Monday January 14, 2013, no114
Weekly information and analysis bulletin specialized in Arab Middle Eastern affairs prepared by neworientnews.com
Editor in chief Wassim Raad
New Orient Center for Strategic policies
The American War against the Syrian state without prospects
By Ghaleb Kandil
From what has came out from the tripartite meeting in Geneva between the Russians, the Americans and the international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Friday, January 11, it is clear that the refusal of the United States to recognize the failure of the universal war that they launched against Syria and its president Bashar al-Assad, is a major obstacle that prevents a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
It is Washington that has sabotaged all initiatives by refusing to engage through the Security Council to stop arming and financing armed groups in Syria. This is due to the fact that it is the U.S. who managed the war in Syria, set up operating rooms in Turkey, whose members are CIA agents responsible for coordinating international and regional efforts to mobilize terrorists around the world to send in Syria. U.S. officials publicly boast of providing modern communication equipment to armed gangs, and they expressed no regret, even after acknowledging that much of this equipment has fallen into the hands of al-Qaida fighters of al-Nosra Front, an organization they late put on their terrorist list, on which they could include other groups shortly, why they do not change their position on commitments to stop the violence.
As clear commitments to stop military and financial support to terrorist groups are not officially taken in the Geneva meetings, it means that the U.S. administration is determined to continue the war of attrition against the state Syria in the coming months. The United States, who are unable to bear the human and material losses in a direct confrontation, know that the Syrian national state, which has shown a remarkable strength throughout the war, will be even more determined to preserve its political independence after the end of fighting. It is for this reason that Washington binds the establishment of mechanisms for stopping the war to the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, who is a popular leader, tough, with patriotic choices. If he is to be ousted in the current circumstances, it will open the way to new balances which may put the Syrian army and people away from a truly independent Syria. The axis of the resistance will be, then, seriously weakened.
Lakhdar Brahimi's comments are below the level of debate, because the international envoy has long been the spokesman for the United States and the West. On the other hand, the strong position of Russia, supported by the Brics countries, especially China and Iran, is motivated by the reality that Syria is the first line of defense for all independent forces that oppose unilateral U.S. hegemony. Assad is the symbol of this reality. Asking for his resignation is like demanding the departure of Fidel Castro in Cuba of the sixties.
Bashar al-Assad has the support of a large majority of Syrians, who see in him the hope of a better future. Its closest allies know that the Syrian president bases all decisions on the Syrian national interest, and no power on earth can force a leader supported by his people to change his decisions. The true friends of Syria are well aware that the battle has now surpassed the reforms, although they are important. These reforms have indeed become, after the last speech Assad, the work program of the government. In fact, the challenge is about the existence of Syria as a free, sovereign and independent, state, active and influential in its geopolitical environment.
Sooner or later, Washington will fall and Assad will proclaim victory in the most ferocious war ever launched against a country in modern history. The statements of Brahimi after the last meeting in Geneva, that the solution must be political in Syria, is a recognition of the strength of the Syrian state.
Michel Sleiman, President of the Lebanese Republic
«I would have preferred that the action of the resistance remains secret. Before publicly announcing the launch of the drone, the President of the Republic should have been is informed. I also do not think that Iran, which is a friend and a brother, was to announce that it has received the photos taken by the drone as President of the Lebanese Republic is not aware of the case.»
Michel Aoun, leader of the Free patriotic movement
«We will not accept less than our rights, we will not accept less than the orthodox project. Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb supported this law, it is important to stay in this position for the project comes to Parliament. I want the rights of each party respected. I also would like to ensure that I never demanded the closure of borders to Syrian refugees.»
Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Socialist Progressive Party
«There is a unique and fundamental constant, which we all agree. This is the Taif Agreement, which will remain our priority. From time to time, we hear strange ideas to undermine it. This is what we cannot accept. As usual, we agree with Speaker Nabih Berry on most issues. The meetings will continue to cut corners, to consolidate national unity, especially since the crisis in Syria is worse than we imagine. Whatever statements from here and there, we cannot exert any influence on the developments in Syria. It is a conflict aiming to destroy a pivotal state called Syria. Achieving this goal will plunge the region into constructive chaos, as stated by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. We must be very careful, and reinforce the national unity.»
Nabil Nicolas , Lebanese MP, member of the Free Patriotic Movement
«It is not MP Ahmad Fatfat who speaks for Christians or who defines what Patriarch Bechara Rai represents. He is the patriarch is the Christians of Lebanon and the Orient, while Fatfat is only the Islamic Liberation Party representative. The orthodoxe project has received support of six of the eight members of the parliamentary sub-committee to examine bills election. Other projects have not even got half the votes. Henceforth, we will no longer be marginalized. We want a true parity.»
Marwan Hamade, Lebanese MP, member of March-14 coalition
«The Orthodox project is inspired from outside the borders and is not constitutional, as revealed by President Sleiman. This law buries Taif, dismantles the country and brings us to the system of double caïmacamat and moutassarifiyya, which ceased to exist two centuries ago. This law prove dangerous demographic disparities. It is time to pave the way for elections that will lead to the real implementation of Taif: the administrative decentralization that reassures all citizens, and the bicameral system to include an element of secularism in Parliament and preserve the community in the Senate.»
The Syrian rebels released 48 Iranian hostages abducted last August near Damascus. For their part, the Syrian authorities have released Wednesday 2130 civil prisoners in exchange for the release of 48 Iranian nationals, according to Serkan Nergis, spokesman for the Islamist humanitarian organization (IHH), a Turkish NGO that undertook a mediation. "This is the result of negotiations for months by our organization in the context of civil diplomacy", he said.
The head of the Progressive Socialist Party, MP Walid Jumblatt, denounced "certain religious fatwas issued in some Arab countries prohibiting congratulate non-Muslims on the occasion of their religious occasions". He said these fatwas measures surprising and incomprehensible"in states that have witnessed popular revolutions in the name of freedom of opinion on political, religious and media."
The families of nine Lebanese pilgrims still detained in Syria observed on Thursday a sit-in in front of the Embassy of Qatar in Beirut, and tried to prevent employees from accessing their offices. The event was surrounded by draconian security measures. Relatives of the nine hostages were held Jan. 2 a sit-in in front of the similar Turkish airline Turkish Airlines Beirut. The next day, they demonstrated outside the embassy of Qatar.
The former head of Lebanese General Security, Jamil Sayyed, gave the Attorney General, Judge Hatem Madi, a certified copy of a CD containing recordings of four telephone conversations between Lebanese MP Okab Sakr and Syrian armed groups, so that prosecutors act in accordance with legal procedures. General Sayyed was also received two hours by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
As Safir (Lebanese daily, close to the majority, January 11, 2013)
Lebanese are facing an important stake to prove that they are able to achieve by themselves a new electoral law, given that the regional and international parties are absorbed by the conflict in Syria to the point that Lebanon is become in their eyes a tiny detail on the regional scene.
If the elections in 1992, 1996 and 2000 were held under the patronage of Syria, in 2005 under the auspices of the international community, and in 2009 under the auspices of the Doha Agreement, the features of the sponsor to oversee the ballot 2013 have still not drawn, but remain dependent on the turn taken by the Syrian conflict.
In this context, the Lebanese are working hard to find a magic formula on the basis of which the next election will take place. It should be noted that the Orthodox project has put Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb between the hammer and the anvil. If these two Christian parties withdraw their support to this project, they risk losing some of their popularity in favor of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Marada Movement. And if they decide to camp on their position until the end, they risk losing their strategic ally, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
On the Shiite side, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have agreed to give their Christian allies all the facilities required in this regard, be it at the expense of their ambition to establish a modern electoral law. They believe that the electoral battle will be played on the Christian scene and the priority is to improve the confrontation in favor of FPM and Marada components against March-14 Christians.
To the Speaker of the House, Nabih Berry, Orthodox project approval illustrates that the concern is not limited to Christians in Lebanon but also to the Christian of the Arab countries, especially Iraq, Egypt, Palestine and Syria.
In addition, circles close to President Michel Sleiman, say Christian quadripartite agreement on the orthodox project will not put head of state in trouble, because given its responsibility to ensure the national unity, he cannot overlook the fact that this bill is unconstitutional and goes against the national pact.
An Nahar (Lebanese Daily, close to march-14 coalition)
Radwan Akil (January 10, 2013)
The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) feels more at ease with respect to the position of its Muslim allies about the Orthodox project (each community elects its own MP's) than are the Christians of March-14 vis-à-vis their Muslim partners. The Lebanese Forces (LF) and the Kataeb party know that the Future Movement will not support this project in any way defended vigorously by Aounists, who explain to Christians that it is their only salvation.
The first two days of deliberations in the parliamentary sub-committee to examine bills election proved that the LF and Kataeb showed no great enthusiasm in the defense of the orthodox project. In contrast, MP Alain Aoun (FPM) has vigorously defended it.
What the Future Movement has not announced openly, MP Serge Torsarkissian was instructed to do so with a concise expression: "We do not want this project."
The representative of Amal Movement, Ali Bazzi, had clear instructions from President Nabih Berri on the need to side with Christian unanimity. Mr. Berry has reaffirmed its support for this project to an-Nahar by saying: "Despite the fact that it does not join my vision in electoral matters. I took the same position in Doha when I approved the 1960 law, supported by General Michel Aoun. I do not maneuver at the expense of Christians."
Mr. Berry made the remarks at a time when he was to receive the head of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) Walid Jumblatt, who came just to explain the "negative aspects" of the Orthodox project and the danger it poses to Lebanon and to the Taif agreement. "This project is unconstitutional and causes the isolation of communities," repeated the chief of PSP. Jumblatt's position has found support in the president Sleiman who rejected the orthodox project. But the FPM believes that the head of state must be consistent with himself when he called on the eve of Christmas, to organize the elections on the scheduled date. According to Aounists, Sleiman should also announce that the 1960 Act is not consistent with the spirit of the Constitution.
An Nahar (January 9, 2013)
Officials were disappointed by the small number of Lebanese immigrants who registered as voters in the 69 embassies and 15 consulates around the world. Their number amounted to 6733 in 46 diplomatic representations, while in 35 other performances, none has registered. Pages of records remained white, although the deadline has been extended from December 31, 2012 to January 18, 2013.
The Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said that the reason for this small number is not logistical, because all Lebanese, regardless of their party affiliation or other can join. "What is shocking is that in some Lebanese colonies, where we expected an enrollment rate of 70 to 80%, nobody came," said the minister.
Here are some examples: Dubai 302; Senegal 388, Montreal, described the capital of Lebanese emigration: 537, Muscat 330, France 825, Kuwait 818, Germany 18, while there are 100,000 Lebanese in this country, half are Shia Abu Dhabi 68, Melbourne 1136, for a total of 60000 Lebanese, Sao Paolo 186, Los Angeles 135, Washington 113, New York 269; Gabon 1, 2 Bogota, Athens 5; Buenos Aires 20, Cote d'Ivoire 18; Kazakhstan 35 etc...
Al Akhbar (Lebanese daily, close to the majority, January 12, 2013)
There is always room for surprises with the French government, which claims to protect the interests of the region’s peoples, from Damascus to Bamako.
After all, did French President François Hollande not say that his government – like that of his predecessor Sarkozy in Libya perhaps – was strongly committed to fostering democracy in “post-Assad Syria”? These remarks came in a New Year’s speech to diplomats, in which Hollande said that this democracy will be based on the “diversity” and “unity” of the Syrian people.
Surprises are always possible with the French administration. As such, the French Minister of Interior Manuel Valls is expected to sign an order to deport Georges Ibrahim Abdallah by 14 January 2013. If all goes as planned, then the Lebanese freedom fighter, having survived unjust incarceration in France, will be on his way to Beirut.
The question is: How will his country receive him after three decades of imprisonment?
For some, this issue may appear trivial. Perhaps many will respond, “What kind of question is this? Let his family, friends, and supporters receive him. Let them chant some slogans, set off some fireworks, and raise some flags. It will be a small celebration and then the party will be over.”
For its part, MTV might carry a brief report at the end of its news bulletin about “the terrorist’s return” (What can we do? Georges Abdallah is noLara Fabian).
Well, ladies and gentlemen. The return of Abdallah, like Ulysses in the old myth, should be a major national event in every sense of the word. These are historic moments that we must interpret well and draw from their symbolism to gain momentum to move forward through the quagmires of the present.
The man is not an ordinary expatriate returning home after a long absence. He is not a dangerous “criminal” that the dignitaries should be ashamed to greet. (After all, his innocence was even affirmed by the French authorities.) Abdallah belongs to the same line of French resistance heroes as Missak Manouchian and Jean Moulin. He is the symbol of an era.
The Lebanese state must therefore bow down before his sacrifices, and receive him in a manner befitting a hero, elevating him to the status that he deserves.
But this revolutionary is not a popular cause, and no politician can take advantage of shaking his hand for electoral gains or sectarian one-upmanship. There won’t be a sectarian leader at Abdallah’s reception, or a cleric or a clan chief. There won’t be a representative of any family’s military or civilian wing.
Nevertheless, the state, despite being associated with that grim reality, must be there. An official reception would not just recognize the heroic deeds of the man who hails from Kobayat in North Lebanon, or condemn the injustice that he has suffered; it would also acknowledge the values he represents, here and now, amid the darkness descending on the Arab world.
We therefore ask the Lebanese government to be there, on the tarmac Monday evening, to reaffirm the sanctity of the cause that Abdallah paid a lofty price to advance.
Because Abdallah did so out of conviction rather than personal interests, we are in dire need of people like him at a time like this. Indeed, the fateful confrontation with the same enemy Abdallah fought 30 years ago is about to intensify.
Al Akhbar (January 11, 2013)
A source close to Bkerke (Maronite Patriarchate) reveals that after the last failures of the 14-March coalition and its concern with subjects that are not on the United States agenda, it became necessary for the West, especially for Americans, "to change the leadership and staff in order to use most influential personalities in Lebanon." They used to produce a new political group, more subtle and intelligent, in order to serve the same objectives: encircle Hezbollah, and, consequently, the Free Patriotic Movement. This group is composed of President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the PSP leader Walid Jumblatt, Kataeb President Amine Gemayel and the Speaker of the House Nabih Berry (for emergency). Initially, Bkerke found in this group features reaching its vision to strengthen the presidency of the Republic. But patriarchy has quickly realized that the working methods of the group and its pronouncements will place the Church in the case of 14-March. Consequently, it has moderated its enthusiasm. The motivations of this group are strictly electoral.
According to a personality close to the presidential palace, once these potential candidates began to work, they spontaneously collaborated with 14-March. In Kesrouan, the core of this list is composed of Nehmat Frem and former Minister Ziad Baroud, who tried in vain to obtain the blessing of Bkerke. It is reported that the former MP Mansour al-Bone wil represent March-14 in this list. In the caza of Baabda presidential palace play cards on the table. But the refusal of former MPs Pierre Daccache and Abdallah Farhat to join the "false centrist list" forced the presidential palace to return to familiar names, known to be close to 14-March as the president of Hazmié municipality, Jean Asmar, and former MP Salah Honein.
Al Akhbar (January 12, 2013)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on French President Francois Hollande to explain why he had met Kurdish militants who were shot dead this week in Paris, as theories over the motivations behind the murders abounded.
Hollande has said that he knew one of the three women killed, although he did not specify which one. All of the victims had links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is seen as a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and the United States. One of them, Sakine Cansiz, was a founding member of the PKK.
"France needs to shed light on this incident," Erdogan said in a speech broadcast live by CNN Turk television on Saturday. "The French president needs to explain to the public in Turkey and the world why he met with members of a terrorist organization."
Meanwhile, demonstrators gathered in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir and in the French capital Saturday to protest the death of Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Soylemez.
The execution-style killings in central Paris on Thursday came a day after Erdogan's government announced the launch of a peace process to end the PKK's 28-year-old insurgency against Turkey.
The deaths sparked a flurry of accusations from Kurdish activists and the Turkish government alike.
A number of PKK sympathizers held Turkey responsible for the slayings, and the Grey Wolves, an extreme-right wing Turkish movement, has been named in the French media as possibly being involved in the case. The PKK has warned that it would hold France responsible if the killers were not quickly found.
Turkish officials, on the other hand, have suggested that the killings may be the result of an internal PKK feud.
Both sides have also brought up the hypothesis of an attempt to derail the peace talks. Erdogan has called the assassinations a “sabotage attempt,” French radio RFI reported.
According to diplomatic wires made public by Wikileaks in 2007, the United States believed that Cansiz was one of the two main European sources of financing for the PKK.
A French anti-terrorism brigade has been investigating the murders since Thursday.
Al Akhbar (January 9, 2013)
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has been filling up his passport, with other state officials following suit. At yesterday’s cabinet session, the top agenda item was a request by the foreign ministry for “payment of expenses for delegations tasked with traveling abroad during the years 2006-2012.”
According to the ministry, these costs amount to just under LL14 billion, or more than $9 million. The figure may seem only a small proportion of a state’s expenditures, but not in comparison to other sums in Lebanon’s draft 2012 budget. Total spending on research, for example, amounted to zero. The sports budget stands at around $6 million – about the same amount is earmarked for culture – while industry is allocated $7.9 million annually.
Foreign travel by officials costs the Lebanese state more than industry, culture, or sports. The lion’s share of this is spent on the president. Much of the money requested by the foreign ministry was for hiring private planes for his use.
Since August, the foreign ministry has been petitioning the finance ministry to pay this bill. The latter objected, stating that the amount requested in the 2012 budget covered items dating back to 2006. This prompted the foreign ministry to ask the cabinet to resolve the dispute.
In its letter requesting payment, the foreign ministry provided a detailed breakdown of the costs incurred by official Lebanese delegations on trips abroad in recent years.
In 2006, the state spent LL50 million, or $33,000, sending delegations to Berne, Switzerland and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In 2007, travels extended to Rome (twice), Riyadh (twice) and Tokyo, at a cost of LL101 million, or $67,000. These costs rose sharply in 2011, reaching LL800 million, or $500,000, thus amounting to a total sum of almost LL5 billion for delegations – over $3 million.
“Unsettled transactions” totaled LL2.3 billion, or $1.5 million, with well-known Lebanese politicians and diplomats among the beneficiaries.
The national airline, MEA, also has a stake in the amount owed by the finance ministry, totaling LL1.9 billion, or $1.2 million.
As for President Suleiman, he alone cost the state LL3.8 billion, or $2.5 million, between 2008 and 2012 in hired private aircraft for his foreign trips.
A sample of Suleiman’s activities, as detailed by the ministry, is provided below.
In Armenia, Suleiman visited the old brandy distillery in Yerevan, where he was taken on a tour by the director and wrote a tribute in the guestbook to Armenia’s brandy-making heritage. He also visited the fourth century Mother Cathedral, and viewed the spear thought to have been used to stab Jesus Christ on the cross.
In Rome, the president lunched at the famous Palazzo Brancaccio restaurant with then Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir and various Italian cardinals. He met the Spanish sculptor who made the statue of St. Maroun that was placed in the Vatican. The main event was a ceremony attended by Pope Benedict XVI, who arrived “to the applause of those present.”
In Mexico, Suleiman was greatly impressed by the Museum of Anthropology, penning another eloquent tribute to the host state’s ancient history in the guestbook.
In Brazil, he inspected Corcovado Mountain, site of the statue of Christ the Savior, where he and his wife had commemorative photos taken to document the historic visit.
In Russia, the president visited the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), where he delivered a “strategic” speech in which he explained how Lebanon had suffered from the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948 due to “the influx of tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees into a country with limited space and resources.”
Suleiman also traveled to Spain at the expense of the state, ending his visit in Barcelona. He and José Montilla, president of the Catalan Regional Government, attended a traditional Barcelonian lunch and made a toast to the Lebanese and Catalonian peoples.
The president’s trips to the US were equally productive. On one of them, he met Miss USA, Rima Fakih, and awarded her the Shield of the Presidency of the Republic.
In Great Britain, he accepted an invitation to lunch with Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, with whom he “discussed the global financial crisis,” and later that evening called on the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, at his Clarence House palace. The accompanying delegation reported that Charles voiced his “admiration for the vitality of the Lebanese people, who have succeeded throughout their history in overcoming numerous tragedies and emerging from them united and strengthened.”
Later, in Westminster Abbey, where British monarchs are crowned and senior statesmen are buried, Suleiman expressed his sympathy for all the British troops who had “sacrificed for the sake of humanity.”
Other landmark tours took Suleiman to France. On one trip to Paris, he and his wife received Nazek al-Hariri, the widow of assassinated prime minister Rafik al-Hariri. This followed a “calm” meeting with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
But the truly “historic” visit, according to the president’s website, was the one to Sydney, Australia. There, Suleiman visited the monastery of St. Charbel, which is affiliated with the Lebanese Maronite church. Being “historic,” the trip included a visit to the ballet at the Sydney Opera House.
While in the Czech Republic, the president visited Charles Bridge which crosses the Voltava River in Prague. Hopes were raised in Lebanon that this experience might inspire the completion of the Bshara al-Khoury bridge or the repair of the Salim Salam flyover, or even the Antalias bridge, thus providing the country with additional benefits from the visit.
After Prague, Suleiman went to Romania, where he laid flower wreaths on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In Athens, Suleiman placed a similar wreath on a similar tomb. There are no unknown soldiers in Lebanon, where all soldiers are famous. But the delegation accompanying the president to Uruguay was surprised to learn that Lebanon is not the only “unique” country in the universe.
It was informed by Uruguayan President José Mujica that his country “is a replica of Lebanon, a geographically small country that is inclusive of all families and sects” – though he did not explain where his country’s Shia, Maronites, Sunnis, or Druze reside.
Things were less conventional in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where at a meeting with representatives of the press, he reassured them that “Lebanon is acting to disarm unofficial forces in the country –be they Hezbollah, Salafi groups or others.”
These activities cost the state coffers billions of pounds, while a couple of days ago, the Lebanese were drowning in puddles of rainwater.
Al Akhbar (January 8, 2013)
Syria is in a state of war. Regardless of how the warring parties are labeled – the regime versus rebels, or a state versus terrorists – the fact remains that Syria is at war. It follows that politics in times of war is steered by the combatants, or as one Syrian official said, “outlined by the boots of the fighters.”
In his speech on Sunday, 6 January 2013, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad spoke confidently – even over confidently according to some. Yet Assad, according to insiders familiar with the situation on the ground in Syria, derived his confidence – which they called “realism” – from the capabilities of his army and its achievements over the past eight weeks.
In November 2012, Damascus and its surrounding areas repeatedly came under rebel attack. At first, al-Nusra Front – the strongest among the armed opposition factions – sought to advance on Damascus from two main axes: from Douma and the adjacent areas towards the capital’s Abbasiyeen district; and from Daraya towards the Kfar Sousa groves, and from there to the heart of Damascus.
The Syrian security services were tipped off, and consequently, the army carried out operations on both axes, prompting al-Nusra to postpone its attack. However, the jihadi group reinforced its positions in Daraya and Moadamiyeh, and conducted raids against military positions in the countryside. Shortly after, al-Nusra began advancing towards Damascus International Airport, with a view to seizing it and cutting off the road linking it to the capital.
The same sources told Al-Akhbar: “Suddenly, and with total ease, the fighters of al-Nusra managed to take over several sensitive military installations in the Damascus countryside, including air defense sites.” Compared to the rebels, the Syrian army appeared like a formidable force in the last week of November, but one that was unable to fend off attacks by fighters executing plans overseen by experienced foreign officers.
For the first time since July 2012 – when a bomb targeted the National Security headquarters – the regime sensed danger looming over its otherwise fortified capital. As a result, the military leadership, both at the Ministry of Defense and the Presidential Palace, rushed to reassess the developments in the vicinity of Damascus.
According to sources close to the Syrian leadership, there were many gaps that led to grave and unjustifiable losses. For example, several posts fell into the hands of al-Nusra despite the fact that intelligence indicated that these posts were going to be attacked. As a response, the Syrian leadership was quick to introduce changes to its decision-making in the field. It reshuffled officers and officials in order to improve the operational capacity of its military forces on the ground.
The results of these changes began to be felt shortly afterwards. The Syrian army successfully rebuffed an attack on the airport, with a view to changing the nature of the deployment in the area from a military to a security one.
It did not take long for the Syrian army to regain the initiative, moving from defense to offense. These adjustments to the command and control systems allowed the Syrian army to alter the general military situation in its favor: while conditions on the ground were increasingly unfavorable to regime forces at the end of November 2012, they were looking more advantageous shortly before the Syrian president’s recent speech.
The army attacked the areas controlled by opposition fighters to the south and east of Damascus. Regime troops also advanced on several hot spots in the north, particularly Aleppo and Idlib, which remain under the control of the Syrian army. A decision was made to withdraw from those costly positions in favor of others that needed be safeguarded, either because of their symbolic nature or due to their strategic importance.
This “optimistic” outlook, presented by the official Syrian side and relied on by Assad in his recent speech, largely coincides with a part of the opposition’s own account. For one thing, some of the regime’s opponents in Damascus who predicted the government’s collapse in a matter of weeks, are now less optimistic.
For them, victory now means merely controlling areas in northern Syria. Off the record, one of the hawks in the opposition camp has said: “The north will fall entirely under our control within weeks or months at the most. After that, the fighting will probably carry on for years in the central and southern regions, unless something unexpected happens.”
Al Quds al-Arabi (Panarab Daily, edited in London, January 6, 2013)
Abdel Bari Atwan
Five fundamental developments deserve a thorough reading to know the components of the Syrian landscape in all its dimensions for the coming months: the first is the long speech of President Bashar al-Assad, in which he proposed a plan for a peaceful solution to the crisis in his country; the second is the fatwa of the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, against the Saudis scholars cautioning call for Jihad in Syria, saying that support for jihadists must be limited in financial and through official channels; and the third was the announcement by the Benjamin Netanyahu government's intention to build a fence along the occupied Golan, as a precaution, after the arrival of the "international jihad" and its positioning instead of the Syrian army, which withdrew from the region; and the fourth is the increasing complaints from the Syrian army free (ASL) that the financial and military aids have stopped, which reflects a change, permanent or temporary, in the attitude of the country providing support to the Syrian rebels; and finally, the fifth, in two weeks a conference will be held in Geneva, with the participation are Syrian opponents who believe in dialogue with the regime. This conference is under the title of the preservation of the geographical and demographic unity of Syria. This event is supported by European states, including Germany and Sweden, according to its organizers.
Assad's speech was disappointing for critics because it was not that of a defeated man, who lives holed up and moves from one hole to another. This speech was the strongest it has ever pronounced, especially since the popular revolt against his regime erupted.
President Assad has made clear it will not negotiate with the outside opposition he accused of collaborating with the West, because if the negotiation is inevitable, it will do so with the master and not the slave. He assured that he will remain in place and refuses even to mention his departure. We are facing a man determined to go through the path he has chosen, regardless of casualties. It is difficult to make President Assad fall without foreign intervention. And such an intervention is increasingly dismissed. The U.S. government feared its consequences and cannot endure humiliating results like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Saudi fatwa, the statement of the Minister Saud al-Faisal that the departure of President Assad must be decided by the Syrian people, and complaints of ASL are all factors that Assad is less worried about his fate .
Many have predicted the fall of President Assad in 2012, even before. Many have predicted his fall with the start of this year. But the coldness American, and the sectarian polarization and contagion in neighboring countries (Iraq, the Israeli fence, the Saudi fatwa, the indifference of Egypt etc ...) will extend the life of Assad and his regime until the end of the year and beyond.
Fides (Vatican Missionary Agency, January 11, 2013)
Approximately 1,000 Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics Christians are trapped in the small village entirely Christian of Yaakoubieh, north of Aleppo. Destitute, without food, electricity, lacking basic necessities, they are in the midst of intense fighting between loyalist forces and opposition groups. They are unable to leave the village and "are in dire conditions in which they are at risk of extinction." This alarm is launched through Fides by Father François Kouseiffi, Priest of St. Francis Parish in Hamra (Beirut) that deals with the care and assistance of nearly 500 Syrian refugees. The refugees told the Father Kouseiffi the plight of the village Yaakoubieh, many of whom come from, and where there are still many parents. Before the war, the village had about 3,000 Christians, divided between Armenian Orthodox and Catholics, who are now almost all fled. Franciscan nuns who share the plight of civilians are still in the village, said the cleric. "The situation is very serious. The inhabitants are trapped. We are trying to help by all means to come to Lebanon. In recent days, a number of our emissaries went to get there but the journey is very dangerous, and after more than a day's drive, they reached Aleppo. Contacts with Christians remained on site are sporadic. They raised the alarm with regard to their survival. They may die in the general silence. "
Syrian Christians are paying the price for the destabilization of the country and suffer like other Syrians, but like other minorities, they remain the most vulnerable groups. A total of some 4 million refugees Syrian Christians are about 500,000 of which 25,000 are in Lebanon. These last days, says Father Kouseiffi, "the wave of frost has made the conditions much more difficult. We are in humanitarian emergency. They tell their drama, their hopes and dreams of a better future for their country."