Syrian government forces this week retook control of Homs after the evacuation of rebel troops. State TV declared May 8 that the Old City was "totally clean of armed terrorist groups," although officials later confirmed that the evacuation was not fully over. The negotiated evacuation marks the end of three years of resistance in Homs, called the "capital of the revolution." (Al Jazeera, Daily Mail, May 9; BBC News, May 8) This, with the upcoming sham elections, is being portrayed by the Bashar Assad regime as the beginning of the end for the revolution. Don't buy it. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) and allied groups are gaining ground in the areas around Latakia, Dara'a, al-Qunaitra and Aleppo. The FSA is in control of most of Dara'a, where a southern front is reportedly being organized. And the most reactionary elements in the insurgency, the Nusra Front and ISIS, are engaged in their own mini-civil war in Deir Al Zour and north of Aleppo. With any luck, they will destroy each other in the process. (Gulf News, UAE, May 8)
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced April 29 that it would begin a fact-finding mission into allegations of the use of chlorine gas in Syria. Although both rebel forces and the Syrian government acknowledge that the chemical weapon was used on the Syrian town of Kafr Zita, both factions deny responsibility for the attack. Chlorine was not a chemical Syria was required to give up, but the use of chlorine gas is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Syria is a signatory. Some western governments believe that Syria has failed to declare all the chemical weapons in its possession, including chlorine gas, and has retained some of its chemical stockpile.
A contingent in support of the Syrian Revolution will meet at the Abraham Lincoln statue, in the 16th Street walkway of Union Square, at 5 PM for the May Day march in New York City this Thursday, May 1. The contingent has issued the following statement:
SUPPORT SYRIA'S FREEDOM STRUGGLE!
DOWN WITH THE DICTATOR BASHAR ASSAD!
The Syrian revolution has its roots in the same kind of economic grievances faced by working people in the US and the West: widespread youth unemployment, high food prices, austerity measures, and a bloated military budget. Fearing unrest, the Bashar Assad regime muscled up on its security, pouring money into the police and intelligence services at the expense of social spending. Any vocal criticism of the government was met with persecution by the police state long before the eruption in the spring of 2011.
A terrifying report on Communities Digital News April 25 notes an "Anti-Shia Alliance" convention held the previous week in Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, attended by thousands of militant Sunnis who called for "jihad" against Shi'ite Muslims. Several Indonesian government officials were in attendance. During the conference, a Shi'ite journalist, covering the program for Ahlulbait Indonesia, reported being detained, interrogated, and beaten by group organizers and attendees. The international conference issued an "Anti Shia Declaration" which resolved that "The alliance will take any necessary measures to maximize the prevention of the proliferation of heretical teachings by Shia followers." In a speech, bin Zein al-Kaff, leader of Indonesiia's Anti-Heresy Front, said "It's time that we declared jihad against them…We should not tolerate them anymore."
The United States and Turkey have said they are following up on renewed accusations that the Syrian regime continues to use chemical weapons against civilians. If true, the government's use of such weapons would be a violation of its agreement with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Chemical Weapons Convention, both of which it signed last September. Over the past few months, members of the Syrian opposition, including the main umbrella group the Syrian National Coalition, have accused the regime of using chemical weapons, mainly in the suburbs of Damascus, in areas such as Jobar and Harasta. "There have been at least four such attacks in recent months, involving high doses of chlorine and pesticides," said Sinan Hatehet, director of the Coalition's media office. He added that although the attacks only killed around 15 people, the chemicals were primarily being used as a psychological weapon.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated Moscow's support for Syria's Bashar al-Assad in an April 2 message delivered by a visiting delegation of the Russia-based Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, headed by the society's chairman Sergei Stepashin. In the message, Putin hailed Assad's war against "international terrorism" that he asserted is "backed" by Western nations. (Xinhua, April 2) The message comes amid reports from Jane's Defense Weekly that Assad's military started using longer-range Russian Smerch and Uragan rockets for the first time in February. Ruslan Pukhov, an adviser to Russia's Defense Ministry and head of the Center of Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, confirmed that Moscow is supplying a "lifeline" of ammunition and parts for tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters to Damascus. Alexei Malashenko, Middle East analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said: "Russia is now doing everything to ensure that Assad wins convincingly. If Russia can show it's capable of carrying out its own foreign policy, regardless of America’s wishes, it will be a major achievement for Putin." (Bloomberg, April 2)
The death toll in the three-year Syrian conflict has exceeded 150,000, a British-based human rights group announced on April 2. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), 150,344 persons have died since the uprising began in March 2011. The death toll includes 51,212 civilians, including 7,985 children and 5,266 women. The numbers do not include the 18,000 detainees in regime prisons or the "thousands who disappeared during regime raids and massacres." SOHR estimates that the non-Syrian casualties to be approximately 70,000 more than the documented number, "due to the extreme discretion by all sides of the human losses caused by the conflict and due to the difficulty of communication in Syria." Finally, SOHR called on both sides to peaceably end the conflict.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) announced March 31 that a ceasefire agreement was reached in Syria's Yarmouk refugee camp. Husam Arafat, a PFLP-GC leader based in the West Bank, said in a statement that an agreement had been reached between Palestinian factions and other militant groups in the Damascus camp. Under the terms of the agreement, all non-Palestinian militants are to leave Yarmouk and "joint forces" are to be sent to take control of the camp. The statement did provide further information about the "joint forces."