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Syria’s Crumbling Pluralism



DAMASCUS — The day begins here with the call to prayer and ends with the roar of gunfire. Syria’s pluralistic society, which once rose above sectarian identity in a region often characterized by a homicidal assertion of religious belief, is now faced with civil disintegration and ethnic cleansing.
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Military Analysis: Syrian Leader’s Arms Under Strain as Conflict Continues (August 3, 2012)

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In Bab Touma, the Christian quarter of the old city, the magnificently restored Ottoman mansions housing many of the hotels that only two years ago overflowed with Western tourists have become temporary sanctuaries for Syrian minorities fleeing their homes and cities.

A Christian doctor of Palestinian origin huddling with his family of four in a small room in one of the hotels was looking for a way out of the country: “My father came to Syria as a refugee,” he told me. “I made it my home. Now I am having to uproot my two young sons.”

His home, in Midan in southern Damascus, came under attack during an intense battle last week between the opposition Free Syrian Army and government forces. Midan is now officially a safe area, but hardly anyone believes that peace will endure.

Syria’s 2.3 million Christians, constituting about 10 percent of the country’s population, have generally known a more privileged existence under the Assad dynasty than even the Shiite Alawi sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs. Yet their allegiance to Assad was never absolute. Some Christians openly clamored for political change in the early months of the anti-government uprising. But as the rebellion became suffused with Sunni militants sympathetic to or affiliated with Al Qaeda, Christians recoiled.

A churchgoing Syrian told me that he used to see himself primarily as “Syrian” and that religious identity, in political terms, was an idea that never occurred to him — until an opposition gang attacked his family earlier this year in Homs. “It’s a label they pinned on us,” he said. “If their revolution is for everyone, as they keep insisting it is, why are Christians being targeted? It is because what they are waging is not a struggle for freedom, and it’s certainly not for everyone.”

As Saudi Arabian arms and money bolster the opposition, the 80,000 Christians who’ve been “cleansed” from their homes in Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan in Homs Province in March by the Free Syrian Army have gradually given up the prospect of ever returning home.

The rebels’ conduct has prompted at least some Sunnis who had supported the rebels and once-wavering Syrians to pledge renewed loyalty to Assad. Many who once regarded the regime as a kleptocracy now view it as the best guarantor of Syria’s endangered pluralism.

A Sunni shopkeeper in the impoverished suburb of Set Zaynab, which was partly destroyed in the clashes last week, no longer supports the rebellion. “I wanted Assad to go because he is corrupt,” he said. “But what happened here, what they did, it scared me. It made me angry. I cannot support the murder of my neighbors in the name of change. You cannot bring democracy by killing innocent people or by burning the shrines of Shiites. Syrians don’t do that. This is the work of the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia,” he added, referring to the ultra conservative Sunni sect.

Repeated attempts by Free Syrian Army fighters to destroy a shrine to Sayyida Zeinab, the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad revered by Shiites, have not yet caused the area’s Sunni minority to flee — many Shiites here have refused to blame their Sunni neighbors for the rebels’ crimes.

Over the past week, more than a dozen Syrians — chiefly Alawi and Christian, but also a handful of Sunnis — affirmed to me their determination to pick up arms to defend Assad.

The seeming indifference of the international community to the worsening condition of Syria’s religious minorities — and the near total absence of censure of the opposition forces by the Western governments arrayed against Assad — is breeding a bitter anti-Americanism among many secular Syrians who see the United States aligning itself with Saudi Arabia, the fount of Wahhabism, against the Arab world’s most resolutely secular state.

Fresh from abetting the suppression of a pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Syria is part of its effort to attenuate Iran’s influence and cripple what it fears is a growing Shiite corridor of power in the Middle East.

Most Syrians, regardless of their faith, want the power to change their government. But the armed groups that have seized control of the rebellion, now contaminated with Al Qaeda fighters and corrupted by Saudi money, have repelled many people.

A year and a half after the insurrection began, Assad’s forces are exhausted and dispirited — but there is no sign yet of a simultaneous mass uprising in any of the major cities. Instead, rebel fighters on Saudi payroll launch coordinated attacks on high-value targets, the Syrian Army retaliates with disproportionate force, and videos of the ensuing devastation are posted on the Internet.

Proponents of a peaceful political solution, like the signatories to the so-called Sant’Egidio appeal last week in Italy, have been eclipsed by sectarian leaders of the Syrian National Council urging the international community to give them anti-aircraft weapons.

Washington is aware of the scale of the problem. As early as June 2011, Robert Stephen Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, briefed his counterparts in Damascus about Al Qaeda’s penetration of the opposition forces. By still ploughing ahead with its support for Saudi Arabia’s effort to destabilize Syria, Washington, far from assisting Israel or weakening Iran, is helping to fuel a humanitarian crisis that will come back to haunt the United States.

#FSA seize border crossing after two-day battle / #Bashar may use Chemical weapons


http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-20/rebels-seize-border-crossing/4270944

Syrian rebels have seized a border crossing with Turkey as a senior defector warns that the government in Damascus has considered using chemical weapons.

The rebels seized the Tall al Abyad border crossing, north-east of Aleppo, after two days of fighting.

A Turkish woman and her daughter were reportedly wounded by stray bullets during the battle.

Rebels now control at least three of the seven crossings between Syria and Turkey.

The victory could open up a new supply line into northern Syria, but people in the region have been supportive of the government in Damascus.

Meanwhile, The Times newspaper reported the former head of Syria’s chemical weapons division, who defected three months ago, says the government discussed using chemical weapons if it lost control of key areas, like Aleppo.

Major-General Adnan Sillu said he defected from the Syrian army after being party to top-level talks about the use of chemical weapons on both rebel fighters and civilians.

“We discussed this as a last resort – such as if the regime lost control of an important area such as Aleppo,” he said.

Speaking from Turkey, General Sillu told The Times he was convinced president Bashar al-Assad’s regime would eventually use chemical weapons against civilians, adding that the discussion had been “the last straw” which triggered his defection.

He said the government also considered arming the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah with chemical warheads for use against Israel.

His comments come after German press reported this week that the Syrian army had tested a chemical weapons delivery system.

Arms from Iran
Meanwhile, a Western intelligence report says Iran has been using civilian aircraft to fly military personnel and large quantities of weapons across Iraqi airspace to Syria to aid Mr Assad in his attempts to crush the 18-month uprising.

Earlier this month, US officials said they were questioning Iraq about Iranian flights in Iraqi airspace suspected of ferrying arms to Mr Assad, a staunch Iranian ally.

On Wednesday, US Senator John Kerry threatened to review US aid to Baghdad if it does not halt such overflights.

Iraq says it does not allow the passage of any weapons through its airspace.

But an intelligence report obtained by Reuters says Iranian weapons have been flowing into Syria via Iraq in large quantities. Such transfers, the report says, are organised by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“This is part of a revised Iranian modus operandi that US officials have only recently addressed publicly, following previous statements to the contrary,” said the report, a copy of which was provided to Reuters by a UN diplomatic source.

“It also flies in the face of declarations by Iraqi officials,” it said.

“Planes are flying from Iran to Syria via Iraq on an almost daily basis, carrying IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) personnel and tens of tons of weapons to arm the Syrian security forces and militias fighting against the rebels.”

Although the specific charges about Iraq allowing Iran to transfer arms to Damascus are not new, the intelligence report alleges the extent of such shipments is far greater than has been publicly acknowledged, and much more systematic, thanks to an agreement between senior Iraqi and Iranian officials.

Iraqi officials in Baghdad and New York did not have any immediate comment.

#Assad’s Sister reported to have defected.


#Damascus: #Bushra Assad, the sister of Bashar Al Assad and the widow of Asef Shawkat, the slain chief of intelligence of Syria, is reported to have defected and left Syria permanently due to a dispute with her brother. If true, this would come as a big blow to the #Assad regime since this would be the closest relative of Bashar to have defected.

More evidence that Iran’s been supplying #Bashar with #drones to attack Civilians in #Syria


A growing body of evidence suggests Iran has been supplying the Syrian regime with drones that are used to target attacks on rebels and civilians
This article is part of a GlobalPost ‘Special Report’ titled “The Drone Age,” which in the coming weeks will offer a series of reports from around the world examining the proliferation of drones and what it means for the future of warfare. The project was funded in part by the Galloway Family Foundation which supports GlobalPost in investigative and in-depth reporting projects.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — From the skies over Syria’s opposition strongholds, activists and fighters know the ominous whine of a pilotless aircraft can signal the imminent thunder of rocket strikes.

A GlobalPost investigation suggests that drones, used by Syria’s military in action for the first time, were supplied to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime by Iran, a proliferation of the technology pioneered by the US and a violation of the international arms embargo on Tehran.

Gathering testimony from security officials, leaked cables, eyewitnesses, weapons experts and diplomats, there is mounting evidence that the Assad regime has used Iranian-supplied drones to coordinate lethal attacks on civilians and rebel fighters in Syria, including the bombardment of a media center in Homs that killed a renowned American journalist earlier this year.

More from GlobalPost: Iran’s support for Syrian regime raises questions of legality

“The drones are of Iranian origin and may well be Iranian piloted.”
~Jeffrey White
Kieran Dwyer, a spokesman for UN Peacekeeping Operations, confirmed that UN monitors, on the ground in Syria during a brief mission from late April until most operations were suspended on June 15, consistently reported the presence of drones in the skies over opposition strongholds.

“We had consistent reports from our teams on the ground citing the presence of drones, particularly in the Homs area,” Dwyer told GlobalPost. In his report on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2043, which authorized the deployment of UN monitors to Syria, the UN Secretary General noted the use of “unmanned aerial vehicles by Government forces, as part of combined air, armor, artillery and infantry operations against opposition strongholds in several urban centers.”

“There are definitely Iranian drones flying over Syrian territory. We have monitored them and drawn a map of their flight paths,” a high-ranking Lebanese security source, generally supportive of the Syrian regime, told GlobalPost.

“The Iranians have been moving equipment to Syria and play a very active role on the ground and in surveillance,” the source added.

Brothers in arms

Western officials have repeatedly accused Iran of supplying the high-tech monitoring equipment used by Assad’s police to track pro-democracy activists — many of whom were then tortured or worse in custody. But until now, Tehran’s apparent proliferation of drones to Syria has not been reported in detail.

Allies since the 1980s, when Syria supported Iran’s war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and then in Lebanon when they worked together to arm Hezbollah to fight the Israeli occupation, Damascus and Tehran signed a mutual defense pact in 2006.

Iran is not hiding its support for the Syrian regime, which is attempting to crush an 18-month uprising.

“Today we are involved in fighting every aspect of a war, a military one in Syria, as well as a cultural one,” Gen. Salar Abnoush, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) Saheb al-Amr unit, told trainees in a speech late last month, as reported by Iran’s pro-regime Daneshjoo news agency. In July, former Basij Commander Mehdi Ta’eb called Syria “Iran’s frontline.”

The first suggestion that Iran supplied Syria with unarmed drones came from Syrian rebel fighters in Homs last December. Then in March an unnamed US official quoted by Reuters gave the first public acknowledgment that Iran was supplying Syria with unarmed drones, which would constitute a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

In December 2006, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1737, which banned all states and groupsfrom supplying to Iran, or taking delivery from Iran, any equipment related to unconventional and nuclear weapons, including drones, or Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAVs). UAVs are considered part of a military’s rocket program. In March 2007, the Security Council passed Resolution 1747, which banned all states from purchasing or receiving “any arms or related material” from Iran.

“UAVs are military equipment within this context, used for military purposes and are thus subject to the embargo,” said Hugh Griffiths, a senior researcher into illicit weapons trafficking at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

“In Syria, Iranian drones are being used for military purposes for direct reconnaissance for artillery strikes that target civilian population centres. This is a military application, if not a war crime,” Griffiths said.

Weapons experts are in no doubt that the drones being flown over opposition strongholds are of Iranian origin and were supplied to Syria since the UN arms embargo came into force.

When asked to confirm four videos uploaded to YouTube in February and March, which appear to show UAVs flying over three neighborhoods of Homs and one over nearby Hama, two military experts confirmed the videos of Homs’ Baba Amr and Old

City, as well as Hama, showed drones from Iran’s fleet.

GlobalPost spoke to the activist who filmed drones flying over Khaldiyye and confirmed the veracity of that footage.

“From the videos coming out of Syria, they look like Iranian Ababil and Mohajer systems,” said Douglas Barrie, a specialist in airpower at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a world-leading authority on global security, political risk and military conflict. “The most in use looks to be the Moahjer 4s.”

Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, confirmed the drones in the videos “look like the Mohajer 4.”

“Syria’s first real use of drones begins with the rebellion. The drones are of Iranian origin and may well be Iranian piloted,” White said. “It seems they use them for surveillance of rebels, to find out where they are, and then for targeting them.”

Watching the watchdogs

An eyewitness and military experts told GlobalPost that what appear to be Iranian-made drones were flown over Homs’ Baba Amr district in February and used to help target a building in which American journalist Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik were killed.

Colvin, an award-winning veteran foreign correspondent from Long Island, New York, was killed alongside Ochlik on Feb. 22 when the ground floor of the makeshift media center they had been staying in, and broadcasting from, was hit by fire from the Syrian military.

Paul Conroy, the photographer working alongside Colvin for Britain’s Sunday Times, who was injured in the attack that killed her, told the newspaper that drones were “a fact of life” in Baba Amr, hovering overhead during daylight hours “95 percent” of the night that he was there with Colvin.

Conroy, who served in the British Royal Artillery for six years, recalled the distinctive whirring sound of a drone somewhere overhead, but not visible, from about 7:30 a.m. on the morning of the attack. The shelling had begun about an hour earlier, he said.

Around 7:50 a.m., the first shell landed close to the building where the journalists were staying with the Syrian activists. While the activists coordinated with the armed rebels in Baba Amr, none of the journalists in the media center reported the presence of armed fighters inside the building.

Conroy said up to 13 missiles were fired in close succession over less than 10 minutes at the media center, including four direct hits.With no line of sight, Conroy

said tank fire was not the source of bombardment and he and several other journalists with experience in conflict zones said they believed the bombardment came from Russian-supplied Katyusha rockets, which eyewitnesses in Homs at the time said had been redeployed on truck launchers in order to target Baba Amr.

Conroy said he believed the Syrian army used a bracketing technique to zero in on the activists’ building, aided by a “directing drone.” Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague subsequently ordered officials to gather evidence about the attack as part of a wider investigation into war crimes committed by the Syrian regime.

In November 2011, three months before the military assault against Baba Amr began in earnest, Human Rights Watch reported the Syrian regime’s systematic torture and killing of civilians in Homs constituted crimes against humanity.

Two FSA commanders, both defected officers who fought in Baba Amr, as well as activists on the ground and a leading researcher on human rights violations in Syria, confirmed the assault on Baba Amr was led by a Sunni General, Fahad Jassem al-Freij.

Freij was named by Human Rights Watch as one of 74 senior officials who had allegedly “ordered, authorized, or condoned widespread killings, torture, and unlawful arrests” during the first nine months of the Syrian uprising.

Those named should be investigated “for their command responsibility for crimes against humanity,” the report said.

From Tehran, with love

The alleged use of Iranian-supplied drones by the Syrian military appears to not be limited to Homs and Hama.

Analysing a video of a drone apparently flying over Damascus’ Kafr Batna suburb, David Cenciotti, editor of frequently cited aviation blog The Aviationist, told GlobalPost he believed the unmanned aircraft was also an Iranian-designed Mohajer 4.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, also armed and financed by Iran, has twice flown Iranian-supplied drones over Israel, first in November 2004 and again in April 2005, using what experts believe was either the Mirsad 1 or the Mohajer 4.

Another video on YouTube appears to show a drone flying over Damascus’ Arbeen suburb in January as the sound of gunfire rings out. Activists in the mountain town of Zabadani, near Syria’s border with Lebanon, also reported drones overhead being used to located positions of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Cenciotti said he had positively identified an Iranian Pahpad drone in a video apparently flying over an airbase near Hama.

In late July, the Open Source

Geo Intelligence blog posted satellite images acquired from GeoEye it said showed two Iranian Pahpad drones on the tarmac at the Shayrat airbase, between Homs and Hama.

All such drones are not armed with missiles, like many US drone types, but rather carry cameras and sensors that are used to locate enemy positions and intercept communications.

The Lebanese security source said intelligence showed drones were launched “from a military base between Hama and Homs” — two large cities that have been strongholds of the opposition — and that the drones were used to send coordinates of targets to rocket launchers and artillery on the ground, as well as intercept signals from satellite communication equipment used by activists after regular phone lines were cut.

“The drone sends the coordinates to mobile trucks, which send the information to engineers in Damascus who then pass it on to troops on the ground,” said the source.

White and Barrie both confirmed that at least in the case of Mohajer 4s, the on-board camera can relay images and coordinates in real time to ground troops, making them effective weapons.

“Mohajer 4 has a data link and has the ability to downlink imagery in real time. The imagery could be used to provide tactical intelligence to help with artillery spotting and firing to hit a target, such as a building,” said the IISS’s Barrie.

“Tactical UAVs provide the ability to see what’s going on over the hill in an area you can’t get people on the ground. They give you a persistent stare, to look down and get a view on ground you don’t control.”

With rebels fully in control of Baba Amr at the time of the February assault, the use of Iranian drones by the Assad military to spot targets would have been of clear military advantage.

Experts are divided, however, over whether Syria could have secured its drones from Iran before or after the March 15, 2011 outbreak of the uprising.

US diplomatic cables from December 2009, leaked to WikiLeaks, appear to show Syria was seeking UAV components, such as small engines and radio equipment, from a German firm. State Department officials considered this proliferation, as the material could be diverted to Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), the entity responsible for Damascus’ WMD and ballistic missile programs.

second leaked cable from the US embassy in Moscow dated September 2007 detailed Russia’s response to American concerns over the

potential sale of Russia’s Danem UAV to Syria. The Russians insisted the drone was “designed solely for environmental purposes” and that Syria had not responded to the Russian offer and thus “no sale was envisioned.”

Though unable to say for sure, both analysts White and Barrie said it was most likely the Iranian drones were supplied to Syria after the outbreak of the uprising, as part of a concerted and on-going attempt by Tehran to bolster militarily its sole regional ally.

No lone drones: Intelligence agencies busy in Syria

During the Soviet era, Moscow supplied the regime of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad with its large turbo jet-powered reconnaissance drone, the TU-143, but no contacts interviewed believe Russian drones are being deployed in the current Syrian conflict.

The Aviationist’s Cenciotti, however, said he believed Syria had acquired a drone fleet before the uprising, a position supported by a Western anti-proliferation official, who asked to remain anonymous.

Cenciotti said aviation experts believe Syria manufactures Iranian-designed drones domestically at the SSRC. Last month rebels in Aleppo claimed in a video posted to YouTube to have uncovered a regime workshop producing Iranian-designed drones.

Though the authenticity of the footage could not be verified, weapons experts agreed all drones shown in the workshop video were identical to Iranian designs and were in the process of being built. Though the clip appears to show Iranian drones might be able to be built in Syria, some experts suggested the parts were more likely to have been shipped to Syria from Iran for assembling, rather than manufactured domestically.

“We saw high-tech Iranian arms, as well as Russian arms, used by the regime’s forces,” said Abu Ammar, a commander of an FSA unit who fought during the regime’s assault on Baba Amr. “The Iranian reconnaissance aircraft was constantly over Baba Amr’s sky. It gave the army coordinates and then the bombardment started.”

A second FSA commander, known as Abu Yazan, who fought with the Farouk Brigade in Homs, described being injured fighting last December after what he said was as a “glider” flying over his position. Drones are shaped very much like gliders.

“My mission was to stop Assad’s tanks crossing into Baba Amr. A glider appeared above us, filmed us and took our coordinates,” he told GlobalPost while recovering from his wounds in north Lebanon. “Then the rocket launcher started shooting at our position and I was injured.” Nine rebel soldiers were killed in the attack, said Abu Yazan.

Speaking to a reporter working with GlobalPost in Damascus, Abu Sadiq, a 45-year-old father of three who fled Homs’ Khaldiyye neighbourhood with his wife and children during February’s assault, said residents had begun to hear the noise of what they believed were drones overhead.

“The regime began to use small spy planes to target activists, the Free Syrian Army and field hospitals,” he said.

Iranian-supplied drones, however, are not the only UAVs prying from the skies over Syria’s conflict.

The Lebanese security source said the Syrian military had informed their Lebanese counterparts that American drones were flying over Syria’s northern borders and over Daraa in the far south, the first city to rise up and suffer a sustained assault by Assad’s forces.

On Feb. 17, NBC news quoted a US defense official saying “a good number” of US military and intelligence drones were monitoring the Syrian military’s attacks on opposition forces and civilians.

“We have also intercepted Israeli drones crossing through the Bekaa Valley to Syria,” said the security source. “It’s well known that all intelligence agencies are busy with Syria.”

Confirmed: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in Syria?



TEHRAN (FNA)- Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari strongly rejected western media reports alleging that Iran has deployed troops in Syria,
saying that Tehran is only giving advice and
spiritual assistance to Bashar al-Assad's government.

"We just give them our experience, advice and intellectual assistance," Jafari told reporters in a press conference here in Tehran on Sunday.

"Compared with certain Arab countries' military presence and support for opposition groups in Syria, we have actually done nothing," he said.

He said the very few IRGC Quds force members who had some time in the past been in Lebanon or Syria did not serve as military or combat troops, alluding that their presence was aimed at a transfer of knowledge and experience.

"That doesn't mean our military presence in there," Jafari said.

The Syrian terrorists and their supporters have on many occasions claimed that Iran, specially its IRGC's Quds force, are helping Bashar al-Assad's government through a strong military presence, and even alleged that Iranian forces help the Syrian squads in the fight against the rebels.

To that end, the terrorists have also attempted to take forced confession from abducted Iranian nationals in Syria.

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The #US still unclear on Syrian Strategy ! latest from Centre for New American Security (CNAS)


(Reuters) – France may be considering arming Syria’s rebels but the U.S. and other Western powers have yet to find opposition figures they genuinely trust as they worry over growing jihadi and sectarian forces.

The attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya’s Benghazi that killed its ambassador and anti-American demonstrations elsewhere this week over an obscure video that ridiculed the Prophet Mohammad might have no Syria links but will make nervous governments even more cautious.

Western officials say there is little doubt a growing number of foreign jihadi fighters are entering the fray, although it is far from clear whether any have direct links to Al Qaeda. But It is just one worry amongst many.

“This is not a situation where the U.S. can do much to shape what happens,” says Mona Yacoubian, a former State Department official and now fellow and Syria expert at the Stimson Centre. “There has always been a lot of caution within the Obama Administration on Syria and if anything things are getting more complicated.”

Working with Libya’s initially notoriously disorganized rebels, officials complained, was hard enough; but the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al Assad seems even more diffuse.

That makes policy-making much more complicated and supplying weapons, or even choosing who to talk to, more of a gamble.

“We badly need to identify some political and military leaders who can make clear that they seek a political settlement to bring all fighting to an end,” said one Western official on condition of anonymity. “Without that the blood letting reinforces the worst aspects of sectarianism and makes a soft landing ever less likely.”

Western states have been on a concerted offensive to push opposition figures towards greater unity, facilitating meetings that range from foreign-based conferences to Internet chats and small border gatherings.

But, beyond pushing in humanitarian aid they fear there is a limited amount they can do to change the situation on the ground.

“It’s a very difficult situation, and the lack of coherence of the opposition is probably the biggest single challenge,” says Melissa Dalton, a senior Pentagon adviser on Syria and the Middle East currently on sabbatical as a visiting fellow at the Centre for New American Security.

“Given everything that is at stake, the United States clearly cannot do nothing. But there are no good scenarios arising from this conflict, and so the most important strategy for the United States to pursue is mitigating the risks to its interests.”

That meant to prioritize tracking Syria’s chemical weapons, ensuring militant groups inspired by Al Qaeda were unable to set up safe havens and preventing weapons from falling into the wrong hands, she said. It also meant avoiding doing anything to make matters worse.

DITCHING SNC FOR FSA

Current and former Western officials say their countries have lost confidence in the Syrian National Council (SNC), the largely foreign-based body initially courted as a government in waiting. With some of its meetings dissolving into fisticuffs, it is increasingly both too chaotic, too sectarian and simply lacking in a significant support.

The main focus of political and diplomatic effort, they say, is now the Free Syrian Army (FSA), particularly as its fighters prove increasingly successful at ousting Assad’s forces from significant portions of the country. But even the FSA, they worry, may be a unified body in little more than name.

After a sluggish start, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been overseeing cross border movements from a secret liaison center in Turkey. Ankara denies any direct involvement in channeling of arms across the frontier. U.N. diplomats say Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been transferring weapons to rebels.

Western states have so far restricted themselves to “nonlethal” support such as body armor, radios and medical equipment although a French diplomatic source said early this month that Paris was considering giving heavy weaponry.

Those with knowledge of events say the United States and other Western intelligence agencies are already trying to vet those receiving arms channeled across the Turkish border. Should France choose to supply arms, it could expect warnings from Washington if it dealt with those about whom the U.S. had concern.

But knowing conclusively who anyone is along the chaotic border, experts say, can be all but impossible.

In principle, the FSA remains commanded by former Syrian force colonel Rian al-Assad, an early defector who first announced the rebel group’s existence to the world more than a year ago. But in reality, there are growing suspicions that his influence and that of the rest of the group’s leadership may be collapsing on the ground.

Kept cloistered by their Turkish military hosts, some Syria experts say the FSA’s headquarters now amounts to little more than a media center. The real emerging power bases seem to be within Syria, particularly in cities such as Aleppo and Idlib where Assad’s forces have ceded some ground.

“CHAOTIC FREE FOR ALL”

“Every group is sending people (separately) to Turkey to ask for weapons,” says Joseph Holliday, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer and Syria expert now a fellow at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington DC, describing the situation as a “free for all””. “Countries, organizations or just wealthy individuals are talking to these individual groups and giving what support they want to people that they want.”

Dealing with so many players was itself a challenge for organizations such as the U.S. State Department more used to working on a national level, he said.

Some groups are already accused of reprisal killings, a worrying sign for foreign powers who believe agreement with some of the minority Alawite regime may ultimately prove vital.

Any offer of lethal support, some argue, should bring with it signed assurances of commitment to a peaceful post-war transition. But holding the rebels to account afterwards might prove impossible.

In a potential sign of further escalation, France, which has a colonial history in Syria and showed itself in Libya to be an increasingly assertive Mediterranean power, has also voiced support for a Turkish suggestion of militarily protected “humanitarian zones”.

But as well as worries that any such action would simply further inflame the situation, the United States in particular worries that even enforcing a no-fly zone could require it to move forces currently arrayed against Iran.

Washington is also unpleasantly aware that as things stand, any such move would be in the face of angry Russian and probably also Chinese opposition – as well as one of the most militarily challenging battles of recent decades. The downing of a Turkish jet earlier this year showed Assad retained a sophisticated air defense system.

The opposition, however, says Western reticence is already costing lives. Last week in Istanbul, two senior Aleppo rebels accused the outside world of simply watching “like a movie” while thousands died.

“There’s a lot of frustration with the West,” says former U.S. Army intelligence officer Holliday “they think we encouraged them to rise up and then didn’t do anything to support them.”

WORDS FROM SYRIA MARTYR SHEIKH MUSTAPHA AL MAJZOUB


Al Shaheed Al Mujahid Sheikh Mustapha Al Majzoub, our beloved Sheikh from Australia has been martyred while in the path of Allah in the oppressed cities of Syria, protecting the men, women and children from the tyranny of the Bashar Al Assad Regime.
We ask Allah to accept from him his sacrifice. We also hope you benefit from this short video a reminder from the Sheikh to the Muslims around the world.

Recording provided from the Y Factor Radio Show.