? Has Bashar lost control, or suddenly found control?

Anwar Al-Bunni is the country's leading human rights activist. I've quoted him many times in the Syria News Wire, and just yesterday I watched him on Al Jazeera talking about the arrest of Michel Kilo.

His family say he was dragged away from his house after asking two police officers who came to his door to show him their arrest warrant.

Others are reporting many arrests across Syria in the biggest crackdown on opposition since Bashar came to power. There have been a handful of arrests since the start of his presidency, but it has been characterised by prisoner releases - the most recent was just a few months ago.

What is happening to Syria that causes the country's defenders to be locked up - Michel Kilo yesterday, Anwar Al-Bunni today. We can only hope that they'll be released in the next couple of days, and it's just Syrian government paranoia kicking in.

In these situations, we normally turn to Anwar for a comment. We normally rely on Anwar for the real version of events. Now it is Anwar who is the story.

The arrests mount:
- Kamal Labwani - arrested as he returned to Syria after holding talks with dissidents and US government officials in Washington
- Mohammed Ghanem - runs the surion.org website
- Michel Kilo - called for Damascus to sort out its relationship with Beirut
- Anwar Al-Bunni - defended the government's opponents

Monday, May 15, 2006 

Michel Kilo arrested

Syrian activist Michel Kilo (left) has been arrested just days after he wrote a endorsed a petition calling for Syria to improve its relations with Lebanon, according to the Syrian Organization for Human Rights.

His daughter says he was summoned by the security services, and he still hasn't returned.

He has long supported Bashar's reform process, and called for it to move on quickly. And he has criticised Syria's involvement in Lebanon. He is a writer for anti-Syrian paper An-Nahar, which was run by Jubran Tueni who was killed in a car bomb in Beirut in December.

The Syrian Organisation for Human Rights, and its head Ammar Qurabi, have been one of the most balanced voices in Syria. They have called for reform and criticised the government - Ammar has been arrested for that - and they have also found the time to praise the government, and criticise pressure from the US, the UN and Lebanon.

Friday, May 12, 2006 

Syrian opposition moves to Amman - or Khaddam's latest fantasy?

Highly respected gossip-rag As-Siyassah reports that "its sources" are saying Syria's opposition figures are moving to Jordan and Lebanon.

So is this really happening? And can we expect announcements from the newly 'free' opposition leaders in the next few days. I predict not.

Why not?

As-Siyassah. That's reason enough. It publishes wish-lists and fantasies as fact. Rarely, if ever, does it retract its mistakes. And it can publish entire news stories without quoting a single named source. It has all the journalistic credence of Hello magazine. So, no, I doubt we'll be seeing Mohammed Habash in Books@Cafe on Jebl Amman anytime soon.

But there is a second reason - As-Siyassah hints that their 'source' might be Khaddam. Is it? And if so, why wouldn't Khaddam go public - it's not like he's scared of doing that.

Anyway, if they are to be believed, former government members are leaving Damascus to ignite a war - "two explosions for every explosion and two assassinations for every assassination," we are told.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006 

British Embassy reopens in Damascus

After more than a year, the British Embassy has re-opened in Damascus.

It had been closed to visitors because of a security risk, but the country's Ambassador was never withdrawan.

Syrians can now apply for visas in person, instead of submitting their papers to the DHL office in Mezzeh.

The US Ambassador was withdrawn just two days after the Hariri killing, Britain and all other countries kept their representatives in despite American pressure.

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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