Friday, June 30, 2006 

Egypt tells Syria to kick out Hamas

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has told Bashar Al-Assad to expel Hamas leader Khalid Mish'aal from Damascus. He says Mish'aal is leading the Palestinians to disaster.

It comes as Egypt tries to negotiate with the Israeli regime to end the attacks on Gaza. The expulsion is thought to be one of the conditions agreed between Egypt and Israel.

Mish'aal has praised the capture of an Israeli soldier, which the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah has distanced himself from. It comes amid talk of a split within the Hamas leadership between the Gaza-based politicians in power taking a more pragmatic position and the exiles sticking with their hardline stances.

It exactly mirrors a similar split in the PLO during Oslo when the Arafat wing were brought back into the Occupied Territories and installed in power, while 'rejectionists' were left in exile condemning the agreement.

Hafez Al-Assad stood by those hardliners during the 1990s at a time when he was being far more pragmatic than Bashar is today. It is clear where Bashar is going to stand.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 

Israeli warplanes enter Syria

Israeli warplanes have entered Syria and flown over the Presidential Palace in Latakia.

Syrian air defences fired at the jets.

It comes after an Israeli soldier was kidnapped by Palestinian militants. Without a shred of evidence that Damascus even had knowledge of the snatch, Israel has taken agressive action against Syria. Even Israel doesn't know who took their soldier.

The fact that they 'buzzed' the palace, and took no further action, underlines the fact that Israel isn't sure who is behind the kidnapping, who is to blame, or who can be attacked. So why not find a handy scapegoat.

Syria and Israel have had a thirty-year long de facto truce, but behaviour like this threatens to destroy that.

In 2003 Israeli jets did the same, smashing windows. A few months later, they bombed a suburb of Damascus.

Lebanon, which is often the victim of Israeli 'buzzing' operations over its cities has criticised the attack on Syria. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said: "This action is condemned. We condemn violation of any Arab country's airspace."

AP copy headlines this story as "Syria fires on Israeli jets" - why is the world's news agency (the Associated Press) framing Syria as the agressor when Israel has invaded Syrian airspace?

Sunday, June 25, 2006 

BBC opens Beirut office and wants Lebanese journalists

The BBC has announced it will open a Beirut office. They are looking for young Lebanese journalists for a placement.

It's in memory of a BBC driver killed in Lebanon six years ago.

Abed Takoush covering the withdrawal of the Israeli Army from Southern Lebanon in 2000 when his car was shot at by a tank. He was in the car, the crew were filming. The vehicle was engulfed by flames, and Abed didn't survive.

He was transporting Jeremy Bowen in Bint Jbeil. Bowen is now the BBC's Middle East editor.

Israel said that the attack was by the South Lebanon Army (an Israeli militia, most of whom are now living in Israel).

Israel abandoned Bint Jbeil the night before, and the SLA were left on their own. Many fled with the Israelis - others shot at anything that moved.

The trainees must be working for a Lebanese broadcaster or newspaper, and will be trained by the BBC World Service Trust. Applicants must have 6 months experience and be fluent in English and have a good knowledge of Arabic.
Click here to apply.

Friday, June 23, 2006 

US diplomats show their support for Syria

American diplomats in Damascus have expressed their support for Syria, according to an American reporter who's just been to the capital.

What makes this story more interesting is that it comes from right-wing reporter Scott McConnell in the 'American Conservative' magazine.

Diplomats said, in private how much they like Syria. That runs contrary to official US policy - Bush withdrew his Ambassador last year.

"They loved being stationed in Damascus," according to McConnell, and are exasperated by official American policy.

McConnell was on a Churches tour of the region - he visited a church service in Bab Touma. And he expressed his concern that if Bush gets his way and removes Bashar, it would have "incalculably tragic consequences" for Syria's Christians.

The American diplomat's response? "He nodded with a look of weary resignation."

Thursday, June 22, 2006 

Red Cross accepts Israel after America holds back emergency funds

The International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Cresent (ICRC) has let Israel in for the first time after America held back $45 million of international emergency cash.

The ICRC is an international collection of Red Cross societies around the world. They do some of the world's most important emergency relief work.

Ironically Israel has repeatdly refused to let the ICRC in to Palestinian land - to see the massacre of Jenin for example. Or even into Israel itself - to see the conditions Palestinians are held in Israeli jails, often held without trial or access to their families or lawyers for years.

Israel had been blocked by Arab and Muslim countries for decades, because of its occupation of Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese and (previously) Egyptian land. The ICRC often sent workers in to clean up the mess the Israelis had created, with the Palestinian Red Cresent helping the victims of Israeli occupation.

It is understandable that they had been blocked for so long.

The ICRC works on consensus: if even one country disagrees, it wont happen. Syria was the only country which blocked Israel's application last year.

But the rules do allow for a two-thirds majority to push things through. The Americans applied so much pressure that they had to resort to this controversial tactic this time round.

The US had withheld $45 million that it has owed for six years. That cash directly harmed the ICRC's international relief work.

They have also voted to allow a new symbol - a red square, especially for the Israelis who didn't want to use a cross or cresent.

Saturday, June 17, 2006 

With all eyes on Syria - arrests of dissidents in Jordan go unnoticed

Four members of the Jordanian Parliament have been arrested for incitement to terrorism. Their crime: to console members of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi's family.

“Expressing condolences to the family of a dead man, however murderous he might be, is not a crime,” said Sarah Leah Whitson from Human Rights Watch.

It comes at a time when, according to independent monitors, the police and mukhabaraat (secret police) have been given freedom to target whoever they want.

The judges are relying on the dubious 'Article 150' which prohibits activities "intended to, or results in, stirring up sectarian or racial tension or strife among different elements of the nation". Sound familiar? It mirrors part of Syria's emergency law prohibiting activities which harm the unity of the Syrian nation.

Last week Al-Jazeera's Amman bureau chief was arrested - he has been targeted before, when he showed footage of clashes between police and Islamists in the southern city of Ma'an.

Just days ago Jihad Al-Mumani the editor of the Al-Shihan magazine was jailed. Before that Hashim Al-Khalidi - the editor of the weekly Al-Mihwar - was jailed.

In January another journalist, Jamil Abu Bakr, was charged with “belittling the dignity of the state”.

Last month Fahd al-Rimawi, the editor of the weekly Al-Majd was arrested for raising questions about Jordan's discovery of a 'Hamas arms stash'.

Thousands more faceless political prisoners languish in Jordanian jails.

But it's only Syria's arrests of opposition activists come in for international condemnation.

Friday, June 16, 2006 

Thousands of 'disappeared' Syrians killed or jailed in Lebanon

A group of Syrian families have demanded information about their loved ones who have gone missing in Lebanon. There has been no notification of their arrest and they haven't faced trial.

They said that dozens more have been subject to murder, beating, arrests, or robbery.

Where is the Syrian government to defend their case? Or the Lebanese to listen?

Four months ago the Lebanese 'Human Rights' Minister was given a long list of people feared missing or killed in his country. But still, nothing has been done.

It seems Human Rights only extend to one category of people inside Lebanon's borders.

Recently Amnesty International urged the Lebanese security forces to stop the gangs of thugs burning Syrian houses and tents across Lebanon.

But the police are part of the problem. On the day of the embassy attacks in Beirut, officers went to an apartment block north of the city and rounded up every Syrian man - forty in total. The were picked up while the demo was going on. It was condemned by the international community.

The vilification of Syrians continues unhindered.


Syria's Foreign Minister heads to Baghdad - for the first time in 26 years

For the first time since Syria and Iraq broke off relations in 1980, Syria is sending its Foreign Minister to Baghdad.

Walid Al-Muallim will attend a conference of all of Iraq's neighbours next Thursday to discuss the deteriorating situation in the country.

It's a sign that relations are warming between the countries, and certainly wont be happening without a nod from the US.

And of course Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki fled Iraq in the 1980s and lived in Syria. He ran the Dawa party from Damascus for 20 years before returning to Baghdad shortly after the American invasion. Most other Iraqi politicians lived in the US over that period. (Thanks George)

So does this mark the start of a shorter road from Damascus to Baghdad?

Thursday, June 15, 2006 

South of the border

'Flag', by Joe Magee

Wednesday, June 14, 2006 

Syria and Lebanon happy with UN Report - but Hariri son blames Bashar

Syria and Lebanon have reacted to Serge Brammertz's report into the killing of Rafiq Al-Hariri.

Syria says that it is satisified 'in priciple'. "The report is professional to a certain degree, and it keeps away from politics," said Syrian Minister Mohsen Bilal, in a reference to Brammertz's predecesor Detlev Mehlis, who relied on the claims of a number of witnesses who have since been discredited.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has praised the 'impartiality' of the report.

Mehlis's report pointed the finger of blame at top Syrian officials, and said Syria had failed to co-operate and had lied to the UN. The UN Security Council passed a resolution recently demanding Syrian co-operation - Brammertz says that Syria has complied with all of the UN's requests, and he is satisfied with the help.

Brammertz interviewed Syrian President Bahsar Al-Assad and Foreign Minister Farouq Ash-Sharaa in April.

Sa'ad Hariri - Rafiq's son, the man who rigged last year's Lebanese elections - however, isn't happy. "Assad is to blame. Or let me put it like this - based on everything I know, I hold him at least partly responsible," he said.

Bush, however, is silent.


Khaddam: 'I'm not corrupt'

Former Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam has been interviewed on the BBC's Hardtalk.

He insisted that he does have support inside Syria. The interviewer told him that Syrians laugh at his claims of support, suggesting that he is corrupt, and has profitted just as much as the government members he criticises.

'I am not corrupt,' came his reply. 'I have worked since 1958. My youngest son has worked for 20 years. They live comfortably and honourably.'

The interviewer pushed him again and again on his flat in Paris. Where did he get that from? From his decades-long theft from Lebanon? 'Hariri was a friend of Syria,' Khaddam volunteered, showing his ineptitude as a politician - the interviewer had not mentioned Hariri. 'Hariri was Syria's Foreign Minister, he went on many missions on Syria's behalf, he served Syria and he served Lebanon'.

Khaddam was also challenged on his lack of international support. 'I am talking to some international institutions to make them aware of the suffering of the Syrian people,' he said.

No support inside Syria, no support outside Syria.

Sunday, June 11, 2006 

Was Zarqawi behind the terrorism inside Syria?

Jordanian intelligence officials have been telling the New York Times that Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi recruited about 300 fighters in Iraq to join his global terrorist movement.

The 300 foreigners were sent back to their home countries to await further orders.

Zarqawi was killed in Iraq last week.

It has long been thought that the terrorist attacks in Syria over the past couple of years have been by 'takfiris' - Sunnis who believe everyone else are infidels. It's also clear that Jund Ash-Sham - the group responsible for much of the trouble - has clear links to Zarqawi.

US intelligence officials confirmed they were tracking Zarqawi followers from Iraq to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other coutnries - but they don't think there are as many as 300 fighters on the loose.

This suggests Zarqawi was trying to set up a global terrorist movement to rival Osama bin Laden's. But oen final thing - don't forget where this information has come from: Jordanian and US intelligence. That should raise some questions.


UN says Syria is co-operating with the Hariri investigation

UN investigator Serge Brammertz has published his long-awaited report into the Hariri killing.

Although he has avoided naming a perpetrator, he says that Syria's co-operation is 'generally satisfactory'. Previous reports condemned Syria for obstructing the UN and for lying to officials.

This time, they did things differently - Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad agreed to be interviewed, as did Foreign Minister Farouq Ash-Sharaa.

The country faced the prospect of international sanctions if they were seen to be blocking the UN inquiry.

UPDATE: The full Brammertz report is available here. Comments on Syria's co-operation are on page 23 (near the bottom).

Tuesday, June 06, 2006 

Khaddam's chances of overthrowing Bashar

Khaddam and Bayouni revealed details of how they are going to overthrow Bashar, at a conference in London's upmarket Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane.

The BBC's Tim Whewell was there: (picture: BBC's Tim Whewell interviews Abdul-Halim Khaddam)

"The would-be revolutionaries gathered in London don't appear to be getting any support from governments in the West or the Middle East, and without that it won't be easy for them to spark a revolution at long distance.

No Arab regime has ever been overthrown by a popular uprising. But there have been lots of exiles who whiled away their days in hotels like this."

Sunday, June 04, 2006 

Terrorism comes to Damascus

Five people have been killed in a shoot-out between police and militants in the centre of Damascus.

It happened in the Ummayid Square, as they tried to break in to the TV/Radio building.

The square is also home to the national library and the Sheraton hotel. The other main international hotels - the Meridian and the Four Seasons - are just meters away.


Officials later seized 10 US-made rifles saying that they had been supplied by "neighbouring country to carry out sabotage attacks against vital targets and national interests". They didn't say which country, but Syria has recently said that weapons were entering Syria from Lebanon.

Tishrin, a Syrian newspaper, said the weapons were meant "to send an urgent message to the leadership and the people of Syria to realise the dangers of ... confronting projects that are hostile to Syria and the Arab nation."


Four of the dead were militants and the fifth was a police officer. It comes two years after militants tried to break into a building in the same square.

There have been a number of clashes between Muslim militants and government forces in the past couple of years - and a long history of tension. It's thought the people behind this attack were 'takfiris' (Sunni extremists).

Past attacks have come from Jund Ash-Sham, formed by extremists linked to Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi (Al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq). In March, Jund Ash-Sham commander Mohammed Ali Nasif was killed near Damascus.

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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