Sunday, December 30, 2007 

Syriatel goes international

There's a rumour doing the rounds claiming Syriatel is about to be bought.

The interesting part is who is buying, and who is selling. The President's cousin Rami Makhlouf recently sold the company to a Turkish group. Now it seems Syriatel is being bought again, this time by Zain.

Zain is fast becoming the Arab World's international mobile phone brand. It recently bought Fastlink in Jordan. It also operates in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, and fourteen African countries.

And across Africa, you can make an international call for local prices, as long as the other person is also on Zain. Hopefully this will be extended to Zain's Arab networks soon too.

And did I mention, it is one of the Arab World's sexiest brands. Zain really is zain!

(via Hasan)

Friday, December 28, 2007 

March 14 politicians are as brave as those who fought the Israeli occupation

"Hezbollah ... acquired it privileged status through the martyrdom of its young men on the Israeli front ... today denies this same treatment to its opponents in the Lebanese government."

Joseph El-Khoury.

Thursday, December 27, 2007 

America withdraws Ambassador to Pakistan and imposes sanctions

Oh no, America doesn't have double standards. Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistan Prime Minister has been killed in a mirror-image of the Hariri killing. But America's reaction is certain not to mirror their reaction in 2004.

Hariri assassination:
Two-times former Prime Minister
Killed in a massive suicide bomb which killed 21 others
Opposed the ruling dictatorship
Was preparing for the election just weeks away, in which he was expected to take power
Assassination blamed on Islamists
Faced corruption charges

Bhutto assassination:
Two-times former Prime Minister
Killed in a massive suicide bomb which killed 15 others
Opposed the ruling dictatorship
Was preparing for the election just weeks away, in which she was expected to take power
Assassination blamed on Islamists
Faced corruption charges

But there are some interesting differences...

Hariri assassination:
Didn't accuse the rulers of threatening him
Never considered going into exile
UN Security Council investigation justified because of Hariri's high profile nature (as a former Prime Minister) - it is the first time the UNSC has set up an investigation into the killing of an individual
Elections went ahead as planned

Bhutto assassination:
Accused the rulers of threatening her
Came back from exile, despite threats against her from the rulers (another opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif was deported)
UN Security Council investigation not justified because of Bhutto's high profile nature (as a former Prime Minister)
Elections likely to be cancelled

(The title of this post was sarcastic in case you haven't guessed)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007 

The Bus

From the amazing Puppeteer (thank you!):

Friday, December 21, 2007 

Syria arrests top officials in Hariri murder case - Bashar's relative part of the mystery

Three top ranking Syrian officers have been arrested on suspicion of being involved in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al Hariri.

The three men are Jamea Jamea, former Syrian intelligence official in Lebanon, Said Rabah, Syrian intelligence official in Mount Lebanon, and Ghassan Bilal, director of Maher al Asad's (brother of Bashar al Assad) office.

They are in jail near Damascus.

Muhammad Makhluf, a relative of the President, is criticially ill in hospital, after a car crash. It's thought the 'accident' was an assassination attempt against him.

It comes as America and Syria move closer to reaching an 'understanding' over Lebanon. Were these arrests part of the deal?

Thursday, December 13, 2007 

Syria asks Iranian ambassador to leave

According to somewhat dubious sources, Syria has asked the Iranian ambassador to leave.

They have requested that Iran send a new envoy, because Mohammad Hassan Akhtari is interfering in internal affairs. Tehran asked for Akhtari's stay to be extended, and Syria has refused. He has been given two months to leave.

The Cultural Attache has also been told to go.

Could this be a sign of Syria gently leaving the Iranian fold, and moving closer to America.

It comes just two weeks after Syria attended the Annapolis peace conference organised by the US. Iran harshly criticised anyone who went. It is one of the first times Syria and Iran have publicly disagreed in recent years, and led to urgent discussions between the two countries.


Putin tells Hariri to shutup

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has told his close friend Sa'ad Al Hariri not to blame Syria for the assassination of Francois Hajj.

Hajj was an anti-Hariri figure, who lead the summer attacks on the Hariri-funded Fateh Al Islam.

Senior figures in Hariri's March 14 movement have already started to blame Fateh Al Islam - even leading anti-Syrian MP Boutrous Harb says it wasn't Syria. Even Junblatt is keeping his mouth shut.

But Hariri insists it was Syria. Now he's been knocked into line by Putin.


Human Rights organisation praises the release of political prisoners

Almost all of the political prisoners detained earlier this week have been released according to the The Syrian Human Rights Organization.

30 people who signed the Damascus Declaration were called in on Sunday. 10 were released immediately, another 15 have left since then. 5 more are still being held.

The SHRO has called for their immediate release.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007 

Hariri threatened the Lebanese army commander who was killed today

Hariri's March 14 movement threatened Francois Hajj in January. He was killed in a Beirut car bomb today. Hajj has links with the Hizbollah/Aoun opposition, and led the attack on the Hariri-funded Fateh Al Islam this summer.

M14 called for Hajj to be "tried for derelcition and siding with the opposition".


Next head of the Lebanese army killed

The man who was expected to be the next head of the Lebanese army has been killed in a car bomb in Beirut.

Brigadere General Francois Hajj was likely to replace Michel Suleiman. Hajj is a 'pro-Syrian', and was in charge of the assault on the Nahr Al Bared refugee camp during the summer. He made enemies when he led the battles with the Hariri-funded anti-Syrian group Fateh Al Islam.

The pro/anti divide may be petty and false, but it is interesting how none of the agencies have referred to Hajj as pro-Syrian. In the reporting of any other killing, the victim is always referred to as anti-Syrian.

Hariri funded Fateh Al Islam as a Sunni/anti-Syrian counterweight to the Shia Hizbollah. But then Fateh Al Islam went out of control, and the army was sent in to put an end to their violence.

This is the first attack on the army in the recent spate of killings, which has generally been seen as apolitical.


Political prisoners to be released

The remaining members of the group of Damascus Declaration activists are going to be released.

30 were asked to come in for questioning 48 hours ago. 10 were allowed to go immediately. More have been freed since then. And the remaining few are now set to be released.

Activists are now calling for new laws to be immediately implemented to stop this abuse of power happening again.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007 

Calls for an urgent change to the law

The National Human Rights Organization is calling for an urgent change to the law, after 30 people were questioned by police.

They are all members of the Damascus Declaration, which calls for political reform in Syria. 20 of them are still being held, hours after they were asked to come in for questioning. 10 others were released soon afterwards.

The NHRO says the promised law which will allow people to freely "organize political life" now needs to be passed as a matter of urgency.

Monday, December 10, 2007 

Facebook minister sacked

AP make an interesting point. Two weeks after criticism in Syria and across the world at the Facebook ban - the minister in charge has been sacked.

Amr Nazir Salem had been the target of a campaign on the net, after blocking a number of popular Syrian sites, including Facebook, Blogger and all4syria, run by a Baathi reformer.

But was this change of minister was just to get rid of an unpopular figure - or to make a real change in Syria's internet policy. The only answer will come over the next few months, when the state ISP will either unblock these sites - or continue the rotten policy of old.


Syriatel being sold

Rami Makhlouf is selling Syriatel.

His business has come in for a lot of criticism, because of his connections to the president. It is a lightning rod for all those who point to corruption at high levels.

It is not clear who the company is being sold to. MTN, the country's other mobile operator, is already owned by a foreign company (from South Africa).

Sunday, December 09, 2007 

Iraq's American puppet leaders learn from Saddam

As if Saddam's ethnic cleansing wasn't bad enough, now the current Iraqi 'government' is playing the same game, for the same dirty reasons.

Saturday, December 08, 2007 

Hariri supporters start to turn against him

Fans of March 14 have started to turn against Hariri.

Here's Ghassan Karam of the staunch M14 website Ya Libnan:

"The leaders of what became known as the March 14 bloc had nothing in common with the aspirations of the brave, youthful, demonstrators of the Cedar Revolution except its name."

"Unfortunately the local traditional politicians managed to co-opt the popular revolution and to wrest control of it by pretending that they were the real force behind it all along."

It comes on the same day that Samir Jaja had stong words of criticism for Sa'ad Hariri.


Syrian Government reshuffle

Reports coming in of a Government reshuffle from AFP.

We know that Imad Abdel Ghani Sabuni is the new communications and technology minister - he's a former head of the communications authority.

And Mohammed Abdel-Sattar Sayyed is minister for religious endowment - promoted from deputy.

Thursday, December 06, 2007 

US supporting sale of military equipment to Syria

The thaw continues.

The US is supporting a UN transfer of military equipment to Syria. $2 million worth of computers and surveillance equipment is being sent to Damascus. It is for Syrian customs, but it is all being kept very quiet.

It involves a US company, Cisco Systems. The US government gave them a special permit to operate in Syria - breaking the US embargo.

Dig a little deeper and you find out what this is about. America has been complaining that foreign fighters are crossing from Syria to Iraq. Syria has complained that America has gone back on its promise to supply equipment to help them monitor the border.

Recently things have changed. The US second in command in Iraq publicly praised Syria for stemming the flow of militants. And then Syria went to the US peace conference in Annapolis.

The result - America is very very quietly supplying the equipment. It will clearly benefit both countries.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007 

No, that's NOT the story, you racist Lebanese

So yesterday, I mentioned how Human Rights Watch has accused Lebanon of imprisoning Iraqi refugees, even though they have committed no crime apart from being Iraqi.

Now, 'Ya Libnan' has run this headline to cover up the story: "HRW: US & allies are responsible for Iraqi refuges in Lebanon". No, no, no. That's not the point of their report is it.

And look at the quote they pick: "Lebanon is not the cause of the Iraqi refugee crisis, and Lebanese are understandably wary of hosting yet another refugee influx."

Ahhh. Understandably wary. I guess that justifies arresting and expelling the most vulnerable members of society. Well done Lebanon.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007 

Lebanon jailing or expelling Iraqi refugees

Human Rights Watch says police are arresting ALL refugees and detaining them indefinitely. They are being ordered to return home. As HRW says, "Rot Here or Die There".

To make it worse, they are not allowing ANY refugees to stay. It is the most outrageously racist anti-refugee policy of any Arab country. Even America is letting in a tiny number of refugees.

HRW says the policy affects not just the ones who have been caught, but all the other refugees as well. They and their families live in constant fear of arrest and being sent back to die.

The Lebanese authorities MUST end this dangerous policy NOW.

It is bad enough that every neighbouring country of Iraq has closed its borders - except Jordan and Syria which have imposed tough new visa regulations. When Iraq starting offering free bus journeys from Syria to Iraq, I suspected Syria might be supporting the moves - to reduce the number of refugees in Damascus.

But this Lebanese policy is just something unbelievable. Unthinkable. Stop it now. Stop the arrests of Iraqis. Stop the attacks on Syrians. And stop blaming Palestinians.

Just remember how Syrians welcomed you into their homes last year when YOU needed help.

Full report. (Picture: Iraqi refugees in Sayida Zainab, Damascus.)

Monday, December 03, 2007 

US Second in Command in Iraq praises Syria

Lt General Raymond Odierno has credited Syria for cutting the number of militants crossing into Iraq.

He says there has been a 30 per cent fall.

The occupation forces have now re-opened the Al-Qaim/Abu Kamal border crossing. It had been closed for three years because of claims that Syria was letting militants through.

"We think they can do a bit more but we're pleased with the fact that they are taking some additional responsibility with their own internal security measures," Odierno said. "There's still too many coming across and we would like to see them eliminated completely and we'll continue to ask them to do that."

Saturday, December 01, 2007 

The Junblatt hypocrisy

There's a strong wind blowing over the Levant tonight. It's the breeze from Walid Junblatt's coat, swinging round in a series of massive u-turns.

Paraphrasing the mass murderer's change(s) of heart in the past few hours:

'I am absolutely against a military president' becomes 'What is important now [in a president] is Lebanon's stability through a person who has had a key role in uniting the army'.

'Hizbollah must disarm' becomes '[he is known for] his clean record in protecting the resistance'.

'We will not accept Suleiman under any circumstances' becomes 'This decision (to back Suleiman) was purely Lebanese'.

Hizbollah and Michel Aoun suggested Michel Suleiman as a unity figure. March 14 and Junblatt said no.

Now America has held its little party in Annapolis and decided it can't be bothered with Lebanon anymore (Siniora is crying right now - he has a short memory, America is not a very faithful partner). And without that international backing, March 14 and their gunman Junblatt, have shamelessly changed their words overnight.

Junblatt: he's often called Lebanon's weathervain because he always follows the political mood in the region. In the civil war he backed Israel, then Syria in the post-war peace, then America after the Hariri-killing, and now Hizbollah.

'This decision (to back Suleiman) was purely Lebanese'. Of course it was. Now go and help Siniora, he needs some tissues.

(p.s. when I spell check Junblatt, it comes up as Gunboat).

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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