A poster from this week’s protest in Kafranbel, Idleb (Syria). Russia continues to arm Assad’s forces while Obama does … nothing.
The people of Kafranbel, Idleb (Syria) pull no punches when describing the relationship between Assad & Obama.
‘American Support’ for Syria … as seen by the people of Kafranbel, Idleb. Many in Syria say ‘too little, too late’ for the meager, non-lethal support that the US is now pledging to the FSA.
Nothing has changed in the last few months: Obama is still a coward, the Arab League and UN are still fumbling with Brahimi not sure what to do with him, Russia is still providing the regime with diplomatic cover and supplying them with weapons. The only thing that changed is the grade of weapons used by the regime on the Syrian people. The recent addition in this bouquet of death is the SCUD missile. Tens were fired by Bashar al-Assad on his people and Aleppo seems to be his favorite target. Bashar message is clear, and it’s not intended for opposition or even the people. His message to the international community is: give up trying to unseat me or I will inflict more damage and human casualties. This is exactly the objective. More than anything else before, the campaign of SCUD missiles is not intended to (and can’t) inflict any material damage to armed resistance or score a military advantage. It is crude and could hardly hit a target accurately. But it can inflict massive damage on poor civilian neighborhoods. So the message to the international community is clear: I have ballistic missiles and I’ll fire them all before going down. And by its silent response so far the international community is acquiescing to this message.
As Syria disintegrates, it threatens the entire Middle East. The outside world needs to act before it is too late.
AFTER the first world war Syria was hacked from the carcass of the Ottoman empire. After the second, it won its independence. After the fighting that is raging today it could cease to function as a state.
As the world looks on (or away), the country jammed between Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Israel is disintegrating. Perhaps the regime of Bashar Assad, Syria’s president, will collapse in chaos; for some time it could well fight on from a fortified enclave, the biggest militia in a land of militias. Either way, Syria looks increasingly likely to fall prey to feuding warlords, Islamists and gangs—a new Somalia rotting in the heart of the Levant.
If that happens, millions of lives will be ruined. A fragmented Syria would also feed global jihad and stoke the Middle East’s violent rivalries. Mr Assad’s chemical weapons, still secure for now, would always be at risk of falling into dangerous hands. This catastrophe would make itself felt across the Middle East and beyond. And yet the outside world, including America, is doing almost nothing to help.
The road from Damascus
Part of the reason for the West’s hesitancy is that, from the start of the uprising in 2011, Mr Assad has embraced a strategy of violence. By attacking the Arab spring with tanks and gunships, he turned peaceful demonstrators into armed militias. By shelling cities he uprooted his people. By getting his Alawite brethren to massacre the Sunni majority, he has drawn in jihadists and convinced Syrians from other sects to stick with him for fear that his own fall will lead to terrible vengeance.
Syrian blood now flows freely and sectarian hatred is smouldering (see article). The fight could last years. Rebel groups have lately been capturing military bases. They control chunks of the north and east and are fighting in the big cities. But the rebels are rivals as well as allies: they are beginning to target each other, as well as the government’s troops.
Even if Mr Assad cannot control his country, he has every reason to fight on. He still enjoys the cultlike devotion of some of his Alawite sect and the grudging support of other Syrians who fear what might come next. He commands 50,000 or so loyal, well-armed troops—and tens of thousands more, albeit less trained and less loyal. He is backed by Russia, Iran and Iraq, which between them supply money, weapons, advice and manpower. Hizbullah, Lebanon’s toughest militia, is sending in its fighters, too. Mr Assad almost certainly cannot win this war; but, barring an unexpected stroke of fate, he is still a long way from losing it.
So far the fighting has claimed 70,000 or more lives; tens of thousands are missing. The regime has locked up 150,000-200,000 people. More than 2m are homeless inside Syria, struggling to find food and shelter. Almost 1m more are living in squalor over the border.
Suffering on such a scale is unconscionable. That was the lesson from the genocides and civil wars that scarred the last half of the past century. Yet President Barack Obama has suggested that saving lives alone is not a sufficient ground for military action. Having learnt in Afghanistan and Iraq how hard it is to impose peace, America is fearful of being sucked into the chaos that Mr Assad has created. Mr Obama was elected to win economic battles at home. He believes that a weary America should stay clear of yet another foreign disaster.
That conclusion, however understandable, is mistaken. As the world’s superpower, America is likely to be sucked into Syria eventually. Even if the president can resist humanitarian arguments, he will find it hard to ignore his country’s interests.
If the fight drags on, Syria will degenerate into a patchwork of warring fiefs. Almost everything America wants to achieve in the Middle East will become harder. Containing terrorism, ensuring the supply of energy and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction: unlike, say, the 15-year civil war in Lebanon, Syria’s disintegration threatens them all.
About a fifth of the rebels—and some of the best organised—are jihadists. They pose a threat to moderate Syrians, including Sunnis, and they could use lawless territory as a base for international terror. If they menace Israel across the Golan Heights, Israel will protect itself fiercely, which is sure to inflame Arab opinion. A divided Syria could tear Lebanon apart, because the Assads will stir up their supporters there. Jordan, poor and fragile, will be destabilised by refugees and Islamists. Oil-rich, Shia-majority Iraq can barely hold itself together; as Iraqi Sunnis are drawn into the fray, divisions there will only deepen. Coping with the fallout from Syria, including Mr Assad’s arsenal of chemical weapons, could complicate the aim of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. Mr Obama wanted to avoid Syria, but Syria will come and get him.
Doing nothing is a policy, too
Syria is more dangerous today than it was in October, when this newspaper called for a no-fly zone in order to ground Mr Assad’s air force. Mr Obama’s policy of waiting for the conflagration in Syria to burn itself out is failing. Rather than see things deteriorate still further, he should act.
His aim should be to preserve what is left of Syria. That means trying to convince the people around Mr Assad that their choice is between ruinous defeat and turfing out the Assad family as a prelude to talks with the rebels. A no-fly zone is still needed to ground Mr Assad’s air force and destroy some of his missiles. It would be a big, bold signal of America’s resolve to Mr Assad’s supporters. America should recognise a transitional government, selected from Syria’s opposition. It should arm non-jihadist rebel groups—including with limited numbers of anti-aircraft missiles. France and Britain would back this, even if other Europeans would not. Russia supports Mr Assad in part to frustrate Mr Obama. Europe and America should keep on trying to tempt it to give him up, by promising it a stake in a liberated Syria.
There are no guarantees that this policy will work. But it will at least build links with the non-jihadist rebels whom America will need as allies in the chaos if Mr Assad stays. Today those moderate Syrians feel utterly abandoned.
NO RED LINES WERE CROSSED WHEN THESE WHITE PHOSPHOROUS BOMBS WERE DROPPED ON THIS TOWN. Idleb (Heesh): Feb 16, 2013 - More than 20,000 … yes, twenty thousand human beings have been killed since US President Obama declared that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would constitute a ‘Red Line’ in Syria … a line that would entail some sort of global ‘action’
Here we can see the impact crater of a SCUD missile in Dier Ezzor. There was also another SCUD attack on a residntial neighborhood in Aleppo (Masakan Hanano):
Here is the crater from the SCUD Missile attack on Aleppo (Hanano):
20,000 people killed by ‘conventional’ air-strikes, artillery, snipers, raids and torture does not cross any ‘red line’. Not even the continued use of ‘White Phosphorous’ bombs or SCUD missile attacks across Syria.
A secret State Department cable has concluded that the Syrian military likely used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly attack last month, The Cable has learned.
United States diplomats in Turkey conducted a previously undisclosed, intensive investigation into claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assadused chemical weapons, and made what an Obama administration official who reviewed the cable called a “compelling case” that Assad’s military forces had used a deadly form of poison gas.
The cable, signed by the U.S. consul general in Istanbul, Scott Frederic Kilner, and sent to State Department headquarters in Washington last week, outlined the results of the consulate’s investigation into reports from inside Syria that chemical weapons had been used in the city of Homs on Dec. 23.
The consul general’s report followed a series of interviews with activists, doctors, and defectors, in what the administration official said was one of the most comprehensive efforts the U.S. government has made to investigate claims by internal Syrian sources. The investigation included a meeting between the consulate staff and Mustafa al-Sheikh, a high-level defector who once was a major general in Assad’s army and key official in the Syrian military’s WMD program.
An Obama administration official who reviewed the document, which was classified at the “secret” level, detailed its contents to The Cable. “We can’t definitely say 100 percent, but Syrian contacts made a compelling case that Agent 15 was used in Homs on Dec. 23,” the official said.
The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would cross the “red line” President Barack Obama first established in an Aug. 20 statement. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation,” Obama said.
To date, the administration has not initiated any major policy changes in response to the classified cable, but a Deputies Committee meeting of top administration officials is scheduled for this week.
The report confirms the worst fears of officials who are frustrated by the current policy, which is to avoid any direct military assistance to the Syrian rebels and limit U.S. aid to sporadic deliveries of humanitarian and communications equipment.
Many believe that Assad is testing U.S. red lines.
“This reflects the concerns of many in the U.S. government that the regime is pursuing a policy of escalation to see what they can get away with as the regime is getting more desperate,” the administration official said.
The consulate’s investigation was facilitated by BASMA, an NGO the State Department has hired as one of its implementing partners inside Syria. BASMA connected consular officials with witnesses to the incident and other first-hand information.
The official warned that if the U.S. government does not react strongly to the use of chemical weapons in Homs, Assad may be emboldened to escalate his use of such weapons of mass destruction.
“It’s incidents like this that lead to a mass-casualty event,” the official said.
Activist and doctors on the ground in Homs have been circulating evidence of the Dec. 23 incident over the past three weeks in an attempt to convince the international community of its veracity. An Arabic-language report circulated by the rebels’ Homs medical committee detailed the symptoms of several of the victims who were brought to a makeshift field hospital inside the city and claims that the victims suffered severe effects of inhaling poisonous gas.
Activists have also been circulating videos of the victims on YouTube and Facebook. In one of the videos, victims can be seen struggling for breath and choking on their own vomit. (More videos, which are graphic, can be found here, here, here, here, here and here.)
Experts say the symptoms match the effects of Agent 15, known also by its NATO code BZ, which is a CX-level incapacitating agent that is controlled under schedule 2 of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Syria is not a party.
“The symptoms of an incapacitating agent are temporary. If someone is exposed to BZ, they are likely to be confused, perhaps to hallucinate,” said Amy Smithson, a senior fellow with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “While it is not good news that a chemical agent of any kind may have been used in the Syrian conflict, this Agent 15 is certainly on the less harmful end of the spectrum of chemical warfare agents believed to be in the Syrian arsenal.”
The Cable spoke with two doctors who were on the scene in Homs on Dec. 23 and treated the victims. Both doctors said that the chemical weapon used in the attack may not have been Agent 15, but they are sure it was a chemical weapon, not a form of tear gas. The doctors attributed five deaths and approximately 100 instances of severe respiratory, nervous system, and gastrointestinal ailments to the poison gas.
“It was a chemical weapon, we are sure of that, because tear gas can’t cause the death of five people,” said Dr. Nashwan Abu Abdo,a neurologist who spoke with The Cable from an undisclosed location inside of Homs.
Abdo said the chemical agent was delivered by a tank shell and that the range of symptoms varied based on the victim’s proximity to the poison. The lightly affected people exhibited gastrointestinal symptoms, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, he said. Victims who received a higher concentration of the poison, in addition to the gastrointestinal symptoms, showed respiratory symptoms as well.
“The main symptom of the respiratory ailments was bronchial secretions. This particular symptom was the cause of the death of all of the people,” he said. “All of them died choking on their own secretions.”
The doctors said their conclusion that the poison was a chemical agent and not tear gas was based on three factors: the suddenness of the deaths of those who were directly exposed, the large number of people affected, and the fact that many victims returned with recurring symptoms more than 12 hours after they had been treated, meaning that the poison had settled either in their nervous systems or fat tissue.
“They all had miosis — pinpoint pupils. They also had generalized muscle pain. There were also bad symptoms as far as their central nervous system. There were generalized seizures and some patients had partial seizures. This actually is proof that the poison was able to pass the blood-brain barrier,” Abdo said. “In addition, there was acute mental confusion presented by hallucinations, delusions, personality changes, and behavioral changes.”
The doctors on the scene said they were not able to pinpoint the poison because they lacked the advanced laboratory equipment needed. They took blood, hair, saliva, and urine samples, but those samples are no longer viable for testing because too much time has passed, they said.
“We took many samples, we kept them, but we cannot get them anywhere because we are in the besieged Homs area,” he said. “We are not 100 percent sure what poison was used, but we can say with firm statement that it was not tear gas, that’s for sure.”
The State Department, in response to inquiries from The Cable, declined to comment on the secret cable from Istanbul or say whether or not chemical weapons were used in the Homs attack, but said that the administration believes Assad’s chemical weapons are secure.
“I’m not going to comment on the alleged content of a classified cable,” State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell told The Cable. ”As you know, the United States closely monitors Syria’s proliferation-sensitive materials and facilities, and we believe Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile remains secured by the Syrian government. We have been clear that if Assad’s regime makes the tragic mistake of using chemical weapons or failing to secure them, it will be held accountable.”
Shifting red lines
The White House’s threats to react to Assad’s WMD activity have softened over time. In Obama’s Aug. 20 statement, he indicated that “a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around” would trigger U.S. action.
Obama then shifted his warning to Assad about red lines in December, after intelligence reports stated that the Syrian regime had moved some precursor chemicals out of storage and mixed them, making them easier to deploy. Now, Obama’s red line is that the United States will react if Syria uses these weapons.
“The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable,” Obama said Dec. 3, directing his comments at Assad. “If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.” That same day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added: “we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur.”
Outside analysts worry that the administration’s red line may have shifted again.
“Given the fact you have that in a cable, this indicates that the Obama administration may not simply jump into the conflict because chemical agents are used,” said Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Assad has a much better idea now of what he can do and get away with.”
“This shows that actually the red line on chemical weapons is not clear and that the regime may be able to use some chemical agents, and the response might not be immediate,” he said.
On Jan. 11, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempseysaid that the U.S. government and the international community doesn’t have the capability to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons if he chooses to do so.
“The act of preventing the use of chemical weapons would be almost unachievable… because you would have to have such clarity of intelligence, you know, persistent surveillance, you’d have to actually see it before it happened, and that’s — that’s unlikely, to be sure,” Dempsey said. “I think that Syria must understand by now that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. And to that extent, it provides a deterrent value. But preventing it, if they decide to use it, I think we would be reacting.”
Abdo, the Syrian neurologist, said that the doctors treating civilians inside Homs have run out of even the basic medicines they have been using to bring a level of comfort to the victims, such as the drug atropine.
“We hope this information will reach the people in the American government so maybe they will help us,” he said. “If the regime does this one more time, we don’t have the antidote in our hands anymore and we can’t treat it. It’s very urgent.”
ARE THESE NOT WHITE PHOSPHOROUS BOMBS? ARE THEY NOT CONSIDERED ‘CHEMICAL WEAPONS’? Homs (Jobar): Jan 3, 2013 - To Western Governments, the answer to this question would be “We cannot be sure based on this video and on eye-witness account because the people filming and being bombed are only Syrians, not full humans, we would need a Western expert on the ground, so no, these are not white phosphorous until we say so“
They said that if Assad used chemical weapons, this would ‘cross a red line’ and ‘action would be taken’. Since that statement on August 6, 2012, more than 20,000 Syrians have been killed by mostly ‘convnetional means.
When Syria is free, and after the people have suffered so much, they will owe nothing to anyone.