Assad plays for time

Guest post by DaveM

The Arab League has just announced that Syria has agreed to end its crackdown, send its army back to barracks, let international observers into the country, release political prisoners and launch an Arab League moderated national dialogue.

This announcement came on a day in which activists said that 24 people were killed by the Syrian security forces

This agreement is nothing more than a cynical attempt by Assad to gain some time. Based on what’s happened up till now it would be very naive to think otherwise.

Ba’athism, like other totalitarian ideologies such as Fascism and Communism, cannot sustain any meaningful reform without collapsing, and that’s before we take into account the thousands of Syrians who have been butchered by this regime.

This forthcoming dialogue, if it even takes place, will be meaningless. After all Syria has been involved in numerous dialogues with Israel over the years, and have they resulted in anything? Of course not.

And let’s not forget that last April the Syrian government passed a law ending the 48-year State of Emergency. Since then thousands of Syrians have been killed by the security forces.

In fact recent events on the ground indicate that far from reforming, Assad is digging his heels and doubling down on the use of force to stay in power.

For example in an interview with Russian TV on Sunday, Assad repeated the threat he made that day in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, while defiantly re-affirming his regime’s dependence on Russia support.

“Any consideration of this type of scenario [i.e. what took place in Libya] the cost of this will be much larger than what the world will be able to bear, for this reason. Up to now everything appears to be heading in the direction of an attempt to apply media, political and economic pressure [on Syria] so naturally we rely on Russia, firstly due to the existing historical relationship between our country and Russia. And at the same time Russia is a superpower and a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

“Russia has played an important role on the world stage, the latest being the use of the veto in the Security Council. Therefore we rely on the Russian position and on the continuation of Russia’s support not just in defending Syria but also in defending stability in the world.”

In addition to the continual killing of Syrians inside the country, the regime has been kidnapping Syrian dissidents in Lebanon. These operations involve people emerging from black SUVs snatching dissidents and making them “disappear,” The New York Times reports:

In one case, Shibli al-Aisamy, 89, a founder of Syria’s governing Baath Party who has become a leading voice of dissent against Mr. Assad, disappeared in late May while visiting his daughter outside Beirut. He went out for a walk and was picked up by people in a black sport utility vehicle, who spirited him across the border, the Lebanese police said.

In another case, the police said, three Syrian brothers, the Jassems, were kidnapped in February by rogue members of the Lebanese security forces using Syrian Embassy vehicles, again black S.U.V.’s. The Jassem brothers have not been heard from since.

In closed-door testimony before the Lebanese Parliament in October, the head of the Internal Security Forces, Gen. Ashraf Rifi, said Syria was behind both kidnappings and presented a detailed report with license plate numbers, cellphone records and statements from witnesses that he said implicated Lebanese security officers and tracked the cars to the Syrian border.

A parliamentary report on his testimony, later leaked to the news media, said that General Rifi “personally accuses the Syrian Embassy in Lebanon of kidnapping Aisamy in an operation that was similar to the abduction of the Jassem brothers.”

Lebanese TV station LBC reported a similar abduction of three Syrians in Bir Hassan, Beirut’s Hizbullah-controlled southern suburb. They were snatched by a group of armed men in black SUVs and as of yet haven’t been heard from.

“On Saturday morning [29th Oct] calm prevailed by the outside room which housed Yassine, Mustafa and Idriss al-Sahn and Issa al-Saleh. The residents were absent from the place and had left a large lock on the door to prevent anybody from entering the room or stealing its contents.

“Yassine and Mustafa al-Sahn and Issa Ramadan (al-Saleh) were kidnapped from this home last Wednesday evening [26th] after three black, four-wheel drive cars [SUVs] without license plates were seen arriving in front of the home, with gunmen emerging from the cars, then taking the three Syrians to an unknown location.

“On Friday evening their release without reason came as a surprise, especially as the security forces had reported that they had been kidnapped by a gang in a robbery attempt.

“On Saturday morning LBC attempted to phone their brother Idriss but he said that he was not at home and was unable to meet with us because he was reassuring his family in Syria. And when we asked about his brothers Yassine and Mustafa he said that they were also not at home and had gone back to work as normal on Saturday. [He did this] without specifying the place where we would be able to interview them.

“In the [Syrian] emigrants’ buildings adjacent to the small room, the residents also refused to speak to us on camera and said that they don’t know any details of what happened other than what they saw taking place on the day of the kidnapping of the three Syrians. They also refused to enter into any speculation, preferring that we get the details from the security forces which questioned them, or from the al-Sahns whenever they return to their home.

“For five years the al-Sahn brothers have been living in this flat and the neighbours had only good things to say about them. Every morning they would go to work and then return to the house without annoying anybody. The kidnapping operation shocked those who were used to seeing them every day.”

It’s obvious that Hizbullah was behind this and working in conjunction with the Syrian authorities. It certainly fits their pattern of abductions. What’s strange is that while the LBC report stated that the Syrians were released, the journalist wasn’t able to get in touch with the captives and it appears nobody knows exactly where they are.

The security force’s explanation of this being a robbery attempt also doesn’t make sense as you can see from their accommodations that the abducted were far from wealthy.

Alongside the killing of Syrians inside its borders and the abduction of Syrians in Lebanon, the Syrian army has beenplanting anti-personnel landmines along its border with Lebanon.

The Syrian authorities claim that this is an attempt to stop weapons smuggling but it appears more likely it’s an attempt to stop people fleeing into Lebanon to escape the crackdown. LBC was able to gain exclusive footage of the landmines in its evening news report on Monday 31st October.

“While Syria continues to talk about interference in events [taking place there], the Syrian authorities have resorted to reinforcing security and protection steps along its borders with all the neighbouring countries.

“The Syrian army planted anti-personnel mines to prevent smuggling and infiltration operations, with the Lebanese-Syrian border having its share of these landmines which were planted at border barricade facing [the Lebanese ares of] Hnaider, Knaisse, and Mouanse, and were planted on the heights [overlooking] Wadi Khaled.

“Except a trip to that region shows that Syrian army have widened the planting of landmines to the point where they have almost covered the entire [Syrian] border area parallel to Wadi Khaled. And from the Lebanese side it’s possible to see some of them [the landmines] with the naked eye.

“The Syrian side planted landmines in this region to prevent what it says are smuggling operations, specifically of weapons, and also to prevent the fleeing of army deserters to the Lebanese side [of the border], thus hindering them from setting out from there to carry out military operations against the regular army.

“Until now these Syrian landmines have injured a person, not at the northern border but at the Eastern border in the Arsal area. At the Seer ad-Dumnea hospital there appeared an individual with serious injuries to his right leg and foot caused by an explosion of a hand-grenade or bomb, as stated in a medical report.

“And the doctors were forced to amputate part of the injured person and reported that he informed them that he was called Muhammed Hassan al-Hojeiri and was a Syrian national.

“Syria’s planting of mines at the border may be an alternative to operations penetrating inside Lebanese land, and vis-a-vis this the Lebanese army have strengthened its deployment at this border, and has set up a number of observation points. However the inhabitants of the border area, and specifically Wadi Khaled, demand that the state increases protection and intervene with the Syrian side to get rid of the landmines which they say restricts their civil intercourse within Syria.”

Lebanese resident#1: “There isn’t any smuggling, or anybody at all.”

Lebanese resident#2: “This area here, Sairand Edda, has been completely sealed off. Nobody can enter or exit it.”

LBC reporter: “What are they worried about?”

Resident#2: “There’s nothing there, no terrorists entering, there’s nothing.”

“The Lebanese Army entered the developments along the border with Syria and said in a statement that its units will get involved to deal with any security breach if it were to occur, and they will carry out their task of securing the border and preventing any smuggling and infiltration of gunmen, and will co-ordinate with the Syrian side to deal with any security disorder.

“And in an incident which may be connected with the Syrian situation, a detachment of the security forces in Halba [Akkar] arrested an individual in possession of seven RPG rockets in a garage in the village of Amar al-Bikat, Akkar.”

These are not the actions of a regime serious about reform and reconciliation. Assad knows he’s past the point of no return. All he can do is cling on and keep betting on the use of violence and force to solve this “crisis.”

He has no other options left.