Thursday, July 07, 2005

Torture, Terrorists? and Intrigue

Ma'moun al-Homsi, one of the jailed parliamentary leaders of the Damascus Spring has begun a hunger strike and accused the Syrian government of being responsible for the Hariri murder. His fellow Damascus Spring prisoner, Aref Dalilah, started a hunger strike almost two weeks ago.

100 Kurdish prisoners have also begun a hunger strike to object to their prison conditions and the denial of the government that they be allowed to meet with their lawyer. Farid Ghadry's Reform Party of Syria, the US based opposition group announces on its webpage that "Syrian prisons house approximately 600 Prisoners of Conscience." Several different diplomats estimate that only around 25 Lebanese prisoners are still alive or being held in Syrian prisons.

However one counts, Syria has perhaps the smallest number of political prisoners of any Arab country. It should trumpet this fact and team up with the Red Cross to allow for regular prison visits to all detention centers. By introducing transparency to the prison system, President Bashar would make a great advance for his country, for his citizens, and for the reputation of Arabs in general. It is basic humanity. The Syrian fear of accountability is counter-productive; it undermines the legitimacy of President Bashar's promise of reform more than anything else.

Why America doesn't make this issue central is beyond comprehension. It would be the single most useful policy in assisting democrats in Syria. Perhaps America's own refusal to allow for open and quick trials at Guantanamo is the reason for its muddled policy toward human rights in Syria, and why it only insists Syria reform on foreign policy and not internal issues? Perhaps the main issue is that Washington does not want to engage with Syria. Establishing a dialogue about internal reform would mean offering carrots.

There is not transparency or accountability in Syrian security prisons, so these numbers are estimates. The British embassy says there could be up to 1,000 political prisoners. The US embassy says maybe 2 to 3 thousand.

Farid Ghadry's Reform Party of Syria is having troubles organizing Syrians across sectarian lines much as the Iraqi exiles did, only in Ghadry's case the troubles are in uniting pro-Islamists with Christians and ethnic minorities. The RPS writes:
RPS Withdraws from the Syrian National Council

Washington DC, July 7, 2005/RPS/ -- RPS has withdrawn from the leadership of the Syrian National Council (SNC) because it felt that SNC did not represent all the Syrians equitably and truthfully.

RPS was instrumental in calling for the meeting of Syrian-Americans opposition figures for June 18-19 at the Jury's Hotel in Washington DC. The meeting culminated in the gathering of about 20 people.

Mr. Richard Perle, by invitation, attended the meeting for one hour on June 19 and answered questions from some of the participants.

RPS believes that real Syrian opposition must include ALL Syrians including minorities be it religious or otherwise such as the one the Syrian Democratic Coalition built with Kurdish and Arabs, Assyrians and Muslims.
Ibrahim Hamidi gets to the bottom of story about the Jordanian terrorists captured on Mount Cassioun the other day in this article in al-Hayat:
دمشق: تبادل اطلاق نار ينتهي باعتقال 2 من مجموعة «طواحين العدوان» الاردنية
Initially Syrian officials claimed they were terrorists, based on the confessions of the Jordanians and Syrian woman they captured, who explained that they had worked with Saddam's body guards. The Information Ministry explained that security forces were still pursuing other members of what it called a "terror and armed robbery group."

According to Ibrahim, the father of the captured Jordanian had been connected to the 1970s Black September Palestinian group and later trained in Lebanon. This family connection led to additional confusion about the supposed "terrorist" connection. Now everyone agrees that they are just a criminal group, the members of which have been in and out of jail on various criminal charges.

A U.S. official, according to Reuters,
who spoke on condition of anonymity, said those arrested by Syria were Jordanian nationals who belong to a criminal gang, not a terror organization like al Qaeda, Hizbollah or Hamas.

"They're thieves, jewelry thieves (who steal) gold and stuff like that. Your good old regular criminals," said the official, who put the total number of Syrian arrests at six.
Once again Ibrahim has gotten the dirt and proves why he is "the man in Sham."

The following two articles, sent to me Tarek Barakat (thanks Tarek) explain why Syria cares whether it captures terrorists or not. In one Rice thanks Syria for stopping terrorists and in the other an un-named official accusing Damascus of stepping up help for terrorists.

Rice offers rare praise for Syria
US Secretary of State praises Syria for battling militants trying to slip over its border into Iraq.

WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered rare praise for Syria Tuesday for battling militants trying to slip over its border into Iraq but said more such action was necessary.

Syrian forces captured two "terrorists" Monday in a dawn clash with extremists who included former bodyguards of Saddam Hussein, official media in Damascus had reported.

The gunbattle on Mount Qassioun overlooking the Syrian capital was the second such firefight with extremists in recent days and comes amid intense US pressure on Syria to stop militants slipping over its border into Iraq.

Rice, speaking to reporters at the State Department after talks with her French counterpart Philippe Douste-Blazy, said: "I, too, have been reading the reports of clashes between Syrian forces and Iraqi insurgents or Saddam Hussein's bodyguards.

"If that's the case, then that would be a good thing," she said.

But she said in the same breath, "It's been the case in the past that Syria has done as little as possible. I hope that this time Syria will do as much as possible to deal with that border."
Syria seen stepping up aid to Iraq-bound insurgents
By Rowan Scarborough

Syrians are increasing assistance to foreign fighters preparing to enter Iraq and kill civilians and U.S. troops, despite months of pressure on Damascus from Washington to crack down on the jihadists.

A U.S. official said recent intelligence shows that Syria is the home to Web sites that exhort militants to come to the country for preparation to fight and die in Iraq.

Syrians also are providing barracks-like housing as the recruits from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Morocco and other Muslim countries prepare for a jihad, or holy war. The fighters also receive weapons, training and money in Syria.

The Syrian government denies that it is helping the terrorists. American commanders in Iraq have refrained from publicly saying the Ba'athist regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is actively assisting the insurgency.

The Web sites and housing are why U.S. commanders, in hearings last month, referred to Syria's capital of Damascus as the "hub" for foreigners entering Iraq and carrying out daily suicide car bombings.

Previously, officials have said that terrorists receive phony identification cards and passports in Syria and that they use the papers to cross Iraq's porous border. But fresh intelligence reports show that the staging in Syria is becoming more elaborate, the official said.

U.S. officials say privately that they think it is impossible for hundreds of jihadists to move in and out of Syria on a weekly basis without the government's approval.

Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the region, testified on Capitol Hill last month that the flow of foreign terrorists from Syria is increasing, despite Washington's sending high-powered delegations to Damascus to warn of serious consequences and its imposing economic sanctions.

Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to Washington, said "We are trying to tell the United States: 'We are willing to engage with you constructively. We want a good relationship with you, but you have to stop this unfair media campaign against Syria, because we think it is unfair and it is unconstructive.'?"

Michael Totten points out how European leftists are collecting donations to support the Iraqi resistance in his post "Euros for the 'Resistance'". (Hat tip Tony)

Speculating about Internal Power Plays: Tony corrects my last post. As always there is considerable speculation about rivalries within the Syrian power elite. Al-Seyassah has published a lot of junk in the past, so I would take it with a grain of salt, but you never know. Here is Tony's correction:
Josh, what you wrote about al-seyassah's reaction was wrong. They're saying it's an internal fight between Rifaat's folks and Maher/Asef. They added that khaddam and bahjat sleimen aren't allowed to leave, whereas tlass will be headed for france. They feel that khaddam can hurt them from france so they want him around. They're saying asef is basically on the rise and may very well do a coup.

Now i'm not sure how true all this is, but it's likely to have a bit of truth in it on all points. Asef doesn't need to make a coup. He can work behind the scenes as he's been doing.
The Oxford Business Group has just issued another report on Syria:

Syria: The Ties Not Yet Binding
7 July 2005

Despite a recent series of raids and shootouts aimed at countering US claims that Syria is soft on terrorism, pressure from Washington has continued - obliging Damascus to look to other international players to break its isolation.

On July 4, state news agency SANA reported that Syrian police had clashed with an armed group on Mount Qassioun, overlooking Damascus. The group included former bodyguards of toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. One Syrian security guard was killed, while two members of the group were arrested.

SANA also reported that two Syrian security personnel and a militant had been killed in a gunfight along the Lebanese border on July 3, while earlier, 34 alleged foreign fighters had been arrested and one killed near the city of Homs.

But while Damascus seems willing to co-operate with the US in this regard, officials are also saying that they need logistical and technological assistance from Washington in order to do so effectively. However, this seems unlikely to arrive any time soon.

Instead, pressure from the US has continued to mount. The US Treasury Department announced on June 30 that it was freezing the assets of Ghazi Kanaan, Syria's interior minister, and Rustom Ghazali, who served as the head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon until the withdrawal of troops in April this year.

In the face of this continuing tension, Syria has been trying to avoid international isolation. In this regard, the end of June saw Damascus rally both China and Russia around its cause when both countries' deputy foreign affairs ministers met with Syrian officials. They pledged to develop economic ties with Syria and called for Israel and Lebanon to abide by their international responsibilities, including restoring full sovereignty to Syria over the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 war.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) also expressed its concern over rising tension on June 30, calling on the US to reconsider the Syrian Accountability Act. It urged the US administration to enter a dialogue with Syria in good faith to settle issues hindering Syrian-US relations.

At the same time, the government has also been very active in furthering economic ties abroad. In a short visit to Doha on June 29, President Bashar al-Assad signed a series of scientific and technical agreements with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, emir of Qatar. The signed agreements also include an accord on facilitating the use of Syrian labour in the emirate.

This accord is particularly important at present for Damascus, as unemployment has grown by almost half in the last 10 years, reaching 12.3% in 2004, according to Central Bureau of Statistics' figures. Encouraging labour to work abroad has thus become a major employment policy, with Syria needing to create a minimum of 300,000 jobs a year just to absorb the new workforce. At the same time, the withdrawal from Lebanon has also had a knock-on effect on the labour market, as many Syrian labourers have returned home with the troops, bolstering the ranks of the unemployed.

There was also agreement in Qatar on promoting mutual investments and avoiding double taxation. This is also more important to Damascus than Doha, as investments in Syria from Arab countries have fallen considerably since a $333.5m yearly peak back in 1995. Arab investments in Syria stood at just $61.1m last year - 44.1% up on 2003, but still a meagre sum. At the same time, Syrian investments in Arab countries stood at $275m, a massive growth from the $14.88m of 2003. As for Qatari investments in Syria, in 2004 they were non-existent.

At the same time, Syria has also been pushing for greater economic co-operation with Ukraine. SANA reported on June 30 that a delegation led by Finance Minister Mohammed al-Hussein had travelled to Kiev to discuss possibilities for fostering trade and bank exchanges between the two countries.

During the meeting, al-Hussein called for Ukrainian businessmen to start investing in Syria while Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh suggested the establishment of a joint Ukrainian-Syrian bank in the near future.

Meanwhile, Economy and Trade Minister Amer Hosni Lotfi is currently in Nicosia, where he met with his Cypriot counterpart George Lillikas on July 4, in a move also aimed at boosting trade and investment. Syria is now very keen on deepening economic ties with Cyprus, now that it is a full member of the European Union.

Last but not least, the country has also embarked on a campaign to show a more positive image to foreigners. On July 5, a two-day international conference opened in Damascus to promote tourism investment in the country. The Forum on Tourism Horizons is meant to act as a platform for both the government and foreign investors to discuss how to better improve the investment climate in order to develop this historically rich country.

More than ever, Syria has understood that it should engage in constructive dialogue with the international community to end its political isolation and boost its economy. By co-operating against militants, Damascus is not only showing its goodwill, but is also sending a message to Western capitals that it still has a significant amount of regional influence. The suggestion is that it might be time to consider bringing Syria back to the diplomatic table.


At 7/07/2005 07:33:00 AM, Anonymous Syrian Republican Party said...

Do they use torture in Damascus? No it can't be.

At 7/07/2005 07:36:00 AM, Anonymous Tarek said...

Josh brings up a good point here. Why does the US government criticize Syrian foreign policy rather than the internal one? He mentions the Guantanamo dilemma but i would like to take it one step further. THEY JUST DONT CARE. They don’t care about your average Syrian’s human rights, nor their economic or social situation just as much as they didn’t care about Lebanon's new found "freedom".

Just like Iraq, America’s Neo-con strategic interest in the Middle East is what drives their policy on Syria. The isolation of the only countries still standing against the American will is the primary objective in this case. Since Iran is a tougher nut to crack, neutralization will have to suffice for the time being.

Weaker Syria on the other hand, is being dealt blows from every possible location. Our army’s inferiority is notorious so armed conflict must be avoided at all costs. This is the main reason behind the redeployment from Lebanon and not because of the so-called “Cedar Revolution”.

Whether the latest arms clashes in Damascus are staged or real. The threat is certainly real. Syria is in a catch 22 situation not be envied, help too much on Iraq and you could be next or worse become a target for extremists, slack off and you suffer the wrath of the worlds only superpower. But at the end of the day, there is no juggling act how delicate it maybe, that will release this immense pressure. I am a pessimist on this topic and I feel there is no move toward democracy that would change the American problem. So the trick is not to screw up and make it worse, I think the best skill needed now is late Hafez Al Assad’s combination of sharpness and endless patience.

As for Farid Ghadry and his sad excuse of a party, Syria pride’s itself on the having for the most part opposition members who want change from the inside. I have vast respect for people like Anwar Bunni who I might disagree with sometimes, but at least he is fighting a battle mostly on his own and without apparent support from the West. While people like Ghadry and his 2 dozen cronies are just puppets taking orders from people like the lowest image of a human, Richard Perle.

At 7/07/2005 07:48:00 AM, Anonymous ALi Duba said...

Just one additional fact; what is puzzling is that the US has not made the internal human rights violations by the Syrian regime has nothing to do with Guantanamo, for the US media has always protected the Syrian regime's crimes, and never made a story out of what went on in Syria. Take the example of what people call the Massacre of Hama, for years and years this story was not even brought up in any news media, not when it happened, nor years afterward. So, the question that puzzles Syrians is always: Why is the West is turning a blind eye to whatever the Syrian regime does inside Syria while every other country in the world is scrutinized and criticized for things that are much milder than what happens to the Syrian people!?

At 7/07/2005 08:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Al-Nahar wrote about the Syrian Opposition meeting yesterday in Washington DC; they have Hisham Melhem after the story.

The distrust towards the Muslim Brotherhood is similar to that of Egypt and what is stopping both oppositions from moving forward quickly; the fear that MB might have its own agenda once it gains some power. I understand the dilemma here, but I believe that if the Opposition takes a stance towards devising strategies to accelerate change from within (as opposed to strategies being dictated from outside, by the US), then I'm sure the Syrians will know how to handle the MB factor. At the end of the day, it's not easy, but who said it is easy. The hunger strikes are an important step and need to be highlighted; Homsi is doing this counting on others to do something from outside, or else he wouldn't have done it.

At 7/07/2005 08:52:00 AM, Anonymous Amjad said...

I just despise people like Tarek. I don't need to elaborate. They know why.

As to the infamous skills of late Hafez Assad..., it is apparent that those praising those skills do so with the purpose of praising him. Assad was supported by the East and the West, and all the portraying of his skills were nothing more than the instruments to raise his status among Syrians, to strengthen his hands inside Syria , especially by the West. Assad was a determinant factor in defeating the spirit of the Syrian people and their aspirations, and he was the instrument (not quite that intelligent and cunning as he was described continously by them, but he in fact he was nothing more than a loyal agent for those planning for our world, who did every thing as perscribed by them.

At 7/07/2005 08:58:00 AM, Anonymous Syrian Republican Party said...

Tarek is nothing more like a Baathist Human Scum. Paid and fu^%$%^$ed by Baathist. What a stooge.

At 7/07/2005 09:11:00 AM, Anonymous Tarek said...

SRP's last comment was excellent, thorough and well thought out. Keep it up buddy.

Amjad, I think its because i just happen to disagree with your point of view. And try to look at the good and bad rather than just the bad. I would love for you to suggest a single other Arabic government which can be better alternative. And don’t you dare say all of them, I want you to name them and justify your answer.

I was surprised why non of you cowards commented against the below mentioned paragraph in Josh's post?? If i had posted it i am sure i would have been called all sorts of names. Anyways, it’s all good in the hood ;)

However one counts, Syria has perhaps the smallest number of political prisoners of any Arab country. It should trumpet this fact and team up with the Red Cross to allow for regular prison visits to all detention centers. By introducing transparency to the prison system, President Bashar would make a great advance for his country, for his citizens, and for the reputation of Arabs in general. It is basic humanity. The Syrian fear of accountability is counter-productive; it undermines the legitimacy of President Bashar's promise of reform more than anything else

At 7/07/2005 09:25:00 AM, Anonymous Agha said...

Yes Peasent, that is because prisoners in Syria all died of torture.

At 7/07/2005 09:29:00 AM, Anonymous Syrian Republican Party said...

What a moran, he said he is a middle class teatcher before, I thought he is a peasant stock from some village. Most likely he got dirt under his nails. How about a Red Cross take stock of how many missing and killed in Syria and Lebanon in the past 43 years Human Scum?

At 7/07/2005 09:32:00 AM, Anonymous Ali up my ass said...

I agree with Tarek.

At 7/07/2005 09:41:00 AM, Anonymous Tarek said...

Hey morons the paragraph that starts with "However one counts, Syria has perhaps the smallest number of political prisoners of any Arab country..... " is not mine i copied and pasted from Josh's post, go back and read it, i cant take credit for this one, that was my whole point for mentioning fools

At 7/07/2005 09:48:00 AM, Anonymous Syrian Republican party said...

Bark, moran bark, your days are numbered and we paid a Syrian Mukhabarat to find who you are after we identified your IP address.

At 7/07/2005 09:54:00 AM, Anonymous Syrian Republican Party said...

to Ali Duba, ( LOL good choice of names)
keep it up and bring the truth up.

At 7/07/2005 10:16:00 AM, Anonymous Metaz K.M.Aldendeshe said...

I don't waste my valuable time reading Josh crap. I doubt that anone in SRP reads what he types. The above deceptive paragraph relating to the least prisoner counts that are still alive is an example of his crappy craps.

At 7/07/2005 10:17:00 AM, Anonymous Tarek said...

You paid someone from the mokhabarat? Haha, now i lost any shred of respect for you. Your actually (claiming)hiring someone from the same apparatus you so vehemently despise? Anyways I am bored arguing with you guys, all you do is call names like infants try retaliating with constructive analysis.

At 7/07/2005 01:11:00 PM, Anonymous Syrian Republican Party said...

were did you read that we despise Mukhabrat? We need these fine people to track your ass and the asses of thigs like you. We promised to raise the Mukhabrat Salary and teh Syrian army 10 times. You obviousely not an Arabic speaking moran but a non-arabic speking idiot.Otherwise, you would have read it on our website in bold letters.

At 7/07/2005 04:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's actually very sad that what's happening right now in Syria is only faced with low discussions such as the one you're all having in this comment section. It's really a shame. You should be thinking about how to move all forward, not bring each other down. You end up bickering on one small issue (the number of prisoners being small or large) and forget the many other important things happening right now in your country.

Whether you want change from within, or from without, or you don't want change at all, it's important right now that you all think together and be constructive. You should thank Josh for creating a serious forum for discussion (for instance Karfan's blog is funny, but is not constructive, it's just complaining about life and the situation). Sometimes what is needed is a bit of humility and comraderie here.

At 7/07/2005 11:54:00 PM, Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

So the Jordanian version of the Dalton Gang is Sharif Aïed Saïd Smadi and Mohammad Islam Ben Abdel Rahman Ahmad Smadi?

At 7/07/2005 11:59:00 PM, Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

I don't waste my valuable time reading Josh crap

Heh. So he tells us this on Josh's thread on Josh's blog on Josh's server?


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