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Padre5

The Bad Situation In Syria

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This article was in The Times. Not a healthy sign!

 

WASHINGTON — A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

 

The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.

The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said. The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.

The clandestine intelligence-gathering effort is the most detailed known instance of the limited American support for the military campaign against the Syrian government. It is also part of Washington’s attempt to increase the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has recently escalated his government’s deadly crackdown on civilians and the militias battling his rule. With Russia blocking more aggressive steps against the Assad government, the United States and its allies have instead turned to diplomacy and aiding allied efforts to arm the rebels to force Mr. Assad from power.

By helping to vet rebel groups, American intelligence operatives in Turkey hope to learn more about a growing, changing opposition network inside of Syria and to establish new ties. “C.I.A. officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people,” said one Arab intelligence official who is briefed regularly by American counterparts.

American officials and retired C.I.A. officials said the administration was also weighing additional assistance to rebels, like providing satellite imagery and other detailed intelligence on Syrian troop locations and movements. The administration is also considering whether to help the opposition set up a rudimentary intelligence service. But no decisions have been made on those measures or even more aggressive steps, like sending C.I.A. officers into Syria itself, they said.

The struggle inside Syria has the potential to intensify significantly in coming months as powerful new weapons are flowing to both the Syrian government and opposition fighters. President Obama and his top aides are seeking to pressure Russia to curb arms shipments like attack helicopters to Syria, its main ally in the Middle East.

“We’d like to see arms sales to the Assad regime come to an end, because we believe they’ve demonstrated that they will only use their military against their own civilian population,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said after Mr. Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, met in Mexico on Monday.

Spokesmen for the White House, State Department and C.I.A. would not comment on any intelligence operations supporting the Syrian rebels, some details of which were reported last week by The Wall Street Journal.

Until now, the public face of the administration’s Syria policy has largely been diplomacy and humanitarian aid.

The State Department said Wednesday that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would meet with her Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, on the sidelines of a meeting of Asia-Pacific foreign ministers in St. Petersburg, Russia, next Thursday. The private talks are likely to focus, at least in part, on the crisis in Syria.

The State Department has authorized $15 million in nonlethal aid, like medical supplies and communications equipment, to civilian opposition groups in Syria.

The Pentagon continues to fine-tune a range of military options, after a request from Mr. Obama in early March for such contingency planning. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators at that time that the options under review included humanitarian airlifts, aerial surveillance of the Syrian military, and the establishment of a no-fly zone.

The military has also drawn up plans for how coalition troops would secure Syria’s sizable stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons if an all-out civil war threatened their security.

But senior administration officials have underscored in recent days that they are not actively considering military options. “Anything at this point vis-à-vis Syria would be hypothetical in the extreme,” General Dempsey told reporters this month.

What has changed since March is an influx of weapons and ammunition to the rebels. The increasingly fierce air and artillery assaults by the government are intended to counter improved coordination, tactics and weaponry among the opposition forces, according to members of the Syrian National Council and other activists.

Last month, these activists said, Turkish Army vehicles delivered antitank weaponry to the border, where it was then smuggled into Syria. Turkey has repeatedly denied it was extending anything other than humanitarian aid to the opposition, mostly via refugee camps near the border. The United States, these activists said, was consulted about these weapons transfers.

American military analysts offered mixed opinions on whether these arms have offset the advantages held by the militarily superior Syrian Army. “The rebels are starting to crack the code on how to take out tanks,” said Joseph Holliday, a former United States Army intelligence officer in Afghanistan who is now a researcher tracking the Free Syrian Army for the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.

But a senior American officer who receives classified intelligence reports from the region, compared the rebels’ arms to “peashooters” against the government’s heavy weaponry and attack helicopters.

The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, has recently begun trying to organize the scattered, localized units that all fight under the name of the Free Syrian Army into a more cohesive force.

About 10 military coordinating councils in provinces across the country are now sharing tactics and other information. The city of Homs is the notable exception. It lacks such a council because the three main military groups in the city do not get along, national council officials said.

Jeffrey White, a defense analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who tracks videos and announcements from self-described rebel battalions, said there were now about 100 rebel formations, up from roughly 70 two months ago, ranging in size from a handful of fighters to a couple of hundred combatants.

“When the regime wants to go someplace and puts the right package of forces together, it can do it,” Mr. White said. “But the opposition is raising the cost of those kinds of operations.”

 

 

Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon. Souad Mekhennet also contributed reporting.

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PropellerAds

This was in Al Jareeza today. What do you all think? The situation in Syria has the elements of classic sectarian violence. Why do Sunni and Shia insist on killing each other? Answer this by PM so as to not violate Forum rules! This is something I don't understand at all. The "troubles" in Northern Ireland at least had some vague economic elements!

 

"The Emir of Qatar has called on Arab militaries to help stop the bloodshed in Syria in a move that is widely seen as challenging UN efforts at resolving the 18-month conflict through negotiation.

But, addressing the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani's message was clear - the UN has failed in its mission; it is now time for Arab intervention.

"We have used all available means to get Syria out of the cycle of killing, but that was in vain," the Emir said in an address in New York.

"In view of this, I think it is better for the Arab countries themselves to interfere out of their national, humanitarian, political and military duties and do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed in Syria."

In a news conference on the sidelines of the assembly on Tuesday, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, was highly critical of any foreign intervention in Syria. Ahmadinejad accused "outside forces" of meddling in the country - though he did not directly name any countries.

He warned that outside interference might throw the region into a new war, bringing, "short-term results", but which he said would keep Syria in chaos and instability for decades to come.

Meanwhile Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar's prime minister, has told Al Jazeera that Ahmadinejad is wrong to suggest that Arab forces in Syria would inflame the crisis.

He said: "The forces will not be going to Syria to fight. Their goal will be to stop what is going on in Syria. As you know, there were originally Arab forces which went there to observe the ceasefire in the past ... and these forces, because they were few and not well equipped, could not stop the bloodbath .... There must be a sufficient number of peacekeeping forces and fighting in Syria must stop'."

Edited by Padre5

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This is a sad further step in my opinion. War is ugly enough but it is even more disturbing when places of God are not safe. 

 

  Syrian suicide bombing in Masjid kills top pro-Assad Sunni preacher and 41 other people

Published March 21, 2013

Associated Press

BEIRUT –  A suicide bomb ripped through a Masjid in the heart of the Syrian capital Thursday, killing a top Sunni Muslim preacher and outspoken supporter of President Bashar Assad in one of the most stunning assassinations of Syria's 2-year-old civil war. At least 41 others were killed and more than 84 wounded.

The slaying of Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti removes one of the few remaining pillars of support for Assad among the majority Sunni sect that has risen up against him.

It also marks a new low in the Syrian civil war: While suicide bombings blamed on Islamic extremists fighting with the rebels have become common, Thursday's attack was the first time a suicide bomber detonated his explosives inside a Masjid.

A prolific writer whose sermons were regularly broadcast on TV, the 84-year-old al-Buti was killed while giving a religious lesson to students at the Eman Masjid in the central Mazraa district of Damascus.

The most senior religious figure to be killed in Syria's civil war, his assassination was a major blow to Syria's embattled leader, who is fighting mainly Sunni rebels seeking his ouster. Al-Buti has been a vocal supporter of the regime since the early days of Assad's father and predecessor, the late President Hafez Assad, providing Sunni cover and legitimacy to their rule. Sunnis are the majority sect in Syria while Assad is from the minority Alawite sect — an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

"The blood of Sheik al-Buti will be a fire that ignites all the world," said Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun, the country's top state-appointed Sunni Muslim cleric and an Assad loyalist.

Syrian TV showed footage of wounded people and bodies with severed limbs on the Masjid's blood-stained floor, and later, corpses covered in white body bags lined up in rows. Sirens wailed through the capital as ambulances rushed to the scene of the explosion, which was sealed off by the military.

Among those killed was al-Buti's grandson, the TV said.

The bombing was among the most serious security breaches in the capital. An attack in July that targeted a high-level government crisis meeting killed four top regime officials, including Assad's brother-in-law and the defense minister.

Last month, a car bomb that struck in the same area, which houses the headquarters of Syria's ruling Baath party, killed at least 53 people and wounded more than 200 others in one of the deadliest Damascus bombings of the civil war.

A small, frail man, al-Buti was well known in the Arab world as a religious scholar and longtime imam at the eighth-century Omayyad Masjid, a Damascus landmark. State TV said he has written 60 books and religious publications.

In recent months, Syrian TV has carried al-Buti's sermons from Masjids in Damascus live every week. He also has a regular religious TV program.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday's attack.

Among the opposition, there was a mixture of suspicion and shock that an elderly religious figure such as al-Bouti would be targeted by a suicide bomber inside a Masjid.

"I don't know of a single opposition group that could do something like this," said Walid al-Bunni, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition opposition group, speaking on Al-Arabiya TV.

Syrian TV began its evening newscast with an announcement from the religious endowments minister, Mohammad Abdelsattar al-Sayyed, declaring al-Buti's "martyrdom" as his voice choked up. It then showed parts of al-Buti's sermon from last Friday, in which he praised the military for battling the "mercenaries sent by America and the West" and said Syria was being subjected to a "universal conspiracy."

Assad's regime refers to the rebels fighting against it as "terrorists" and "mercenaries" who are backed by foreign powers trying to destabilize the country. The war, which the U.N. says has killed more than 70,000 people, has become increasingly chaotic as rebels press closer to Assad's seat of power in Damascus after seizing large swaths of territory in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

On Thursday, rebels captured a village and other territory on the edge of the Golan Heights as fighting closed in on the strategic plateau that israel captured from Syria in 1967 and later annexed, activists and officials said.

The battles near the town of Quneitra in southwest Syria sent many residents fleeing, including dozens who crossed into neighboring Lebanon. The fighting in the sensitive area began Wednesday near the cease-fire line between Syrian and israeli troops.

One of the worst-case scenarios for Syria's civil war is that it could draw in neighboring countries such as israel or Lebanon.

There have already been clashes with Turkey, Syria's neighbor to the north. And israel recently bombed targets inside Syria said to include a weapons convoy headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon, a key ally of the Damascus regime and an arch-foe of the Jewish state.

If the rebels take over the Quneitra region, it will bring radical Islamic militants to a front line with israeli troops. The rebels are composed of dozens of groups, including the powerful al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, which the Obama administration labels a terrorist organization.

israel has said its policy is not to get involved in the Syrian civil war, but it has retaliated for sporadic Syrian fire that spilled over into israeli communities on the Golan Heights.

The Golan front has been mostly quiet since 1974, a year after Syria and israel fought a war.

The Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels seized control of parts of villages a few miles (kilometers) from the cease-fire line with israel after fierce fighting with regime forces.

The Local Coordination Committees, another anti-regime activist group, reported heavy fighting in the nearby village of Sahm al-Golan and said rebels were attacking an army post.

The Observatory said seven people, including three children, were killed Wednesday by government shelling of villages in the area.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, said the fighting around the town of Arnabeh intensified Thursday, a day after rebels captured it. He added that the rebels captured two nearby army posts.

In Lebanon, security officials said 150 people, mostly women and children, walked for six hours in rugged mountains covered with snow to reach safety in the Lebanese border town of Chebaa. They said eight wounded Syrians were brought on mules from Beit Jan and taken in ambulances to hospitals in Chebaa.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the Syrians fled from the town of Beit Jan, near the Golan Heights.

The Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, a rebel group active in southern Syria, said in a statement on its Facebook page that its fighters stormed an army post between the villages of Sahm al-Golan and Shajara.

Activists on Facebook pages affiliated with rebels in Quneitra announced the start of the operation to "break the siege on Quneitra and Damascus' western suburbs."

The fighting moved closer to israel as President Barack Obama was visiting the Jewish state for the first time since taking office more than four years ago.

 

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/03/21/syrian-suicide-bombing-in-mosque-kills-top-pro-assad-sunni-preacher-and-41/#ixzz2ODnAQqw1

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A follow up to the news story above!   Syria's Assad vows to "wipe out" extremists after top Sunni cleric killed

Published March 22, 2013

Associated Press

BEIRUT –  The Syrian president vowed on Friday to rid the country of Muslim extremists whom he blamed for a suicide blast the previous evening that killed dozens of people, including a top Sunni preacher who was a staunch supporter of Bashar Assad.

And in a warning to rebels battling to topple his regime, the Syrian leader pledged that his troops will "wipe out" and clean the country of the "forces of darkness."

Assad's statement came as the Syrian Health Ministry raised the death toll from the Thursday night bombing in Damascus to 49, after seven of the wounded died overnight in hospital.

In the attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a Masjid in the heart of the Syrian capital, killing Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti as he was giving a sermon. The blast also wounded 84 people.

It was one of the most stunning assassinations of the two-year civil war and marked a new low in the conflict: while suicide bombings blamed on Islamic extremists fighting with the rebels have become common, the latest attack was the first time a suicide bomber detonated his explosives inside a Masjid. The grandson of the 84-year-old al-Buti was among those killed in the attack.

In the statement carried by Syria's state SUNA news agency, Assad said al-Buti represented true Islam in facing "the forces of darkness and extremist" ideology.

"Your blood and your grandson's, as well as that of all the nation's martyrs will not go in vain because we will continue to follow your thinking to wipe out their darkness and clear our country of them," said Assad.

Syria's crisis started in March 2011 as peaceful protests against Assad's authoritarian rule. The revolt turned into a civil war as some opposition supporters took up arms the fight a harsh government crackdown on dissent. The U.N. says more than 70,000 people have been killed since.

It was not immediately clear when al-Buti's funeral would take place. The government declared Saturday as a day of mourning and state-run Syrian TV halted its regular programs on Friday to air readings from the Muslim holy book, the Quran, as well as speeches of the late cleric.

Al-Buti was the most senior religious figure to be killed in Syria's civil war and his slaying was a major blow to Assad. The preacher had been a vocal supporter of the regime since the early days of Assad's father and predecessor, the late President Hafez Assad, providing a Sunni cover and legitimacy to their rule. Sunnis are the majority sect in Syria while Assad is from the minority Alawite sect -- an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

In a speech earlier this month, al-Buti had said it was "a religious duty to protect the values, the land and the nation" of Syria. "There is no difference between the army and the rest of the nation," he said at the time -- a clear endorsement of Assad's forces in their effort to crush the rebels.

The Masjid bombing was also among the most serious security breaches in Damascus. In July, an attack that targeted a high-level government crisis meeting killed four top regime officials, including Assad's brother-in-law and the defense minister.

Last month, a car bomb that struck in the same area, which houses the headquarters of Syria's ruling Baath party, killed at least 53 people and wounded more than 200.

 

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/03/22/syrian-president-vows-to-rid-country-extremists-after-suicide-blast/#ixzz2ONbwRCKk

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