Isn't it utterly absurd that there are some aghast at the suffering of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and utterly unconcerned with that in Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus now besieged by forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad... and vice versa...? A brutal winter storm in the region has exacerbated the suffering in both blockaded enclaves, and most Palestinians assuredly grasp the obvious symmetry. In some quarters, however, a sort of ideological blindness seems to prevail: Assad's apologists are of course outraged at the agony in Gaza, but find that in Yarmouk invisible. The US State Department, in turn, exploits Yarmouk for propaganda against Assad, while displaying no such concern for Gaza...
Elements of the US national security establishment have clearly got their money on Bashar Assad. Ex-CIA director Michael Hayden on Dec. 12 outlined three options for Syria's future at the annual Jamestown Foundation counter-terrorism confab: "Option three is Assad wins. And I must tell you at the moment, as ugly as it sounds, I'm kind of trending toward option three as the best out of three very, very ugly possible outcomes." Option one was ongoing conflict between radicalized sectarian facitons. Option two, which Hayden considered the most likely, was the "dissolution of Syria." (It isn't explained why this option ranks two if it's the most likely.) This, in turn, "means the end of Sykes-Picot... it sets in motion the dissolution of all the artificial states created after World War I." (AFP via Maan News Agency, Dec. 13)
Now here's a counterintuitive juxtaposition of news stories. The UN mission investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria stated that chemical agents may have been unleashed in five of seven cases investigated, occurring between March and August—not just the Aug. 21 attack at Ghouta. The other four cases that remain under investigation are named as Khan Assal, Jobar, Saraqeb and Ashrafiah Sahnaya. The mission unequivocally concluded that "chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic." (NPR, LAT, Dec. 12) Simultaneously, the US and UK suspended all "non-lethal aid" to the Syrian rebels. The cut-off came days after a newly formed "Islamic Front" seized a base and arms cache from the Free Syrian Army at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on Syria's northwestern border with Turkey. The Islamic Front recently brought together six rebel factions, and seems loosely allied with ISIS, heretofore the major jihadist army.
Lebanon's government has ordered the coastal city of Tripoli placed under army control amid growing sectarian clashes. The move was announced after a 15-year-old boy was among four killed Dec. 3. It marks the first time since the end of the country's civil war in 1990 that the military has been ordered to take full control of a city. The new violence broke out when Alawite residents of the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood began flying Syrian flags to demonstrate their support for Bashar Assad, and Sunni residents of nearby Bab el-Tebbaneh raised the flag of Syria's rebel coalition. The four killed were Alawites, persumably slain by Sunni gunmen, and sparking Alawite protest marches. (Al Jazeera, Dec. 3; AFP, Dec. 1)
The Israel Air Force was responsible for an Oct. 30 attack on a military base in the Syrian city of Latakia, according to a Reuters report that cited an opposition source. The target was named as a strategic missile battery near Ain Shikak village—and particularly a new shipment of Russian SA-8 surface-to-air missiles destined for Hezbollah. The Saudi news outlet Al-Arabiya said Israeli planes also struck an unnamed target in Damascus. Israel warplanes were also reported to have raided a missile warehouse near Latakia in July, and a military site near Damascus in May. Israel has not confirmed or denied any of the air-strikes. (Haaretz, Maan News Agency, Nov. 1)
A Palestinian group in Syria said Oct. 13 that over 200 Palestinians were aboard a boat which capsized off Malta's coast two days earlier. The Action Group for Palestinians in Syria said that at least 200 Palestinian refugees fleeing conflict in the country were aboard the boat, which left the Libyan port of Zwara on Oct. 10. Some 70 Palestinian refugees survived the shipwreck and are now in Malta, with the rest unaccounted for, the action group said. The boat was carrying up to 400 migrants, mostly Syrians. At least 33 people perished after the boat sank, a week after another shipwreck off Italy left at least 359 dead, prompting Malta to warn that the Mediterranean is becoming "a cemetery."
A team of disarmament experts from the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Oct. 6 began overseeing the destruction by the Syrian government, and will verify that the process is correctly handled. The disarmament team will destroy the chemical weapons arsenal, its storage sites and the facilities which manufacture them in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2118 (PDF8), which adopts and orders the Syrian government to comply with the Sept. 27 decision of the OPCW Executive Council. The decision requires Syria to identify the types, quantities and locations of all chemical weapons in its stockpile, as well as all chemical weapon storage facilities, production facilities, and research and development facilities, and provides a deadline of mid-2014 to complete their destruction.
Tens of thousands who peacefully demonstrated against President Bashar Assad are languishing in Syrian prisons, subjected to a policy of torture, according to a new Human Rights Watch report, "Lost in Syria's Black Hole." Citing testimony from former prisoners, HRW found that detainees have been raped and abused, including with electric shocks to the genitals, and beaten with batons, cables, metal rods, and wires. HRW stated: "The systematic use of torture by the government is strong evidence of state policy which would constitute crimes against humanity. Concerned governments need to make clear that the Syrian government and those responsible for the abuse will ultimately face justice for their actions." HRW also called on the Syrian government drop charges against political detainees who are currently before the military field courts or special counterterrorism courts.