Syria chemical attack ‘fabricated’ – Assad
(BBC) Syria’s President Bashar-al Assad says reports of a chemical attack by his forces were “100% fabrication”.
In an exclusive video interview with Agence France-Presse, he said “there was no order to make any attack”.
Mr Assad told the AFP news agency that the Syrian government gave up its arsenal of chemical weapons in 2013, adding “even if we have them, we wouldn’t use them”.
However, since 2013, there have been continued allegations that chemicals such as chlorine and ammonia have been used against civilians in the ongoing civil war. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using them, blaming rebel groups in some instances.
Why Assad used chemical weapons
By Mohamad Bazzi, journalism professor at New York University and former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday
(Reuters Commentary) The answer lies in Assad’s refusal to compromise or offer any significant concessions since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, and later morphed into a civil war. Assad overplayed his hand this time, after being emboldened by recent statements from White House officials that it was time for Western powers to accept the “political reality” of Assad’s continued dominance. Assad likely decided to test those boundaries, not expecting Trump to respond militarily because the U.S. president has made it clear that he sees fighting Islamic State as his highest priority in Syria and Iraq.
Since November, the United States has helped mobilize nearly 50,000 Kurdish and Sunni Arab fighters to encircle Raqqa, and cut it off from all sides. The offensive is supported by American air strikes and hundreds of U.S. troops. But Trump’s missile strikes could slow the offensive to oust Islamic State from Raqqa and other parts of eastern Syria. The Pentagon coordinates with Russian forces in Syria, especially in launching air strikes, and Russian officials threatened to suspend the communications hotline after the April 7 U.S. attack on the Syrian airfield.
Assad has now suffered a setback because of the American attack, but Trump’s limited intervention is unlikely to change the course of the Syrian war – and Assad will continue his scorched earth policy against rebels and civilians, even if he will now think twice about using chemical weapons.
The Syria Situation: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations, plans to pressure Moscow to end its support for Assad in Syria. Last week, President Trump’s strike on an air base used by both Russia and Syria put an end, for now, to expectations that Trump and Putin would work together against terrorism, adding to a long history of dysfunction between the two nations. For instance, Russia played a role in the failure of Obama’s 2013 deal to stop Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Meanwhile, Trump’s been getting good press for his military action, raising the question: What happens when a president shaped by reality television starts a televised war?
A U.S. War in Syria? In a sudden reversal of his previous policy statements, President Trump now says he’s considering military action to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. GOP hawks had urged him to take action in the wake of Tuesday’s chemical attack, and the Pentagon is reportedly working on options—but there are still plenty of legal and practical obstacles ahead of U.S. forces going up against Assad’s regime. But if we take into account the strikes against ISIS and other terrorist groups, the U.S. is already fighting in Syria.
Chemical Warfare in Syria: President Bashar al-Assad’s government allegedly used a chemical agent against civilians in an attack that left 58 dead, including children, and at least 160 injured, according to a London-based human-rights group. Syria has been accused of using chemical weapons before, and agreed to destroy them in 2013, but evidence suggests Assad failed to honor the deal. At the time, the Obama administration chose diplomatic pressure over military intervention; could a U.S. airstrike back then have prevented this week’s attack? The story illustrates some of the thorniest dilemmas of foreign policy—and the task of articulating that policy now falls to Rex Tillerson, America’s new secretary of state.
Bashar al-Assad’s Faustian bargain. The Syrian dictator’s army is winning against the rebels and Islamists after years of war. But as Fritz Schaap explains for Der Spiegel, he’s done it with the help of local warlords. They are now more powerful than he is, and are exacting their price for supporting him by looting and terrorizing the population.
Deadly Syria attack shakes UN-backed peace talks in Geneva
(Deutsche Welle) Syrian peace talks have been rattled by a deadly attack in Homs, with warring sides exchanging accusations. Negotiations in Geneva are still hung up on the format of the talks.
An insurgent attack in the central Syria city of Homs on Saturday strained efforts to get peace talks in Geneva off the ground, with the UN mediator warning of “spoilers” trying to derail negotiations.
Five gunmen stormed two Syrian government security offices in Homs before detonating suicide bombs, killing dozens of soldiers including General Hassan Daabul, a senior officer of the Military Intelligence Services.
Syrian gov’t demands opposition unity for talks
(AP) The Syrian government’s top envoy to Geneva peace talks says his side will meet face-to-face with the opposition only if its various factions come together in a “unified, patriotic opposition.”
Bashar al-Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, pressed home the government’s demand that the opposition denounce terrorism in the wake of deadly attacks against security offices in the central city of Homs earlier Saturday.
A Common Theme for This Year’s Oscar-Nominated Documentaries
(The Atlantic) The films 4.1 Miles, Watani: My Homeland, The White Helmets, and Fire at Sea are all up for Academy Awards this year—and all deal with the migrant crisis or the Syrian conflict
Syria: Secret campaign of mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya Prison
A chilling new report by Amnesty International exposes the Syrian government’s calculated campaign of extrajudicial executions by mass hangings at Saydnaya Prison. Between 2011 and 2015, every week and often twice a week, groups of up to 50 people were taken out of their prison cells and hanged to death. In five years, as many as 13,000 people, most of them civilians believed to be opposed to the government, were hanged in secret at Saydnaya.
Human slaughterhouse: Mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya prison, Syria also shows that the government is deliberately inflicting inhuman conditions on detainees at Saydnaya Prison through repeated torture and the systematic deprivation of food, water, medicine and medical care. The report documents how these extermination policies have killed massive numbers of detainees.
These practices, which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, are authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government.
Upcoming UN-backed Syria peace talks in Geneva have been pushed back until late February, Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.
(euronews) The Russian foreign minister’s announcement came as he met representatives from some opposition groups in Moscow.
Lavrov did not explain the reasons for the latest delay.
The negotiations in Geneva were scheduled for February 8, after this week’s peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana.
First day of Astana summit ends without breakthrough
Government and rebel delegations trade barbs over details of shaky nationwide truce during first day of talks in Astana.
(Al Jazeera) Representatives of the Syrian government and opposition on Monday traded barbs over interpretations of a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey in late December, as their respective regional backers met behind closed doors to keep the meeting on track.
The Russia-Turkey organised meeting in Astana is aimed at strengthening a nationwide ceasefire that has largely held despite pockets of violence across the country, and paving the way towards UN-led political negotiations in Geneva on February 8.
The talks mark the first time the Syrian opposition is represented solely by representatives of armed groups.
Assad Has Won in Syria. But Syria Hardly Exists.
By DAVID W. LESCH and JAMES GELVIN
(NYT) Now that forces supporting the Syrian government have completed the takeover of Aleppo, and Russia, Turkey and Iran have negotiated a tenuous cease-fire, it is more than likely that President Bashar al-Assad and the regime he oversees will continue to govern Syria, in one form or another. In an interview with French media published last week, Mr. Assad stated that Aleppo signaled a “tipping point in the course of the war” and that the government is “on the way to victory.”
But if that is the case, what will Mr. Assad actually win?
Let’s take a look at the numbers. (While the following statistics are estimates, they will, if anything, get worse with the continuing matrix of wars in Syria.) More than 80 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line. Nearly 70 percent of Syrians live in extreme poverty, meaning they cannot secure basic needs, according to a 2016 report. That number has most likely grown since then. The unemployment rate is close to 58 percent, with a significant number of those employed working as smugglers, fighters or elsewhere in the war economy. Life expectancy has dropped by 20 years since the beginning of the uprising in 2011. About half of children no longer attend school — a lost generation. The country has become a public health disaster. Diseases formerly under control, like typhoid, tuberculosis, Hepatitis A and cholera, are once again endemic. And polio — previously eradicated in Syria — has been reintroduced, probably by fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Upward of 500,000 are dead from the war, and an untold number of Syrians have died indirectly from the conflict (the price for destroying hospitals, targeting health care professionals and using starvation as a weapon). With more than two million injured, about 11.5 percent of the prewar population have become casualties. And close to half the population of Syria is either internally or externally displaced. A 2015 survey conducted by the United Nations refugee agency looking at Syrian refugees in Greece found that a large number of adults — 86 percent — had secondary or university education. Most of them were under 35. If true, this indicates that Syria is losing the very people it will most need if there is to be any hope of rebuilding in the future.
The cost of reconstruction will be astronomical. A March 2016 study estimated that the total economic loss as a result of the conflict was $275 billion; industries across the country are decimated. Added to this will be the cost of needed repairs to infrastructure, which the International Monetary Fund estimates to be between $180 billion and $200 billion. Paying for rebuilding would require uncharacteristic generosity from the international community, but there is no reason to believe other countries would want to reward Mr. Assad for out-brutalizing the other side. His allies Russia and Iran have their own economic woes and are unlikely to be of much help.
Finally, the battle is, in reality, far from over. Neither Mr. Assad’s government nor the rebels he is fighting have achieved their goals. The opposition can no longer overthrow the regime, but an active insurgency by armed opposition elements is all but assured, backed by regional patrons, such as Saudi Arabia, which in no way wants to see its rival, Iran, sail toward complete victory. And by their very nature, insurgencies require much less state support than opposition forces trying to hold and govern territory. … Mr. Assad would oversee a government that, like Somalia’s, will reign, but not rule, over the entire country. Instead, a number of forces — the government, opposition militias, Kurdish militias, pockets of the Islamic State — will control sections of territory.
Gwynne Dyer: Reunification of Syria
(Jordan Times) All of Aleppo is back in the Syrian government’s hands; that decisive victory for President Bashar Assad and his Russian backers has been followed by a ceasefire, and the Russians are now organising a peace conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, for later this month.
The one surprise is that Turkey, long the rebels’ most important supporter, will be co-chairing the conference. This means that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a deal of some sort with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, for Astana is clearly going to be a Russian show. …
In terms of what a post-civil war Syria will look like, the great unanswered question is: what happens to the Syrian Kurds?
They are only one-tenth of the Syrian population, but they now control almost all the Kurdish-majority areas across northern Syria.
As America’s only ally on the ground in Syria, they played a major role in driving back Daesh.
They are not Islamists, they are not terrorists and they have avoided any military confrontation with Turkey despite Erdogan’s war on his country’s own Kurdish minority.
Yet, Erdogan publicly identifies the Syrian Kurds as Turkey’s enemy, and they have not (or at least not yet) been invited to the Astana peace conference.
Was Erdogan’s price for switching sides a free hand in destroying Rojava, the proto-state created by the Syrian Kurds? Very probably yes.
The Assad conundrum: Can you have an integral Syria without him? Can you have a healthy Syria with him?
Some argued that without his rule, radical Islamists such as ISIL would take over Syria.
By John Bell, Director of the Middle East Programme at the Toledo International Centre for Peace in Madrid. He is a former UN and Canadian diplomat, and served as Political Adviser to the Personal Representative of the UN Secretary-General for southern Lebanon and adviser to the Canadian government.
(Al Jazeera) What is it about Assad that has made him such a key issue? Some argued that without his rule, radical Islamists (ISIL, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham etc) would take over Syria.
This has not only presented a threat to Syria and its minorities, but it was a problem for Europe, Russia and beyond. As Russia, Iran and Assad have repeated: only Assad and his system can effectively keep them at bay.
The counterargument has been that it is Assad who is the very source of this terror. His rule had restricted political space and created enough anger that young men were driven to extremes.
It was also Assad that had sent radical Islamists to fight in Iraq against the American occupation, and more recently released them from his prisons, so they could feed the ranks of the extremists; that is to say, he is both arsonist and firefighter.
Hundreds of Syrians flee as Assad’s forces bomb Barada valley rebels
Mountainous region near Damascus targeted with days of airstrikes and shelling despite nationwide ceasefire.
The truce went into effect early on Friday, and the government and the opposition are expected to meet for talks in Kazakhstan later this month. Russia, a key military ally of Assad, and Turkey, a leading sponsor of the rebels, are acting as guarantors of the agreement, which excludes the al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Sham Front and Islamic State.
… the Barada valley region was not part of the ceasefire because of the presence of Fatah al-Sham Front, formerly known as the Nusra Front, and government forces and allied fighters were engaged in fierce clashes with rebels. “Regime forces and fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah group are advancing in the region and are now on the outskirts of Ain al-Fijeh, the primary water source in the area.”