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The encirclement of Syria

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A map prepared by German magazine Der Spiegel to show areas of control in Syria.

A map prepared by German magazine Der Spiegel to show areas of control in Syria.

Update: Samples collected by the UN chemical experts team in the Damascus suburb will be transferred to laboratories for analysis “within hours,” a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said in a note to correspondents. “The samples were shipped this afternoon from The Hague and will reach their destination within hours,” the note said. It added that the designated laboratories are prepared to begin the analyses “immediately after receipt of samples.”

Ria Novosti has quoted Alexei Pushkov, who heads the international affairs committee in the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, as having said: “By sending the Nimitz nuclear aircraft carrier to Syria’s shores, Obama demonstrates that the military action has been postponed, but not cancelled, and that he is determined to start a war.”

Press communiqués from Russia indicate that President Vladimir Putin’s government in Moscow wants any military action to go through the UN Security Council, but will likely block any resolution to authorise it, citing lack of conclusive evidence that the Syrian government, not the insurgents, was behind the attack.
Moscow will continue to support the Assad government with weapons and humanitarian aid, as it has in the past. The view of Russian analysts is that this is so because Moscow has invested a considerable sum in Assad’s government through loans and financial support.

A readers' poll by presseurop shows 65% want nothing to do with war.

A readers’ poll by presseurop shows 65% want nothing to do with war.

Der Spiegel has a longish news feature in which it has explained that the USA has stepped back from an immediate response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013. But the Obama regime in Washington continues to profess “certainty” that Syrian president Bashar Assad is behind the attack. Der Spiegel’s tone is pro-White House and certainly not objective enough for even a third-rate district newspaper, but this sort of Europedantry is useful for indicating how the autocratic regimes in Berlin, Paris and London are currently thinking.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said secrecy by the West is unacceptable with regard to Syria and evidence of the use of chemical weapons there. He added that “what our American, British and French partners have shown us before – as well as now – does not convince us at all. There are no supporting facts, there is only repetitive talk in the vein of ‘we know for sure’. And when we ask for further clarification, we receive the following response: ‘You are aware that this is classified information, therefore we cannot show it to you.’ So there are still no facts.”

An article in Counterpunch has said that “having been released prior to even preliminary reports from UN chemical weapons investigators on the ground in Syria, the (American) document (claiming proof of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on its own population) is as much a work of fiction as it is fact.”

Outside the cosmeticised clutter of the world’s mainstream and corporate media, a number of information channels are citing interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters in Syria and their families, from which a very different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.

In a recent article for Business Insider, reporter Geoffrey Ingersoll highlighted Saudi Prince Bandar’s role in the two-and-a-half year Syrian civil war. Many observers believe Bandar, with his close ties to Washington, has been at the very heart of the push for war by the U.S. against Assad. Ingersoll referred to an article in Britain’s Daily Telegraph about secret Russian-Saudi talks alleging that Bandar offered Russian President Vladimir Putin cheap oil in exchange for dumping Assad.

“Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord,” Ingersoll wrote. “Along with Saudi officials, the US allegedly gave the Saudi intelligence chief the thumbs up to conduct these talks with Russia, which comes as no surprise. Bandar is American-educated, both military and collegiate, served as a highly influential Saudi Ambassador to the US, and the CIA totally loves this guy.”

A picture drawn by a Syrian child, living through the conflict. Image: CBBC Newsround (www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/21771713)

A picture drawn by a Syrian child, living through the conflict. Image: CBBC Newsround (www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/21771713)

Update: The rush to attack Syria by the Obama administration is being prepared in contempt of international law, democratic processes and in contempt of public opinion in the USA itself. This was made abundantly clear in the presentation US Secretary of State John Kerry delivered from the State Department on Friday, 30 August.

On Saturday, 31 August, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed as “utter nonsense” the US claims that the Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons. “The Syrian government troops are on the offensive … So giving a trump card to those who are calling for a military intervention is utter nonsense,” Putin told reporters in Vladivostok.

The so-called US ‘Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons’ contains not one shred of probative evidence. As emphasised by the website of the International Committee of the Fourth International, the document, barely three pages long, includes a series of unsubstantiated assertions that are tailored to the US policy aim of manufacturing a pretext for direct intervention in a US-provoked civil war aimed at toppling the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

To the question, put to him by Syrian playwright Mohammad Al Attar, which was, “You have a cautious stance on recent Western statements about arming opposition fighters. Why is this?”, Noam Chomsky, interviewed in July 2013, replied: “It is linked to an evaluation of the consequences. Once again, I believe there are much simpler ways that the West can take before making the leap to military aid, some of which I have mentioned above, but which further include providing increased levels of humanitarian aid. If we are serious, we must look at the consequences of such an action. What would be the result on a humanitarian level? My question is practical, not ethical.” More from the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Middle East.

A page extract from NBC's poll on US military action against Syria.

A page extract from NBC’s poll on US military action against Syria.

But the views of the reasonable and pacifist many have rarely halted the war charges of the White House. A poll carried out by the American broadcaster NBC has showed that nearly 80% of those polled want approval from the US Congress for military action against Syria. “Nearly 80 percent of Americans believe President Barack Obama should receive congressional approval before using force in Syria, but the nation is divided over the scope of any potential strike,” the NBC report has said.

The raw poll findings, which I have extracted from the document helpfully posted in full by NBC, show the clarity with which the polled public view the recklessness of the Obama administration. In particular see the “no, will not improve the situation” and “no, not in our national interest” responses.

Older post: There is little point now in switching on any of the mainstream television news channels, for the propaganda campaign has shifted into high gear. The last decade has provided enough practice for such a campaign – war and unrest have become orchestrated as spectacles. There has been Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Somalia and Al Qaeda. Hence the machinery used to package another war for the public has been well used. The official reasons given for the imminent attack on Syria are unsubstantiated and lies that are fashioned crudely into a bloodthirsty collection of pretexts to justify a policy planned well in advance.

Shoved aside are the voices that are calling for the investigations to find evidence of the alleged gas attacks inside Syria, to let dialogue and diplomacy dominate all interactions, to give all sides a hearing and count all views.

The voices are there and this is what they have said and are saying:

On 28 August 2013, with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other UN officials urging continued cooperation, the UN team investigating alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria visited several locations in the suburbs of Damascus, including impact sites, where it collected additional information and samples. That work must continue, as Syria itself has asked the UN, speaking through its permanent representative to the UN speaking on 28 August 2013 (see this video clip).

On 25 August 2013 the Spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on 24 and 25 August 2013, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane, met with senior officials of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic. “The purpose of her visit was to seek cooperation of the Government in facilitating an expeditious investigation of the incident in the Ghouta area on 21 August involving the alleged use of chemical weapons,” noted the statement.

The UN Secretary-General instructed the investigating mission which began its on-site fact-finding activities on 26 August 2013, that is, only three days ago. And yet the governments in Washington and London are ferociously claiming there is no need for a UN Security Council resolution on what form of intervention to make in response, and indeed for the investigations to cease so that war can commence immediately.

For the USA and Britain – and their supporters in Germany and France and a few other countries – to threaten to or to militarily strike at Syria is a blatant violation of the United Nations Charter – which has not been mentioned by Barack Obama or David Cameron. The UN Charter requires countries to settle their international disputes peacefully. Article 2(4) makes it illegal for any country to either use force or threaten to use force against another country. Article 2(7) prohibits intervention in an internal or domestic dispute in another country. The only time military force is lawful under the Charter is when the Security Council approves it, or under Article 51, which allows a country to defend itself if attacked. None of the governments now howling for war were attacked.

A graphic by Ria Novosti showing the build-up of military in the Mediterranean and surrounding Syria.

A graphic by Ria Novosti showing the build-up of military in the Mediterranean and surrounding Syria.

Writing in The Guardian, Hans Blix reminded us that “In 2003 the US and the UK and an alliance of ‘friendly states’ invaded Iraq without the authorisation of the UN Security Council. “A strong body of world opinion felt that this constituted a violation and an undermining of the UN charter,” wrote Blix. “A quick punitive action in Syria today without UN authorisation would be another precedent, suggesting that great military powers can intervene militarily when they feel politically impelled to do so.” Blix was the head of the UN monitoring, verification and inspection commission from March 2000 to June 2003. In 2002, the commission began searching Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, ultimately finding none.

We can expect that Russia and China, on the UN Security Council, will use their veto to halt an Anglo-American war on Syria. That is why the USA and Britain have been assembling warships in the Mediterranean – were these warships there before the alleged gas attacks in Syria? That is what responsible media should be asking governments in Washington and London.

Nonetheless, there are more reliable news sources to turn to. The Russian news website RT is running a ‘Syria ‘chemical weapons’ crisis live updates’ page. Ria Novosti is also covering the crisis and you will reports such as “Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, have discussed the situation in Syria, condemned the use of chemical weapons, and called for a political settlement”.

And the People’s Republic of China has its global news service, Xinhua, which has reported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as having said that his country “would defend itself against any foreign aggression, stressing determination to ‘eliminate terrorism’ in the war-weary country”.

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Syria in 2013 and the opposition to war

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The mother of a Free Syrian Army fighter mourns as his body brought home during his funeral in Aleppo December 21, 2012. Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Jadalla

The mother of a Free Syrian Army fighter mourns as his body brought home during his funeral in Aleppo December 21, 2012. Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Jadalla

A newly elected government in the USA is as intent as its predecessors were on deepening war and conflict where it already exists, and on embarking on new campaigns of state aggression and violence. The conflict in Syria has been converted by the United States of America and its partner western aggressors from a civil movement for democratic rights into a bitter and bloody civil war that has killed more than 20,000 and has made refugees of more than half a million people.

Unnoticed almost in the clamour for war that resounds in the capitals of USA and its western allies is new evidence from a United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry which has stated, finally and plainly, that a sectarian civil war is raging in Syria. Its findings are based upon extensive investigations and interviews between September 28 to December 16, 2012. The Commission has detailed massacres and gross violations of human rights that have polarised Syria.

Investigators, headed by Carla del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, have interviewed more than 1,200 victims and refugees. The report produced is a devastating indictment of the United States and other western powers – said International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) – who have worked with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to depose of Bashar al-Assad by recruiting and aiding a Sunni insurgency overwhelmingly made up of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Salafist and Al Qaeda-style groups.

Map of the conflict areas and zones of uprising in Syria from Political Geography Now

Map of the conflict areas and zones of uprising in Syria from Political Geography Now

“The UN independent panel finds more breaches of human rights law by parties to Syrian conflict,” said the UN news service. The Commission has been mandated by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law in Syria, where at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. The conflict is now in its 22nd month and apart from the enormous number of refugees has left an estimated 4 million people inside Syria needing urgent humanitarian assistance. “The Syrian Government has yet to allow the Commission to undertake investigations inside the country,” said the UN news report.

That lack of access may change in early 2013 if the movement Peace In Syria is successful. This initiative consists in calling a delegation of high-ranking personalities of the international public to go to Syria with the aim of opening a national dialogue between the main political and social forces involved in the ongoing armed conflict to pave a way for a political solution.

As highlighted by Monthly Review’s MRZine, the peace initiative has said: “We are highly concerned not only because the conflict has been acquiring a dangerous geo-political dimension. The legitimate and at the beginning also peaceful movement of the Syrian people – along with their Arab brothers – for democratic rights is also in danger of being converted into a sectarian civil war with massive regional and international involvement.”

Quick tabulation of the anti-war survey results from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Quick tabulation of the anti-war survey results from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Utterly unmindful of the calls for peace within the Middle East and outside, the government of the USA is just as brazenly ignoring the anti-war movement at home. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press conducted a survey whose finding is that the American public continues to say that the USA does not have a responsibility to do something about the fighting there.

“And there continues to be substantial opposition to sending arms to anti-government forces in Syria,” said the survey report. “Only about quarter of Americans (27%) say the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria; more than twice as many (63%) say it does not. These views are virtually unchanged from March. Similarly, just 24% favor the U.S. and its allies sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria, while 65% are opposed.”

Far more bluntly, Veterans For Peace has urgently called on the United States and NATO “to cease all military activity in Syria, halt all U.S. and NATO shipments of weapons, and abandon all threats to further escalate the violence under which the people of Syria are suffering. NATO troops and missiles should be withdrawn from Turkey and other surrounding nations. U.S. ships should exit the Mediterranean”.

A fire burns after what activist said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at Ain Terma area in Ghouta, east of Damascus December 18, 2012. Picture taken December 18, 2012. Photo: Reuters/ Karm Seif/ Shaam News Network

A fire burns after what activist said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad at Ain Terma area in Ghouta, east of Damascus December 18, 2012. Picture taken December 18, 2012. Photo: Reuters/ Karm Seif/ Shaam News Network

The organisation draws upon the experiences of military veterans in working for the abolition of war. “We have not entered into this work without consideration of many situations similar to the current one in Syria,” said the organisation, and added, “No good can come from U.S. military intervention in Syria. The people of Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and dozens of other nations in Latin America and around the world have not been made better off by U.S. military intervention.”

But the USA, its aggressor western allies and NATO are intent on prosecuting war in Syria and gathering for greater, bloodier conflict. On December 17, Israel’s Haaretz reported that US cargo airplanes carrying military equipment landed in Jordanian airports over several days and that US military forces in the country have been significantly built up. The USA, Germany and the Netherlands have dispatched Patriot anti-missile systems and hundreds of troops to Turkey’s border and are seeking a pretext to use them. Hence last week, US officials accused the Syrian government of firing Scud missiles against opposition groups near Maara, north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, a claim Syria denied as “untrue rumours”. [See Al Jazeera’s live diary of events in Syria for more.]

It is now left to the citizens of the USA and its western allies – citizens who are no less bludgeoned daily by the austerity measures imposed by their governments while their criminally-minded banking and corporate elite frame and set policy both national and international – to derail the war machine. A number of good reasons for doing so can be found in the work of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry, whose new 10-page update – the latest in a series of reports and updates produced by the Commission since it began its work in August 2011 – paints a bleak picture of the devastating conflict and continuing international human rights and humanitarian law violations taking place in Syria.

The full 10-page update can be viewed here – it describes the unrelenting violence resulting in many thousands of dead and wounded, and also focuses on arbitrary detention and disappearances, huge displacement and the massive physical destruction in Syria. It describes how World Heritage sites have been damaged or destroyed, as well as entire neighbourhoods of several of the country’s biggest cities. Civilians continue to bear the brunt as the front lines between Government forces and the armed opposition have moved deeper into urban areas. The Commission of Inquiry will present its fourth report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013.

The Damascus fork in the Middle East road

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The much abused label of a “humanitarian” intervention has been brought out again, for Syria, by the USA and its allies in western Europe. After the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the UN Security Council vote (meaning the vetoes by China and Russia) as a “travesty” and having said “we will work with the friends of a democratic Syria around the world to support the opposition’s peaceful political plans for change”, the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé called the vetoes a “stain” on the UN, adding that French President Nicolas Sarkozy would soon present further initiatives against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

These clumsy but belligerent posturings are aimed at lending some kind of moral legitimacy to a violent intervention in Syria and ignoring the profound opposition these policies provoke amongst the working class in USA and in Europe, and opposition in the Middle East and Asia to a new zone of war. Even in the Western media it has been widely reported that pro-US powers, including Turkey and France, are providing arms and aid to Syrian opposition forces – methods that have become typical of the topplings pursued in the Middle East and North Africa regions during the decade of 2000-2010.

[See ‘When China and Russia use the veto’ posted a few days earlier.] Here is a selection of recent developments, statements and responses:

The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) issued a communiqué on 2012 February 05 from Caracas. This said: “The heads of state and government of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) reiterate their condemnation of the systematic policy of interference in and destabilization of the brother Syrian Arab Republic, the aim of which is to impose, by force, regime change on the Syrian people.”

“The ALBA member states condemn the acts of armed violence that irregular groups supported by foreign powers have unleashed against the Syrian people.  The member states hope that the Syrian society will return to calm and develop in peace. The ALBA countries reiterate their support for the policy of reforms and national dialogue promoted by the government of President Bashar al Assad, seeking to find a political solution to the current crisis, respecting the sovereignty of the Syrian people and the territorial integrity of that brother Arab country.”

The original communiqué “Alba ratifica su apoyo a Siria” can be read at the website of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry (translation by Yoshie Furuhashi).

An editorial in the People’s Daily, China has said: “The US and Europe are likely to move against Syria without UN backing. China and Russia are acting within the UN framework, but the US and Europe are trying to set their own rules. In the 2003 Iraq war, France and Germany shared the same stance as China and Russia. During the Bosnia-Herzegovina war in the 1990s, the UK and France sided with Russia.”

“It is far different now. Shared values are bonding Europe and the US again diplomatically. They both adopt this value diplomacy as a powerful tool in the current global competition. With their declining technologic advantage, values are being applied to widen the gap between the West and the developing countries. The US still enjoys dominant military power, which helped it win the Cold War and smash the Milosevic and Saddam regimes. But now it faces economic competition from emerging countries, where military power cannot help directly.”

The Voice of Russia has reported that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and foreign intelligence chief Mikhail Fradkov arrived in Damascus on Tuesday  (2012 February 07) to have talks with the country’s leader Bashar Assad and give him a letter from President Dmitry Medvedev. The VoR`s Olga Denisova reports from Damascus. On their arrival at Damascus airport, Sergei Lavrov and Mikhail Fradkov were greeted by a top-ranking delegation. When the Russian officials were taken to the center of the city, they could see crowds of pro-Assad supporters, some of them holding Russian flags. People were chanting ‘thank you, Russia!’ At some moment, police officers found it hard to keep people at a necessary distance from the Russian car procession as too many of them wanted to welcome the envoys.

Speaking during a press-briefing after the talks, Mr. Lavrov said that the Russian message was accepted in Syria: “We confirmed our readiness to help Syria overcome the ongoing political crisis relying on three principles outlined in the Arab League`s initiative on November 2, 2011. The Syrian leader, on his part, confirmed his adherence to the policy of non-violence.”

According to Voice of Russia, Bashar Assad said that Syria is interested in the Arab League`s mission to be resumed and even expanded. He believes that the Arab League monitors should watch the situation in all restive districts of the country and report all violations, no matter on which of the opposing sides. Mr. Lavrov told journalists that Mr. Assad confirmed his government`s readiness to start an interethnic dialogue as suggested by the League. Mr. Assad is also expected to have talks with a commission that deals with preparing a draft constitution for Syria. After the draft is ready, a national referendum on the new constitution will be held, to be followed by parliamentary elections, which Assad described as “not offering any privileges to the ruling Ba`ath party”.

Reuters has reported that Russia has won a promise from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to bring an end to bloodshed in Syria, but Western and Arab states acted to isolate Assad further after activists and rebels said his forces killed over 100 in the city of Homs. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, representing a rare ally on a trip to the Syrian capital that other states are shunning, said both countries wanted revive a monitoring effort by the Arab League, whose plan to resolve Syria’s crisis Moscow and Beijing vetoed in the U.N. Security Council.

According to the Reuters report, there was an indication from Lavrov’s comments that the issue of Assad eventually giving up power – a central element of the Arab proposal that failed in the Council – had been raised. Assad said he would cooperate with any plan that stabilised Syria, but made clear that only included an earlier Arab League proposal that called for dialogue, release of prisoners and withdrawing the army from protest centres. Russia’s mediation failed to slow a rush by countries that denounced the Russian-Chinese veto three days ago to corner Syria diplomatically and cripple Assad with sanctions in hopes of toppling him.

A perspective from the World Socialist Web Site has said that the supposed “principles” underlying the US initiative – that the major imperialist powers have the right to intervene and depose the governments of former colonial countries they deem guilty of violating human rights – stand in complete contradiction to international law. As in everything else, the American financial aristocracy makes up the rules as it goes along.

The reasoning of the Russian and the Chinese governments is fairly straight-forward. They see the US posturing once again as the champion of democracy and human rights as it carries out a relentless campaign of aggression aimed at transforming Iran and Syria – both key trading and strategic partners with Moscow and Beijing – into neo-colonial puppet states of American imperialism. The modus operandi in pursuing these imperialist aims is now all too familiar. A targeted regime is denounced with hypocritical invocations of human rights violations after the US and its allies promote civil war in the country and then utilize the inevitable repression as the pretext for intervention.

This was the formula employed successfully in Libya, after Russia and China abstained, failing to exercise their veto, on a resolution authorizing a “no-fly zone,” supposedly to protect the civilian population. This resolution was then exploited as a pseudo-legal fig leaf for a US-NATO war of colonial aggression involving non-stop bombardment of Libya. Special forces and intelligence assets led the so-called rebels in the toppling and ultimate assassination of Muammar Gaddafi.

Jorge Insunza, a leader of the Communist Party of Chile and a member of its Central Committee and Political Commission, has in an interview said: “The Communist Party of Syria, which is a great, serious, and responsible Communist Party and which is not part of the Syrian government, says that it is necessary for Syria to make progress in the deepening of the real exercise of democratic rights. That there have been flaws and errors is an objective fact. However, North American intervention would not solve any democratic problem. On the contrary, it would result in the establishment of a power that would be much more repressive than the current government which allows the existence of parties that are not part of it and have a critical perspective as in the case of the Communist Party of Syria.” This interview was released by TeleSur on 2012 February 03.