Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Syria Links -- August 28

CAIRO — The leaders of the Arab world on Tuesday blamed the Syrian government for a chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people last week, but declined to back a retaliatory military strike, leaving President Obama without the broad regional support he had for his last military intervention in the Middle East, in Libya in 2011.

While the Obama administration has robust European backing and more muted Arab support for a strike on Syria, the position of the Arab Leagueand the unlikelihood of securing authorization from the United Nations Security Council complicate the legal and diplomatic case for the White House.

Ten Pages pdf.
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DAMASCUS // A heavy sense of dread pervaded Damascus yesterday, as the West mulled military action after alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian regime.

Jihan, a young mother, said she was convinced the first United States strike on Syria would hit Mazze military airport near her Damascus home, and had already packed her family's bags, ready to flee.

"They'll hit Mazze, I'm sure. The target makes sense," Jihan said of the airport, which Bashar Al Assad uses to travel within Syria.

Mazze is guarded by the army's fearsome Fourth Division, which the Syrian president's brother Maher Al Assad commands, and is responsible for protecting Damascus and its outskirts against rebel advances.  
[More at the lnk.]

Michael Gerson: In Syria, Sectarianism takes root
By Michael Gerson, Washington Post Writers Group
Posted August 27, 2013 at midnight

ZAATRI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan — I ask a Syrian refugee named Isra why her 8-year-old boy isn’t attending the camp school. “He doesn’t like school,” she explains. At home in Daraa, an agent of the regime came into his second-grade classroom, forced her son to hold a grenade against his chest and told him, “Go home to your father. Tell him if he doesn’t stop fighting for the Free Syrian Army, I will come back next week and pull the pin.” 
It is a hint of the brutality just across the border, largely hidden from view. When the terror and killing finally calm, one suspects we will find a nation of Srebrenicas. 
Aid workers dealing with children in the camp report they are both traumatized and politicized. The FSA actively recruits within Zaatri. A young humanitarian worker running a sports program for restless young men in the camp was recently confronted by a religious leader. “They are having too much fun,” he told her. “They won’t go back to fight.” 
The Syrian civil war initially had more to do with tribe, family and power. But the regime and other actors in the regional proxy war have cynically encouraged religious and ethnic divisions. Sectarianism — carefully planted and cultivated — has taken root. 
Jordan, the region’s buffer zone, fears that the economic strain caused by massive refugee flows could someday become a security crisis. The government’s royal nightmare: Jordanian Salafists going across the border into Syria, getting weapons and experience, and coming back home. 
This may help explain why the flow of refugees from Syria to Jordan — 4,000 to 5,000 a day earlier in the year — has slowed to a trickle during the last two months. It is not because conditions across the border have improved. It is because the pipeline has been effectively plugged. At the height of the migration, the Free Syrian Army acted as the facilitators of safe passage, moving groups at night. The FSA is no longer playing such a role. Humanitarian and refugee officials generally believe this is the result of an agreement between the Jordanian government and the FSA. “The Jordanians are still letting people in,” one told me, “but not at uncontrolled rates.” 
American policy is making difficult adjustments as well. Since the worst elements in Syria have grown stronger over time, delay has complicated every course. At first, the Obama administration hoped that Bashar Assad would fall without being pushed. Then it adopted a policy of wait-and-see as the tide of battle turned in Assad’s favor, with help from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Then a policy of arming selected rebels that doesn’t seem to have armed any rebels. 
President Barack Obama may finally be provoked beyond endurance by another Baathist regime prone to brutish miscalculation. But a cruise missile campaign to protest and deter the use of chemical weapons would do little to change the situation on the ground. And Obama will need to decide if this is his goal.  [More at the link.]
Chemical Attacks and Military Interventions
Images of dead bodies laid out on floors wrapped in white cloth, with no sign of blood or injury circulated across social and news media last week to signal another horrific stage of the Syrian war. As of 24 August, Doctors without Borders has indicated that many patients treated in the aftermath of the attack in eastern Ghouta had "neurotoxic symptoms" though they stressed they can neither confirm scientifically nor establish causality. Since then, several other groups—including the Violation Documentation Center—have left little doubt that some sort of chemical attack did indeed occur. The mass scale of suffering in Syria, upwards of 100,000 killed and millions displaced should not numb us to the fact that this was a major crime that, like other killings that have taken place inside Syria, should be impartially and independently investigated. 
The government accused the rebels of a false flag operation, as have other observers arguing for the implausibility of a government attack while UN inspectors were in Syria for the first time in over a year—stationed several miles away from the assault. Why should the government attack now when it seems to be winning the war with conventional weapons? If confirmed, it would be the only scenario that might trigger more aggressive US and/or European armed intervention. A rebel attack seems equally implausible. If rebels are indeed able to manufacture such a large scale chemical attack, and murderous enough to use these weapons on civilians, why not attack government forces and change the tide of the war, instead of choosing territory sympathetic to the uprising and outside regime control? Logic and reason are therefore not sufficient means of investigating such actions or attributing culpability. There are other interpretations that are also plausible: that the regime initiated the attack in response to a perceived or actual escalation by the rebels (including reported US and US-trained special operations units advancing towards Damascus); that defectors connected with the opposition and launched the attack to spur international intervention by implicating the regime; or finally, that the command structure is disintegrating within the Syrian government, a topic that consumed many reports of late.

[Google translate:]
Germany asked Russia not to impede the adoption of the British UN resolution on Syria, reports Reuters . The corresponding statement was made by the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.  Earlier it was reported that the UK proposed UN Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government.

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