Last week, as the battle for Aleppo got under way, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said territorial gains made by Syria’s rebels would eventually result in a “safe haven” inside the country. And she called on the opposition to start preparing for a transition of power.
The rebel commanders too have been talking about Aleppo as their Benghazi ( the wellspring of last year’s Libyan uprising), insisting that with much of the rural countryside in Idlib already under their control. Taking Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, would mean they could control territory all the way to the Turkish border. Read more
In the scramble for ways to address Syria’s spiralling violence UN envoy Kofi Annan and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad agreed on an approach earlier this week: work from the bottom up on local ceasefires in the most devastated areas of the country. The approach was discussed during Mr Annan’s trip to Damascus, but immediately raised questions in western capitals, according to diplomatic sources. Read more
Fighters loyal to the Free Syrian Army prepare their weapons (Lo/AFP/GettyImages)
Activists close to the Free Syrian Army say that recent defections from the regime include a general who was associated with non-conventional weapons, adding that he is the most senior military official to join the opposition thus far.
Syria has an arsenal of chemical weapons, allegedly including significant stocks of nerve gas, that has been high on the list of concerns of western governments and Israel.
The activists say they expect the general will now help them restructure the leadership of the rebels. “He has a lot of information about the deployment of security forces and the regime’s assets,” one activist says. The general, whose name is likely to be made public in the next few days, is thought to have left his post a month ago and gone into hiding before being smuggled to Turkey. Read more
Kofi Annan. Photo: Reuters
Kofi Annan, the international envoy on Syria, is trying to salvage his six-point peace plan with an international conference in Geneva this Saturday to build consensus over the form of a political transition.
The UN and Arab League backed plan was in tatters long before today’s statement from the UN that the violence in Syria has, at least, matched levels reached before ceasefire brokered in April. Read more
Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Assar, left, and Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shahin, during a press conference in Cairo on Monday, June 18. AP Photo/Sami Wahib
The Egyptian daily newspaper, al-Masr al-Youm, summed up the country’s predicament brilliantly on Monday.
“The military transfers power to the military,” read the headline.
While Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate, and Ahmad Shafiq, the generals’ favourite, battled it out all day, each claiming to have won the weekend presidential vote, the ruling military council had already decided who would be the real ruler: the generals themselves. Read more
Bullet marks in a room in Taftanaz, where Amnesty says nine extrajudicial executions took place. Image: Amnesty International
Syrian activists have been reporting the regime’s human rights abuses for the past 15 months. But independent examination of the brutality in Syria has been limited because of the lack of access available for international organisations, and the inability to check the accuracy of the activists’ reports.
Amnesty International has just published a report based on a month-long trip of a researcher through the northern governorates of Idlib and Aleppo. Its findings are that Syrian security forces have been rampaging through towns and villages, summarily executing men, burning homes and at times even the bodies of those killed in cold blood. Many of the abuses, says the report, amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. Read more
Supporters of Bashar al-Assad greet the motorcade of Russian minister Sergei Lavrov in Damascus earlier this year. Reuters
There’s been a lot of noise in the last few days about Russia shifting its position on Syria in the aftermath of the international outrage over the Houla massacre. In fact, every few months, as Syria slides ever more deeply into civil war, we hear the same noises.
Surely, diplomats and analysts say, the Russians must at some point recognise that the status quo is untenable, that Bashar al-Assad is a liability, that unless they loosen their support for him their interests and their naval base in Tartous will be jeopardised when a new government comes in.
But do they? British, Turkish and American officials say it is too early to tell whether Russia is willing to accept a transition that excludes Assad. It is under pressure and it is engaging more with western governments, but whether this will translate into a new attitude remains to be seen. The US will be testing the Russian position tomorrow when Fred Hof, state department advisor on Syria, holds meetings in Moscow, on what the US says should be a transition plan that includes Assad’s exit. Read more
Recep Tayyip Erdogan on June 5. BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages
The World Economic Forum for the Middle East is usually held in an Arab capital and the usual controversy is over how many Israelis show up. This year, there are so many different Arab worlds, one in political transition away from autocracy, the other still solidly autocratic, and the third profoundly troubled by the old conflicts.
That is part of the reason we are in Istanbul, where 1,000 business and political leaders are gathered for a WEF that is now “on the Middle East, north Africa and Eurasia.” The other might be that the WEF has come where Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, will no longer tread – he vowed never to return to Davos after storming off stage in 2009 in a heated debate on Gaza. Read more
Posters depict frontrunner Mohamed Morsi. AP Photo/Pete Muller
According to unofficial vote counts, Egyptians will face a choice next month between a “feloul” (a remnant of the old regime), and a candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood – the Islamist movement and largest party in parliament.
Assuming the results are confirmed, the run-off will be seen by many as a race between the past and an Islamist future.
Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood candidate, was said to have secured 26 per cent of the vote in the presidential election, followed by a 24 per cent share for Ahmad Shafiq, a former air force commander whose campaign played on Egyptians’ yearning for security. Read more