France Recalls Syria Envoy

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) – France recalled its ambassador to Damascus and Syria’s suspension from the Arab League took effect on Wednesday, intensifying diplomatic pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to halt a violent eight-month-old crackdown on protests.

Syrian army defectors attacked an intelligence complex on the edge of Damascus in a high-profile assault that showed how close the popular uprising is to sliding into armed conflict.

Hours after the Arab League suspension took effect, Assad supporters threw stones and debris at the embassy of the United Arab Emirates and smeared its walls with graffiti, witnesses said. The embassy is in one of the most secure districts of the capital, near Assad’s home and offices.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France was working with the Arab League on a draft resolution at the United Nations.

Last month Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have condemned Damascus, but since then the normally cautious Arab League has suspended Syria for failing to implement an Arab peace plan.

“New violence is taking place and that has led to the closure of the missions in Aleppo and Latakia and to recall our ambassador to Paris,” Juppe said, referring to weekend attacks by pro-Assad demonstrators on French diplomatic premises, as well as Turkish and Saudi missions, in Syria.

Arab foreign ministers met in Rabat for an Arab-Turkish forum, where a Syrian flag was placed by an empty chair.

Turkey, now a fierce critic of its former ally, said Syria had failed to honor an Arab peace plan to halt the unrest.

Speaking through a translator, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu compared Syria with Libya, where rebels captured, humiliated and killed Muammar Gaddafi last month.

“The regime should meet the demands of its people,” he said. “The collective massacres in Syria and … the bloodshed cannot continue like this.”

IRAN DEFENDS SYRIA

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi criticized the Arab League for “acting in a way that will hurt the security of the region.” He told the official news agency IRNA that Syria, an ally of Iran since 1980, had repeatedly pledged to meet legitimate popular demands and enact reforms.

“Unfortunately, some countries believe that they are outside the crisis … but they are mistaken because if a crisis happens they will be entangled by its consequences.”

Saudi Arabia, which is eager to loosen the ties between its regional rival Iran and Syria, said the Arab League was acting in Syria’s interest, not interfering in its affairs.

“What’s important is not about suspending or not suspending (Syria from the League), it’s stopping the bloodshed, starting the dialogue, and withdrawing troops from Syrian cities,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told Al Arabiya channel.

Western countries have tightened sanctions on Syria and on Monday Jordan’s King Abdullah became the first Arab head of state to urge Assad to quit after ensuring a smooth handover.

In the early months of the uprising, attempts by security forces to crush mainly peaceful protests accounted for most of the violence. But since August there has been a growing number of reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting back.

Activists said Free Syrian Army fighters fired machineguns and rockets at a large Air Force Intelligence complex on the northern edge of the capital at about 7:30 p.m. EST.

A gunfight ensued and helicopters circled over the complex, on the Damascus-Aleppo highway. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Syrian state media did not mention the attack.

The U.S. State Department said it had few details and no direct confirmation of the incident, but blamed Assad’s crackdown on protesters.

“It’s not surprising that we are now seeing this kind of violence,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “We don’t condone it in any way, shape or form. But let’s be very clear that it is the brutal tactics of Assad and his regime in dealing with what began as a non-violent movement is now taking Syria down a very dangerous path.”

“HUGELY SYMBOLIC”

A Western diplomat in Damascus described the assault as “hugely symbolic and tactically new,” saying that if the reported details were true it would be “much much more coordinated than anything we have seen before.”

“To actually attack a base like this is something else, and so close to Damascus as well,” said the diplomat, adding that fighting in recent weeks involving army deserters in the town of Rastan and the city of Homs resembled a localized civil war.

“It’s not a nationwide civil war, but in very specific locations, it is looking like that,” said the diplomat.

The Free Syrian Army was set up by deserters and is led by Colonel Riad al-Asaad, who is based in southern Turkey.

It announced this week that it had formed a “temporary military council” of nine defecting officers, led by Asaad.

The statement said the Syrian Free Army aimed to “bring down the regime and protect citizens from the repression … and prevent chaos as soon as the regime falls,” adding that it would form a military court to try “members of the regime who are proven to have been involved in killing operations.”

Syrian television showed thousands of Assad’s supporters rallying in Damascus and Latakia to mark the day his father Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970. It said the crowds were also voicing their rejection of the Arab League’s decision.

“God, Syria, Bashar, that’s all!” demonstrators shouted in central Damascus after turning out in heavy rain to wave flags and posters of the president. Two large posters of Assad and his father hung from a building. “Neither rain nor sanctions will stop us expressing our nationalism,” they said, according to the television report.

The Arab League has stopped short of calling for Assad’s departure or proposing any Libya-style military intervention, but its ostracism of Syria is a blow to a country whose ruling Baath party puts Arab nationalism at the center of its credo.

Syrian authorities have banned most independent media. They blame the unrest on “armed terrorist gangs” and foreign-backed militants who they say have killed 1,100 soldiers and police.
Hundreds of people have been killed this month, one of the bloodiest periods of the revolt.

Syria says it remains committed to the Arab peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of troops from urban areas, the release of prisoners and a dialogue with the opposition.

State media said more than 1,000 prisoners, including prominent dissident Kamal Labwani, were freed on Tuesday. But human rights campaigners say tens of thousands have been detained since anti-Assad protests began.

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US: Some Arab Leaders Offered Haven for Assad

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some Arab leaders have told the United States they are willing to provide safe haven to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to hasten his “inevitable” departure from power, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman did not identify the countries that had offered a place for Assad to go after seven months of protests against his rule in Syria.

“Almost all the Arab leaders, foreign ministers who I talk to say the same thing: Assad’s rule is coming to an end. It is inevitable,” Feltman, who is in charge of near eastern affairs, told a Senate panel.
“Some of these Arabs have even begun to offer Assad safe haven to encourage him to leave quickly,” Feltman said. He hoped Assad and his inner circle would “head for the exits voluntarily.”

Assad has shown no sign of leaving. Syrian troops shot dead eight protesters and injured 25 in Damascus earlier Wednesday, activists said, in one of the bloodiest incidents in the capital since the upraising against Assad began.

More than 60 people have been killed by the army and security forces just since last week, when Assad’s government signed a peace plan sponsored by the Arab League.

Western governments led by the United States have called on Assad to leave power. Feltman said the United States would continue to support the Syrian opposition while diplomatically and financially pressuring the regime, “until Assad is gone.”

U.S. and European financial sanctions were “tightening the financial noose around the (Assad) regime,” he added.

But the United States did not seek militarization of the conflict: “Syria is not Libya.”

Washington favored multilateral sanctions on Syria at the United Nations, Feltman said, adding that if Russia and China continued to block a Security Council resolution condemning Syria, Washington would consider other steps.

The United States favored European-led efforts to introduce a resolution in the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee that would insist on access to Syria for internationally recognized human rights monitors, Feltman said.

He feared the transition to democracy in Syria could be long and difficult, and had no answer when Senator Richard Lugar asked who might replace Assad once he is gone.

“That’s one of the real challenges, because the opposition in Syria is still divided,” Feltman said.

Feltman said the U.S. Commerce Department was investigating whether Internet-blocking equipment made by a U.S. company, Blue Coat Systems Inc, had made its way to Syria, which is subject to strict U.S. trade embargoes.

Blue Coat, of Sunnyvale, California, said in a statement on its website that some of its equipment apparently had been “transferred illegally “ to Syria, but that it did not know who was using the devices or exactly how. It said the company was cooperating with the U.S. government investigation. News reports have said Syria is using the equipment as part of its crackdown on protests to monitor and block Internet traffic.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Successful Demonstration for Freedom in Syria and Libya

April 11, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

As revolutions sweep the Muslim world, the Southern California community, home to many from that area and their children, are taking a proactive interest in events there.

The Syrian community in the greater Los Angeles area and the Libyan Emergency Task Force there sponsored a well attended and successful demonstration in front of the Federal Building in Los Angeles this past weekend. The event was held to show support for and solidarity with the people of Syria and Libya.

In announcing the demonstration the organizers called attention to the 48 years of one party rule in Syria. Attention also was focused on the civilian deaths resulting from the repressive measures, including the use of live ammunition and mass arrests, on the part of Syrian Special Forces.

The Libyan Emergency Task Force supports the passage of United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 which authorizes all necessary measures to protect civilian life including the well publicized “no fly zone”. The Task Force acknowledges the need for United States participation to unseat dictator Muammar Qaddifi.

The local Libyan Emergency Task Force is in contact with the main office, located in Washington, D. C. .  A meeting will be held in the near future to facilitate the centralization of the group’s work.

Idris Traina, a spokesperson for the Task Force, told The Muslim Observer that a critical situation – a barrier -exists with respect to aiding the Libyan civilians. It is presently against United States law to send money to Libya even under the auspices of charity and for humanitarian reasons. Efforts are underway through contact with elected officials to repeal or mitigate this law.

When asked what type of government he wanted for Libya, he replied one that is “democratic and free” with an “open society and formation of political parties”.

A fundraiser for Libya was held in early March and others are planned for the future as soon as US based charity organizations are allowed to provide help inside Libya.

Motorists travelling along the busy thoroughfare where the Federal Building is located honked their approval of the signs held by the demonstrators.

For further information, please contact: Ammar Khaf at ammar@kahf.com or Sarah Larbah  at sarah.larbah@gmail.com.

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Majority of UN member countries call on Israel to abide by resolutions on the occupied Syrian Golan

November 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mazen Eyon

New York, (SANA)-The majority of the United Nations member countries called on Israel to abide by resolutions related to the occupied Syrian Golan, particularly the UN Security Council resolution 497 which considers the Israeli decision to impose its laws and procedures on Golan as null and void.

The fourth Committee of the UN General Assembly (The Special Political and Decolonization Committee) adopted Thursday a draft resolution entitled ‘the occupied Syrian Golan’ with 165 countries voting for the resolution. Only Israel voted against the draft resolution and the US abstained.

The resolution called on Israel to cancel its decision of annexing the Golan, considering the Israeli administrative and legislative procedures to change the Syrian Golan identity as null and void as well as a flagrant violation of the international law and Geneva Convention.

It also demanded Israel to stop imposing the Israeli nationality and the Israeli identity cards on the Syrians in Golan and halt the repressive measures against the Syrian citizens, condemning Israel’s violations of Geneva Convention on protecting civilians.

The Committee urged the UN member countries not to recognize any of the Israeli procedures that contradict the international law.

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Israel May Have Planted Spy Gear in Lebanon: U.N.

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

2009-10-18T211529Z_01_BTRE59H1N2100_RTROPTP_3_NEWS-US-LEBANON-ISRAEL

U.N. peacekeepers inspect the site of an explosion between the villages of Meis al-Jabal and Houla in south Lebanon, October 18, 2009.

REUTERS/ Ali Hashisho 

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A U.N. investigation into explosions in south Lebanon indicated on Sunday that Israel had planted spy devices on Lebanese land in what a senior U.N. official said would be a violation of a ceasefire agreement.

The UNIFIL peacekeeping force in Lebanon said its preliminary probe into two explosions in the south showed they had been caused by the detonation of underground sensor devices.

The units were apparently buried by Israeli forces during the 2006 war with the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, it said.

“These do look like some sort of espionage device,” Michael Williams, the U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon, told Reuters.

If confirmed, the devices would represent violations of Security Council resolution 1701 which halted the 34-day war.

A first explosion was reported on Saturday evening and a second on Sunday morning. No injuries were reported. The devices had been placed some 2 km inside Lebanese territory between the villages of Houla and Meiss al-Jabal.

“Preliminary indications are that these explosions were caused by explosive charges contained in unattended underground sensors which were placed in this area by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) apparently during the 2006 war,” UNIFIL said in a statement.

UNIFIL was investigating what had caused the devices to blow up. A Lebanese security official said they appeared to have been detonated by remote control from Israel after their discovery by Lebanese security forces.

Israel did not respond specifically to the Lebanese assertion. But an Israeli military statement said Sunday’s incident proved Hezbollah’s military presence in south Lebanon, especially in rural Shi’ite areas along the border with Israel.

UNIFIL said it had protested to the Israeli military about overflights by drones while the Lebanese army and the peacekeepers were investigating on the ground. Lebanese army troops opened fire on the drones with machine gun and small arms fire, the UNIFIL statement said.

Williams said the use of drones was an obvious violation of Lebanese sovereignty and resolution 1701 “and not particularly helpful at a time of obvious tension in the south.”

UNIFIL is also investigating another incident in south Lebanon last week at the village of Tayr Filsi, a UNIFIL spokesman said. The Lebanese army and Hezbollah said one person was wounded when a shell exploded in the garage of a Hezbollah member in the village on Monday.

Israel has said the blast showed munitions were being stockpiled in violation of resolution 1701 and has complained to the United Nations about the incident.

The next report on Security Council resolution 1701 is due to be filed later this month.

The 2006 war broke out after Hezbollah, an anti-Israeli Shi’ite group backed by Iran, launched a raid into Israel, capturing two soldiers. More than 1,000 people, mostly Lebanese civilians, were killed before the United Nations brokered a ceasefire.

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