A Lebanese judge on Feb. 4 issued an arrest warrant for a top Syrian intelligence official and his aide for alleged involvement in a bombing plot in Lebanon. Brigadier General Ali Mamlouk is accused of being involved in plotting a series of bomb attacks with former Lebanese information minister Michel Samaha. Samaha, who was branded a global terrorist by the US Department of the Treasury, was arrested in August for allegedly plotting to incite violence in Lebanon with the aid of Mamlouk and Syria. In October Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, a top Lebanese counter-Syrian intelligence official, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut believed to be in connection to his networks discovery of Samaha and Mamlouk's bomb plot.
Israeli warplanes carried out an air-strike overnight on Syrian territory near the border with Lebanon. Unnamed US and "regional" (presumably Israeli) officials said the target was a weapons convoy with a shipment that included Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah, which would be strategically "game-changing" in the hands of the militant group. Damascus called the strikes an act of "Israeli arrogance and aggression" that raised the risks that the two-year-old civil conflict in Syria could spread beyond the country's borders. The regime said a research facility in the Damascus suburbs had been hit, and denied that a convoy had been the target. The attack comes days after Israel expressed concerns that Damascus' stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah. Israel had no official statement on the air-strikes.
More than 50 countries asked the UN Security Council on Jan. 14 to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In this joint letter, Switzerland, along with 56 other states from all continents, noted the Syrian authorities' failure to investigate and prosecute war crimes allegedly committed since March 2011 as the basis for much-needed accountability and judicial action in the region. The letter stated: "Since [March 2011], the situation on the ground has only become more desperate, with attacks on the civilian population and the commission of atrocities having almost become the norm." Due to the fact that Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC, the only way to investigate the matter is to receive a referral from the UN Security Council.
A study carried out by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has found that more than 60,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Syria since March 2011. According to the report, the average number of deaths per month has increased significantly since the summer of 2011, where the average was approximately 1,000 deaths per month, to an average of 5,000 deaths per month since July 2012. However, the study noted that 60,000 is likely an underestimate and that the actual toll may be significantly higher. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated that "the number of casualties is higher than expected, and is truly shocking." While cautioning that the figure is not "definitive," she said the report is the "most detailed and wide-ranging to date."
The US government added Syria's al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant to the "foreign terrorist organizations" list on Dec. 10, with a notice printed in the Federal Register. In the designation of the Nusrah Front, the State Department called the group "a new alias" for al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and said al-Nusrah is under the direct control of AQI's "emir," Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Qurshi AKA Abu Du'a (apparently the sucessor to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi). The Nusra Front, also known as Jadhat al-Nusrah, has claimed responsibility for several suicide bombings in Syria this year, including one that claimed almost 50 lives in Aleppo. "The Department of State has amended the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 designations of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to include the following new aliases: Al Nusrah Front, Jabhat al-Nusrah, Jabhet al-Nusra, The Victory Front, and Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant," the State Separtment press release said.
The Obama administration is suddely making much of Assad's supposed preparations for a chemical weapons attack on Syria's opposition strongholds. Conspiranoid blogs, including one with the unappetizing name Sic Semper Tyrannis, assert that the supposed intelligence is coming from neocon groups like the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) which is in turn getting the claims entirely from Syrian insurgent sources. However, the lead story on the WINEP website, "How Would Assad Use Chemical Weapons?," starts off: "US intelligence has detected increased activity at Syrian chemical warfare facilities, raising concerns about the regime potentially using chemical weapons (CW) against the opposition." Are the sources for that "US intelligence" WINEP istelf? Could things really be quite that incestuous? And—contrary to the conspiranoid assumption of a neocon-jihadist plot—the jihadists, like al-Nusra Front, seem to have made the neocons a little gun-shy in Syria. Insurgent sympathizers have been placing lugubrious propaganda videos on YouTube (via a stream called SyriaTube) luridly warning of an imminent chemcial attack. NBC News merely quotes anonymous US "officials" to the effect that "nerve agents" were loaded into warheads, without saying how this was determined. The agents are apparently "precursor chemicals for sarin," the gas that was used by Saddam at Halabja in 1988. Fox News merely cites the NBC account. The New York Times vaguely warns that stockpiles are being moved around to various of Syria's chemical weapons facilities, and that US officlals repeatedly warn Assad will be "held accountable" for their use...
With pitched fighting in Damascus, Al Jazeera reports that the Internet is down across Syria, and mobile phone services also disrupted in some areas. Syrian state TV denied the blackout is nationwide, but Renesys, a US-based network security firm that studies Net disruptions, said Syria has effectively disappeared from the Internet. There is some talk that the Net blackout may be due to insurgent attacks, but the regime seems to be conniving in it, at the very least. Recall that when Mubarak pulled the same stunt in January 2011, it proved to be the 10-day countdown to his overthrow.