The Weekly Brief on Syria The Week Ending 22 Jan 2012

Top Stories
The top story of the past week was the clashes between the regime’s forces and rebels inthe Damascus suburb of Zabadani for five consecutive days. The regime continuously shelled the city while the Fourth regiment attempted to break into the city but were pushed back by the Free Syrian Army. As a result of the clashes, more than 200 families abandoned their houses in Zabadani and fled, especially after the Fourth regiment brought in more reinforcements to the city. Many regime loyalists were killed, more than a hundred defected, and around a dozen Hezbollah militiamen were captured. A lot of weapons and munitions have also been seized by the rebels, allowing them to hold their ranks and positions for a longer period of time.
Assad’s forces withdrew from the Damascus suburb of Zabadani after their failure to penetrate the defences and started conducting negotiations with the residents of Zabadani to hand over captured Hezbollah militants. However, the regime is also preparing for a massive military operation as over 250 Hezbollah militiamen have gathered in the Lebanese town of Yahfufa, which is 5 kms away from Zabadani, prepared to flank the ranks of the rebels. The area of Zabadani is of utmost strategic importance to the regime as many important lines run through it, such as the Damascus-Beirut highway, Syrian electric towers connecting Lebanon with power, and the routes for smugglers dealing with arms, oil, and general goods.

The situation in Idlib was not any better, as residents of the town of Kafartakharim also forced Assad’s forces to fully retreat from the city. The regime retorted by deploying many armoured units and Hezbollah militiamen leading to a general upheaval in the city which triggered the evacuation of the regime’s forces to the cities.

This development marks a clear threat to the regime, as the capital is under the risk of slipping out of control, and Idlib is threatening with a buffer zone. US State Department announced it might shut down its embassy in Damascus soon, as the regime is not in full control of many areas in Syria.

Uprising Developments
The Assad regime issued a new public amnesty pardoning defected soldiers. The new decree pardons soldiers who have defected and have not carried arms or used them. However, it turned out that after pardoning the soldiers, the regime started detaining them as civilians and charging them with terrorism charges that are not included in the general amnesty that was also issued for civilians the previous week.

The SNC officially requested the Arab League to defer the Syrian issue to the UNSC, accusing the Assad regime of genocide and other crimes against humanity. The SNC also advocated the Arab League not to extend the Observers Mission as it only servers to provide the Assad regime with political immunity while it kills the Syrian people.

Snow started falling on the mountains of Idlib and the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, making the humanitarian conditions of Syrians even worse. Turkish authorities allegedly confiscated laptops, cameras, and phones so refugees would not be able to convey the images of their suffering to the media as many tents caved in – especially in the Yelda 2 camp where electricity was cut off because of weather conditions.

The Syrian Pound lost half of its value since the beginning of the revolution, as its exchange rate jumped from 45 to 71 Syrian Pounds per US Dollar since March 2011. This new development caused many pharmaceutical factories to suspend their manufacturing activities as it caused a high increase in the prices of the imported basic materials.

The EU imposed new sanctions on 22 security personnel and 8 organizations in Syria found to be supportive of the violence. The UK has called for more sanctions against the regime as it produced a list of 21 security and army personnel to be included, while Russia refused any new sanctions on the regime and warned it will veto any resolutions at the UNSC. Russia sold the regime weapons worth more than USD $1 billion since 2010, the latest shipment arrived last week for which Russia said it owes no explanations. The sanctions are taking their toll on the regime, as its liquidity is dying up, thus, and in a desperate attempt to collect money the Assad government initiated a grand housing project for more than 50,000 residential units, each unit containing 16 apartments. Each apartment of the total 800,000 apartments offered will cost 1,000 – 2,000 USD to initially book.

International Reactions
The UN announced it will start training Arab League Observers before they are dispatched to Syria as requested by the Arab League. The training should have begun earlier but the League requested a postponement. Meanwhile, the Assad regime refused to expand the scope of activities for the Observers, but accepted to extend the duration of Observers Mission in Syria, as it allows the regime an additional opportunity to ‘end’ the revolution.A coalition of 140 Syrian and Arab organizations demanded the Arab League to withdraw the monitoring mission given the Assad regime’s failure to implement the terms of the League’s protocol. The coalition also called for the League to defer the Syrian issue to the UNSC to act immediately to end the violence. Saudi Arabia announced it will be withdrawing its Observers from Syria, and it also called on the Arab League to implement sanctions on the regime that were decided upon by the League and were not executed. Meanwhile, the Arab League called for Assad to hand over powers to the vice-president and for a Syrian national unity government to be formed by the current government and the opposition within two months. The League also decided to officially request the UN to adopt the Arab Initiative and enforce its recommendations. On the other hand, Russia submitted a new draft Security Council Resolution on Syria, which is basically the same as their previous resolution but with minor amendments in the language without any significant effect. The resolution was immediately described by France as unrealistic.

Lebanese President Michelle Suleiman condemned the Syrian authorities shooting of a Lebanese fishing boat, as they intercepted and opened fire on a the fishing boat that was carrying three Lebanese civilians killing one, injuring another, and detaining the third. This incident is not unprecedented as Syrian authorities have repeatedly violated Lebanese sovereignty since the beginning of the revolution by killing and detaining Lebanese citizens, as well as numerous trespassing incidents and firing at Lebanese territories.

Jordanian authorities detained Hussein Jasem Abbas, a human rights activist working with Adaleh (Justice) humanitarian group after he tried to sneak to Syria. According to activists from the same group, the Jordanian authorities will be handing over Abbas to the Syrian authorities soon, despite the fact that he will likely be tortured and executed. It is noted that Abbas is an official Syrian refugee on Jordanian lands as he was registered at the UNHCR in Amman.

Syrian Press Focus
• Syrian press focused on the Arab League’s Observers Mission, as the regime announced it has accepted the mission extension as a gesture of cooperation with the Arab League. The regime also published the statements of the Observers Mission’s Director to support its account of terrorist groups, and to show that it withdrew its army from cities.
• The regime accused the rebels of robbing and destroying ancient historical sites, after many circulated reports accused the regime of that. Those reports also accused Asma al-Assad of corruption.
• The regime announced the commencement of the local administration elections to exhibit its progress in reforming its system.
• The media campaign waged by the regime on the Arab League continues, as it still attacked its resolutions and accused it of conspiring with the West and Israel. On the other hand, the press continued to praise Russia as it compliments its stances against the “Western Imperialism”, and any form of foreign intervention in Syria or the enactment of any sanctions against the regime in spite of the “massive pressures exerted by the US and the West”.