Syria Today: Protests, Rather than “Regime Offensive”, in Aleppo

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Claimed image of protest in insurgent-held area of Aleppo on Friday

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For days, mainstream media have been featuring the “news” of a Syrian military offensive to re-claim all of Aleppo — based on little more than the assertions of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and of claims by the pro-regime outlet Al-Watan and Hezbollah’s Al-Manar media.

While shelling of insurgent-held neighbourhoods in Syria’s largest city continues, there has been no sign of a major assault on the ground.

Instead, Friday was distinguished by a far different type of gathering: mass crowds chanting for the opposition and against the regime. Videos and pictures in areas such as Salaheddin and Sakhour showed rallies maintaining defiance, 27 months into the conflict and almost a year after Aleppo was divided by the first entry of insurgents into the city.


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Footage: Fighting in Daraa

Both Syrian State media and insurgents reported clashes in Daraa and its surrounding countryside on Saturday, as the Syrian Army shelled several locations.

State news agency SANA reports that a Syrian Army unit targeted “armed terrorist groups in the national Hospital surroundings, killing a number of terrorists and injuring many others, among the killed was Ziyad Ahmad al-Rashid al-Masalmeh.”

SANA say the Syrian Army also attacked al-Hrak, al-Mazairib (clashes in this village are also being reported by activists) and al-Naema villages.

Activists reported that several areas of farmland near Izraa, north of Daraa city, were torched during artillery shelling. This video shows footage of the fires:

Map showing location of Izraa:


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This video shows the Ababil Hauran Brigade in a clash with “Assad’s Shabiha” on Saturday:

Activists also reported heavy regime shelling in al-Mazairib, north of Daraa city and close to the Jordanian border; in Jallin, northwest to al-Mazairib, with clashes between the FSA and regime forces at the Jallin checkpoint; Adwan and Busra.

This video shows insurgents targeting the regime’s army headquarters at Jallin:

Footage: Republican Guard Defections In Harasta, Damascus

This video, posted earlier today by the Capital Shield Brigade in Harasta, a northeastern suburb of Damascus, purports to show a group of defectors from the Republican Guard, an armored division of the Syrian Army; the elite Fourth Armored Division; and the Electronic Warfare Division.

How Many Military Officers Defected?

“The_47th”, a leading activist source on social media, makes big — and potentially important — claims:

What Weapons Will The US Supply To Insurgents? It Depends Which Officials You Ask.

In the wake of reports on Friday that the US has agreed to supply arms to Syrian insurgents, there remains confusion over which weapons will be supplied and whether the US is backing the creation of a no-fly zone.

The FSA have said that they have a desperate need for anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles to counter aerial attacks from regime warplanes and Russian-supplied helicopter gunships.

However, while the Wall Street Journal reported that the US was unlikely to provide MANPADS to insurgents,

[the] U.S. hasn’t ruled out providing antitank weapons and small arms.

Moreover, the WSJ adds:

Officials say European allies have expressed a willingness to provide Manpads and potentially other heavier weapons sought by rebels.

So the US is opposed to MANPADS but the Europeans may be more willing to supply them?

Not so, according to officials Reuters spoke to, who said definitively that the weapons insurgents will receive:

will not include shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles known as MANPADs that could bring down Syrian military planes and helicopters.

“European officials and others with close knowledge of the situation” told Reuters that:

[The] United States would supply the Western-backed Syrian Military Council with automatic weapons, light mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

OK, but what about the no-fly zone? Do officials agree on what shape that might take?

Apparently not.

While the Wall Street Journal cites US officials as saying that the US proposals include “calls for a limited no-fly zone inside Syria that would be enforced by IS and allied planes on Jordanian territory”, Reuters speaks to European officials “and others with close knowledge of the situation” who say this:

And for now, Washington is not backing the establishment of a “no-fly zone” over Syria, which would involve a major commitment of U.S. and European air power to counter Syria’s extensive air defenses, they said, in part because there is no international consensus on the step.

SANA Misquotes Russian Deputy FM Over Hatla Mass Killing

State-run Syrian Arab News Agency misquotes Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Gennady Gatilov, citing him as blaming “the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra” for a mass killing in Hatla, Deir Ez-Zor.

SANA writes:

Gatilov held the armed terrorist groups and the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhar al-Nusra responsible for the murder of 60 people in the village of Hatla in Deir Ezzor, calling on mass media and human rights proponents to give proper attention to this massacre.

Via his Twitter feed, Gatilov said that the aforementioned massacre which claimed the lives of 60 people, some of them women and children, was committed by armed groups who are also responsible for displacing Christians from Sednaya.

In fact, Gatilov did not mention Jabhat al-Nusra, instead referring only to “militants”.

Casualties

The Local Coordination Committees claim 58 people were killed on Friday, including 24 in Damascus and its suburbs and 13 in Aleppo Province.

The Violations Documentations Center records 63,637 deaths since the start of the conflict in March 2011, an increase of 78 from Friday. Of the dead, 49,025 are civilians, a rise of 51 from yesterday.

US Officials Back Away From No-FLy Zone

Hours after The Wall Street Journal published news from US officials that plans for a no-fly zone in southern Syria were being considered, others in the Obama Administration publicly backed away from the idea.

Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes said:

[A no-fly zone is] dramatically more difficult and dangerous and costly in Syria, for a variety of reasons.

One is that in Libya, you already had a situation where the opposition controlled huge portions of the country and you could essentially protect those portions of the country from the air. You do not have the same types of air defense system that exist within Syria. So in that regard, it’s more difficult.

Rhodes continued:

“I think people need to understand that the no-fly zone is not some type of silver bullet that is going to stop a very intense and, in some respect, sectarian conflict,” Rhodes said, stressing though that Washington was not ruling out options, some strategic approaches would not work.

We don’t at this point believe that the US has a national interest in pursuing a very intense, open-ended military engagement through a no-fly zone in Syria at this juncture.

Susan Rice, the incoming National Security Advisor, also took a cautious line: “That option has some downsides and limitations that we are very well aware of and will factor into any decision.”

On Friday, the Journal featured the comments of officials that the US had plans for a 25-mile no-fly zone in southern Syria, enforced by American aircraft at Jordanian bases. At the same time, The New York Times — again fed by American officials — headlined that the Obama Administration has decided to publicly arm the Syrian insurgency.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. The White House said Washington would now provide “direct military support” to the opposition. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed it would now include arms as opposed to “non-lethal” aid sent in the past.

    Islamist rebel fighters in Syria were skeptical about the U.S. move. “We consider America an enemy and see it as quite unlikely that it will actually give the mujahideen weapons,” Abu Bilal, a Sunni insurgent in Homs, told Reuters via Skype. http://news.yahoo.com/u-considers-no-fly-zone-syria-crosses-nerve-005608864.html

    That’s not the “opposition” the US has in mind – Reuters was barking up the wrong tree here for a quote. 😉

    • We’ll take care of the extremists after Assad falls. There is a hellfire missile somewhere with their name on it.

  2. How Obama crossed his own line on Syria after months of debate
    Reuters
    Some of the U.S. officials said on Friday that the real game-changer in Obama’s calculus on Syria was not the chemical weapons issue – which had been known about for months – but the growing role of Lebanese-based Hezbollah.

    U.S. officials and European diplomats also cited as a factor in Obama’s decision a looming meeting next week with G8 allies – especially France and Britain – in which Syria will be a major issue.

    “Had they not made the beginnings of a move on the issue, the G8 meeting would have been pretty hard on the president,” said a European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    ……

    While Obama crossed a line of his own in making the move [direct military aid] – the White House had for more than a year resisted calls to arm the rebels – he appears determined to keep the United States from getting sucked too deeply into Syria’s sectarian civil war.

    European officials and others with close knowledge of the situation said the United States would supply the Western-backed Syrian Military Council with automatic weapons, light mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

    While significant, the weaponry will not include shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles known as MANPADs that could bring down Syrian military planes and helicopters, officials said.

    And for now, Washington is not backing the establishment of a “no-fly zone” over Syria, which would involve a major commitment of U.S. and European air power to counter Syria’s extensive air defenses, they said, in part because there is no international consensus on the step.
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/15/us-usa-syria-obama-idUSBRE95E02G20130615

    • Very puzzling. How are the rebels going to defend themselves from aerial attacks?

      The US can easily provide the rebels with GPS-enabled Manpads that only work within a certain area, or with time-limited Manpads that the US can expire and disable at any time.

      Obama does not have his heart in this. He just wants to cover himself from future criticism. And possibly, he wants the stalemate to continue because he blew earlier solutions, while he finds a new solution.

  3. The Syria Strategy Vacuum (akin to the realpolitik article Pak posted Thursday or Friday)
    BY MARC LYNCH, FP
    Forget about “how” to intervene in the Syrian civil war. The Obama administration needs to answer the bigger question: why?

    What does it mean for U.S. policy to “work” in Syria? Should Syria be viewed as a front in a broad regional cold war against Iran and its allies or as a humanitarian catastrophe that must be resolved? That question crosses partisan lines and gets to fundamental questions about how to understand the rapidly changing Middle East.

    The distinction matters directly and profoundly for the debate over specific policies. Steps that effectively bleed Iran and its allies might well prolong and intensify Syria’s bloodshed, while policies that alleviate human suffering and produce a more stable postwar Syria may well require dealing with Assad’s backers. Imagine that Secretary of State John Kerry brokered a diplomatic breakthrough that ended the fighting and secured a political transition but included an Iranian role — from the latter perspective this would be a stunning success, but from the former it would be an epic disaster.

    More: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/06/13/does_washington_have_a_syria_strategy?page=full

  4. Al-Qaida’s Iraq head refuses to scrap Syria merger
    AP – The leader of al-Qaida’s Iraq arm defiantly rejected an order from the terror network’s global command to scrap a merger with the organization’s Syria affiliate, according to a message purporting to be from him that was posted online Saturday.

    The latest statement by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who heads the Islamic State of Iraq, reveals a growing rift within the terror network and highlights the Iraqi wing’s determination to link its own fight against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad with the cause of rebels trying to topple the Syrian regime.

    In an audio message posted online, a speaker identified as al-Baghdadi insists that a merger he announced in April with Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra rebel group to create a cross-border movement known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will continue.

    “The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will continue as long as we live. We will not give up and we will not compromise over this,” he said.
    The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV reported late Sunday that al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had issued a letter trying to end the squabbling and ordering the two groups to stay separate.

    Al-Baghdadi is now defying that command.

    In his statement, he referred to “the letter attributed to Sheik al-Zawahiri,” suggesting he was calling into question the authenticity of the letter.

    “I chose the command of God over the command that runs against it in the letter,” al-Baghdadi said.
    http://news.yahoo.com/al-qaidas-iraq-head-refuses-scrap-syria-merger-111419218.html

  5. https://twitter.com/THE_47th/status/345905913661648896
    https://twitter.com/THE_47th/status/345908413177413634
    https://twitter.com/THE_47th/status/345903798201487360
    https://twitter.com/THE_47th/status/345910521599508480

    According to prominent activist the47th something major is about to take place in the region. Military escalation seems imminent with Saudi and the Jordans backed by the US? Plus today we have witnessed the largest number of defections in months. 202 crossed Turkey including 7 generals and 73 officers but most important of all the 30 defected republican guards of the 4th division in damascus. Always the47th speaks of a number of defected “big” generals heading back into Syria.

    I wouldent have spent much attention to these news if it was not for the source who in the past anticipated a lot of things which actually then happened. The defection news are confirmed news so if 1+1 is 2 there might be the chance of something really big about to happen.

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