Last Update 11:08am pst
The prime minister Farid Hijab has defected from the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad and his arrival in Jordan has been confirmed by officials there. According to Syria state TV the prime minister has been fired. This defection has been in the works for months, getting family out was the biggest problem as usual. Meanwhile the government assault on Aleppo has continued with increased intensity.
11:08 AM PT: This defection shows for the thousandth time that the civil war in Syria is being fought between those still being held captive by a tyrant and his tiny clique of supporters, and those Syrians that have broken free of that captivity.
That drive to freedom started as part of the popular Arab uprising that began in January 2011 and now 17 months later we can see that of all the countries of MENA where the people decided to topple a long standing dictator, it is the Syrians that have had the hardest row to hoe. No other people have had to face this level of regime violence without meaningful international intervention. Everyday we hear of new massacres and atrocities as his regime pounds resistive communities all across Syrian with long range artillery and tank fire, helicopter gunships and jet planes dropping cluster bombs. The "community" of nations has let him know firmly that using chemical weapons would be crossing a red line, anything else apparently is fair game. I fear the people of the world will long rue the day that it became acceptable to suppress ones own population the way the Assad regime is being allowed to.
Kofi Annan's Peace Plan was a bad joke on the Syrian people from the beginning. By making such nebulous questions like the cessation of arms smuggling a precondition for a ceasefire, he assured that Assad would always have an out. Now he can add Syrians to those other people in Bosnian, Rwanda and Dafur that were massacred on his watch at the UN.
We now find that even Bashar al-Assad's new prime minister, chosen only two months ago, was forced to take the job under threat of death. Even at the highest levels of his regime, Assad cannot depend on loyalty or genuine support to keep his people in line. This defection and the news that has come out with Riad Farid Hijab, show definitively that this is a regime ruled by terror. From defectors as high as the PM down to the the working class grunts that make up the backbone of the Free Syrian Army, we hear the same stories over and over again. They were kept at their post under threat of death. Defection is extremely difficult because if families are left behind, the regime will take its revenge on them. Many more would defect if only they could get themselves and their families out.
Beyond terror, Assad has been able to maintain his rule through strict control of the information that reaches Syrians. So many Syrian soldiers have said that they actually believed that they were going off to fight "foreign-backed armed terrorist gangs" because that's all they had heard over and over again. They defected when they found out the truth as they were ordered to open fire on unarmed protesters. That's how the Free Syrian Army was founded. A colonel defected with hundreds of his men on 29 July 2011 and founded the FSA in Deir ez-Zor after they had been ordered to open fire on unarmed protesters there.
The popular opposition to the Assad regime has from the very beginning been non-sectarian, and while it has been majority Sunni, as is Syria, it has had wide support among Christians, Shiite and Alawite from the beginning. The Assad regime and its supporters have always sought to portray it otherwise. The Assad family has always ruled by pitting tribe against tribe and in this rebellion they have tried to keep the tribes closest to them under their thumb with a campaign of mis-information and outright fabrication designed to create fear among these minorities as to what might happen to them if the regime is overthrown.
To this end, and for international consumption, the Assad regime and its supporters have tried to portray the struggle as one of a legitimate government, abet in need of reform, but legit nonetheless, besieged by foreign backed Islamic terrorists bent of overthrowing a secular government and imposing Shari law on Muslims and non-Muslims alike. While they may admit to some discontent among the Syrian people, the real forces behind this attempt at regime change are Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and behind them, the CIA and the Zionist state. This is the lie that they consistently put out to their own people and the world through SANA and other state controlled media outlets.
Of course, like all good lies, there is a grain of truth that makes them work. A small number of foreign jihadists have come to Syria to make mischief. The opposition has received some support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Not as much as those countries would like to take credit for, or the Assad regime would like to blame them for, but they have provided some walkie-talkies, maybe even some weapons and most importantly, money to buy weapons from corrupt Syrian officials. For all the talk about outside weapons coming into the conflict, it is clear that the FSA is fighting Assad with his own weapons and those weapons are being supplied, and no doubt resupplied by Russia and other counties still in his corner. The CIA has also been trying to insinuate themselves into this conflict and have been positioning agents in Turkey is the past few months, but that is a long ways from running things. The truth is Obama and the EU countries really don't what to see Assad go, neither does Israel, they just need to sound like they do. That is the real reason they don't do more.
How can anyone seriously talk about popular support for this regime under these conditions of terror and media control? The same voices that tell us that the Assad regime has a real base of popular support that must be taken into account are precisely the same voices that told us that Qaddafi had genuine supporters in Libya. Once his terror apparatus disappeared, so did his supporters. Even when a new law banning praise of the Qaddafi regime was found unconstitutional by the Libyan courts, no one wanted to take advantage of the new ruling.
The supporters of the Assad regime know there is no way to convince people that the regime has not committed horrendous crimes against humanity. So they have sought to exaggerate every abuse by the Free Syrian Army and fabricate other crimes against them so they can discredit the fighters opposing the Assad regime. There constant refrain is "Both sides commit war crimes", "Both sides commit human rights abuses" as though that was not true in every war that has ever been fought.
They seek to obliterate any distinction as to the magnitude of the war crimes or the reason for which they are fighting so that they can reduce the issue to this basic question. There defense of the Assad regime has reduced itself to portraying the Syrian Revolution as a struggle between two armed groups, both equally bad, with the innocent Syrian civilians caught in the middle. This is a lie.
The truth is that the Syrian people have revolted against the dictatorship. After many months they have been forced to go over to armed struggle by the regime's violence. The Free Syrian Army is truly a people's army made up of defectors from the state apparatus of repression and protesters that have taken up arms after being fired upon.
The oldest living city on the world, Damascus, and others almost as old, are being destroyed by bombardment because the Assad regime doesn't dare send in ground forces they know will only swell the ranks of the FSA. Along with thousand of lives destroyed, some of the oldest structured built by humanity on this planet are being reduced to rubble.
Henceforth, they will stand as monuments that remind the world what it allowed a tyrant to do to a people and a city.
Damascus Today | 6 August 2012
Al Jazeera English has this article on the defection:
Syrian prime minister joins opposition
The Assad regime celebrated Hiroshima Day by collapsing a residential block in the Al Hamra neighborhood in Aleppo, creating another massacre. | August 6, 2012
Jordanian officials confirm Riad Farid Hijab has arrived in the country, after Syrian state TV said he had been sacked.
Last Modified: 06 Aug 2012 13:06
Riad Farid Hijab, the Syrian prime minister, has joined the opposition, he has announced, after state television reported that he was sacked this morning.
The former prime minister arrived in Jordan after being smuggled across the border, Jordanian authorities confirmed to Al Jazeera on Monday.
"I announce today my defection from the killing and terrorist regime and I announce that I have joined the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution. I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution," Hijab said in a statement read in his name by spokesman Muhammad el-Etri.
Etri also denied that Hijab had been sacked, saying that the government had made the announcement of his dismissal after officials realised that the prime minister had fled the country.
Etri said that the defection was planned "for months", and was executed in conjunction with the Free Syrian Army.
The former prime minister encouraged other Syrian officials to defect in the wake of his announcement, Etri said, adding that with his departure other, less senior, officials "have no excuse not to defect".
He cautioned, however, that the Syrian government was likely to "react haphazardly, in a hysterical manner. It will perpetrate more killings [and] any official willing to defect must act wisely. He must take care of himself and his family".
"The regime speaks only one language: the language of blood," Etri told Al Jazeera.
Given 'no choice'
President Bashar al-Assad appointed Hijab, a former agriculture minister, on June 23, following a parliamentary election in May.
Etri claimed that the former PM had not been given a choice, however, when appointed to the post.
"This defection has been being planned for more than two months. He was given two options: to either take the office of prime minister or be killed. He had a third option in mind: to plan his own defection in order to direct a blow to the regime from within and today he is declaring his defection," he told Al Jazeera. More...
Hassan Hassan has just published a blog that strongly supports what I have said above
Facts on the ground the only narrative that matters in Syria
Aug 7, 2012
One day during my high school studies in Syria, over a decade ago, the school's administration decided to replace a sport class with a science class to compensate for the absence of a teacher. About half of my classmates rejected the decision (they liked their sport), refused to enter the class and stood outside in protest.
I had never seen the school's administration more nervous. That negligible act of rebellion compelled the headmaster to come and speak to us personally, armed with what I'd call the Baathist tools of coercion. "I know that most of you are good people," he told us, "but I want you to point out to me the subversive student among you, who I know is an ikhwanji (a pejorative term that refers to a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood organisation).
"If you do not, I will have to call the Political Security (a branch of the mukhabarat, with an office adjacent to the school)". That sentence was powerful enough to make us return to class, without uttering a word.
I'm reminded of that defining day on the schoolyard as I watch the world try to make sense of the absurdity of the Assad regime today, and its answer to any form of dissent by calling Syrians "mundasseen" - infiltrators.
Syrians raised under this regime know that taking to the streets to call for the government's downfall is the very definition of audacity. Syrians do not need to be told by media what the regime is capable of or how it behaves when it is confronted. They also do not need to be told to fight until the end because they know full well the regime kills and tortures in times of calm, as it does when it is embattled.
Yet outside Syria, a narrative taking root suggests that the Syrian uprising is somehow less worthy than the other Arab pro-democracy revolts that swept the region last year. The Syrian uprising, according to this narrative, is a foreign conspiracy promoted by biased media and instigated by extremists. The position is maintained largely by the Arab left, pan-Arabists and anti-imperialists, as if the only way to resist imperialism or an Israeli threat is for the Syrian people to endure living under Baathism.
Mohamed Hassanein Haykal, a veteran Egyptian journalist and a former adviser to the late Gamal Abdel Nasser, dismissed the Syrian uprising late last year as one spurred by foreign intelligence. He said the cities that revolted against the regime were border cities - proof, he said, it was not a real revolution. Only if Damascus and Aleppo rose up, he argued, could the uprising be considered a legitimate revolution. Since the two main cities rose up, however, he has remained deafeningly silent. (It's worth reminding Haykal that all Syrian cities, except Hama and Suweida, are border cities).
Others have jumped from denying the existence of a popular uprising to labelling it a civil war. When Abdul Razzaq Tlass defected in June last year, for example, Asad Abu Khalil, an influential Lebanese-American pundit known for his criticism of Israel, posted this comment on his blog: "Western and Arab (Saudi and Qatari) media are so desperate for any news that is damaging to the Syrian regime that they play up the 'news' of YouTube-based defection of individual soldiers or officers. That is really not news worthy." More...
That reminds of the people here that think only the defection of Bashar Assad is worthy of a "BREAKING NEWS" headline.
Al Jazeera has a very informative report on the Kurds in Syrian.
From EAWorldView we have this report on Syria for Monday:
Syria Live Coverage: Rumour and Reality in Aleppo
Monday, August 6, 2012 at 9:40 | James Miller
Aftermath of the explosion in the Syrian State TV building this morning
See also Syria Snap Analysis: What the Prime Minister's Defection Might Say About State of the Conflict
1349 GMT: Syria. After a bomb has gone off in the state media building in Damascus, the Syrian government has been quick to assign blame - sort of:
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi has blamed Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Israel for Monday's bomb explosion at the state-run TV and radio building in Damascus.
Al-Zoubi stated that he knew who the powers behind the explosion were, adding, “They have shown their cowardice with this attack.”
“We know which states politically and financially support these attacks. It can be Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey or Mossad, it does not matter,” said al-Zoubi.
1342 GMT: Syria. An activist reports that an area in northwest Aleppo, Ard al Hamra (map), has been heavily shelled, and some buildings have collapsed:
An activist on Twitter gives this perspective - "Imagine that you're sitting at home in NEw York city, and Obama started shelling your home."
1321 GMT: Syria. A dramatic image of an airstrike on Talbiseh in Homs Province today:
1206 GMT: Syria. Abdul Gabbar Kaidi, the commander of the Free Syrian Army forces in Aleppo, has spoken with The Guardian's Mona Mahmoud via Skype:
The Free Syrian Army are in control of 50% of the neighbourhoods in Aleppo. Other districts which are not liberated yet are undergoing heavy fighting right now....
Salaheddin district is completely destroyed. Our men are still there, but it is not under rebel control. We were able to attack two checkpoints in the area.
The district is full of the Syrian army's tanks and the war planes are still targeting the district. FSA are targeting all the police stations in Aleppo now. The city is under an onslaught by the regime for its support of the FSA and military reinforcements keep arriving in Aleppo. We don't know how many people have been killed.
Kaidi also characterized the FSA withdrawal from Damascus as a "mistake," though the FSA commander in Damascus disagrees.
1140 GMT: Syria. We have now posted James Miller's snap analysis in a separate entry, "What the Prime Minister's Defection Might Say About State of the Conflict".
1133 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera English has interviewed Muhammad el-Etri, a spokesperson for defected Prime Minister Riad Hijab. Below is a partial transcript:
"I announce today my defection from the killing and terrorist regime and I announce that I have joined the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution. I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution," Hijab said in a statement read in his name by spokesman Muhammad el-Etri.
"[Hijab] was given two options: to either take the office of prime minister or be killed. He had a third option in mind: to plan his own defection in order to direct a blow to the regime from within and today he is declaring his defection and I believe he is the highest ranking official in Syria [to do so] ... it is a one of a kind [defection] and it will have grave repercussions on the regime and significant implications after the departure of the regime and [for] the success of the revolution.
"Today a high ranking official like the prime minister has defected ... and now you who are of a lower rankhave no excuse to remain loyal to the regime. The prime minister who was under tight security and scrutiny has defected. and any other official now has no excuse not to defect."
1123 GMT: Syria. Concerns have been expressed about conditions at the first camp in Jordan for Syrian refugees.
About 2,600 refugees are in Al Zaatri --- some have they are appalled by a lack of basic necessities and "horrendous" conditions at the camp, run by the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and the Jordan Hashemite Charity organisation. They claim bathing water is scarce and the dust is causing breathing problems for children.
Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh reports:
1103 GMT: Syria. More significant news (still unconfirmed, but looking more reliable by the minute) that the defections go beyond Prime Minister Riad Hijab:
The Guardian notes that at least 2 of those defections have been reported by Al Jazeera - again, still unconfirmed. They also report that the Finance Minister may have been arrested before he had a chance to defect, citing unconfirmed reports from Al Arabiya.
Meanwhile, Hassan Hassan notes that, according to Hijab's spokesman, where much of this information appears to be originating, Hijab's defection has been planned for months - perhaps even before he was appointed as Prime Minister:
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started this morning.
1035 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid reports on Syrian Kurds who have fled to Iraq:
1030 GMT: Syria. The opposition Syrian National Council and a Jordanian Government official are both saying that Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab has defected and is now with his family to Jordan.
1020 GMT: Syria. A 31st brigadier general has defected and fled to Turkey, Anatolia news agency is reporting.
The general, accompanied by five high-ranking officers and more than 30 troops, was among 400 refugees who crossed the border.
1000 GMT: Syria. Minister of Local Administration Omar Ghalawanji has been appointed to lead a temporary caretaker Government after the dismissal of Prime Minister Riyad Hijab.
Meanwhile, there are growing indications that Hijab has defected and gone to Jordan. The opposition Syrian National Council has welcomed Hijab's departure from office.
Activist "The 47th" claims two other Ministers have also quit and fled Syria:
0948 GMT: Syria. In Sunday's Live Coverage, I noted that the US Treasury has granted a sanctions waiver so American citizens can support insurgents through contributions to the Syrian Support Group.
I incorrectly stated that "leaders" of the SSG included Mazen Asbahi, connected with the Obama Presidential campaign in 2008 --- he is in fact the legal counsel for the Group. I also incorrectly linked Jamal Said to the organisation.
0937 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report 44 deaths at the hands of security forces so far today, including 30 killed in Aleppo Province.
0930 GMT: Syria. State TV is reporting the dismissal of Prime Minister Riyad Hijab.
Hijab, the former Minister of Agriculture, was appointed in June.
0921 GMT: Syria. In his latest report from Aleppo, Martin Chulov of The Guardian reports tank fire and bombing by a jet early this morning, as regime troops moved on the city from the south and west.
Chulov estimated that insurgents occupy about 60% of Syria's largest city, but said this is tenuous as they cannot hold all that territory in the face of a sustained attack. He said they have 20 "quite primitive" surface-to-air missiles and have captured up to nine tanks.
Chulov explained that the insurgents are trying to win over residents by organising local services. While he has not seen foreign fighters, the units all said they have been approached and offered assistance by outside groups in recent weeks.
The journalist assessed:
It is clear that the rebel forces have put more effort into consolidating the city than they did into consolidating their gains in Damascus. There are around 6,000 rebels on the ground here and numbers continue to flow in as they prepare to meet the regime advance. They are going to fight to the death. They do realise that this is an extremely pivotal battle in the whole Syrian uprising, and it could make or break their cause...the stakes are higher ... if they did leg it this time it would be difficult for them to find a way back. Aleppo is a make or break battle ... I don't think they can afford to cut and run this time.
0828 GMT: Libya. Unknown assailants attacked a Red Cross compound with grenades and rockets in Misurata on Sunday, forcing the organisation to suspend its work there and in the eastern city of Benghazi.
The assault was the fifth in less than three months against the Red Cross. There were no casualties, but damage was extensive.
“Given the circumstances, we are forced to announce, with considerable regret, that we will be suspending all our activities in Misrata and Benghazi and that our delegates in those cities will be temporarily relocated,” said Ishfaq Muhamed Khan, the head of the Red Cross delegation in Libya.
Libya's interim authorities have said they will hand over power to a newly-elected congress on Wednesday.
0755 GMT: Syria. Amidst the rumours, Martin Chulov of The Guardian offers a first-hand report:
Aleppo is now undeniably a city at war. Crippling petrol shortages have reduced traffic by around 90%; festering garbage bags are now piled so high that they resemble road blocks; and the few people who brave the city's foreboding streets do so with one eye to the ground and the other tilted towards the ever-present circling attack helicopters.
The rigid order that has helped make this city a tenant of regime power for more than four decades is no more --- for now. Most police stations have been overrun, and their vehicles are now being used to ferry fighters to one of two front lines – a small enclave called Sarhour near the centre of the city.
The hospital in the east of the city, which was commandeered by regime forces until last week, is now in rebel hands. So, too, is part of the central city near the citadel, which has towered above this ancient settlement throughout the ages and appeared resolute under floodlights as fierce fighting raged nearby on Saturday night.
In the Salahedin district in the city's south-west, where it all began in late July, there has been no letup in daily battles which have reduced large parts of the suburb to a crumbling wasteland. All 30,000 or so residents have left. Only guerilla fighters remain here. Even the canaries have died.
0740 GMT: Syria. State TV is reporting that a bomb has exploded on the third floor of its building in Damascus.
Minister of Information Omran al-Zoebi, said several people suffered minor injuries.
0735 GMT: Syria. The town of Zabadani, in the southwest near the Lebanese border, is reportedly under sustained regime shelling this morning:
0515 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria report that 125 people were killed by security forces on Sunday, including 59 in Damascus and its suburbs.
The LCCS focuses on documentation of civilian casualties, so it is unclear how many insurgents were slain. The regime has stopped provided figures on deaths among its forces.
0455 GMT: Syria. We begin with a curious division between rumour and reality over the situation in Aleppo, the country's largest city.
For days, mainstream media have been promising an overwhelming regime attack to force insurgents from their positions, now held for two weeks, but have offered little support. The BBC, for example, was trumpeting yesterday that "more than 20,000 Syrian troops are massed around Aleppo", based on no more than vague "military sources".
Syrian news agency SANA is saying little about the conflict beyond "the armed forces in Aleppo on Sunday continued chasing down fleeing members of the Gulf and Turkish terrorist militias in a number of neighborhoods in the city". However, the pro-regime Al-Watan has promised a "decisive battle", and some activists have been warning of an impending assault.
The reality has been far different so far. Footage over the weekend testified to insurgent control of sections of the city, with no immediate prospect that they would withdraw or be forced out. Instead, the video that emerged showed that, despite regime shelling, the Free Syrian Army taking the fight to President Assad's units in some areas --- the headline battle was a Saturday clash in which insurgents tried to take the radio and TV station.
Meanwhile, in the areas around Aleppo, it is the Free Syrian Army which has been carrying out raids. Al Jazeera English's Jenan Moussa, in a series of Twitter messages, offered one overnight example:
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