Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Hariri Commemorated: Syria Cracks Down

Joe Pace sent me this translation of an Akhbar al-Sharq article yesterday reporting the re-arrest of Mamoun al-Homsi, a Damascus Spring activist who was only recently released from Prison. Mr. Mohammad Nagati Tayyara was also arrested but was released today according to Razzan Zeitouneh at "Shril." There are also reports that Riad al-Saif was re-arrested and that Homsi was released shortly after his arrest. The situation remains confused and as one reader remarked, there may be a struggle within the secret services over how to deal with the Democracy advocates.

Former MP Mamun al-Homsi Re-Arrested... Arrest of Human Rights Activist on the Border
The Syrian authorities have re-arrested former MP Mamun al-Homsi, who was released from prison last month, in front of his house. Meanwhile, the authorities arrested human rights activist Najati Taharra as he tried to cross the Syrian border into Jordan. Faruq al-Homsi, the brother of the former MP said that "security elements began to harass me and my brother. Today (Tuesday) they arrested Mamun at 5pm and as of now we do not know his fate."

Anwar al-Bunni, a human rights activist and lawyer reaffirmed, "a patrol from the national security branch arrested former MP Mamun al-Homsi in front of his house at 5pm and his fate is unknown."

Al-Homsi was released on 18 January of this year after almost four years in prison. He is one of the Damascus Spring prisoners who were arrested in the summer of 2001. He and his colleague, MP Riad Seif were sentenced to five years in prison for trying to "illegitimately change the constitution." This came against the backdrop of their demands in the People's Assembly for reform and to uncover corruption.

Al-Bunni also mentioned that "security elements arrested Najati Tayara, a member of the Human Rights Association of Syria, on Jordanian-Syrian border as he attempted to leave for Jordan for a workshop on human rights."

The arrest of Mr. Tayara comes against the backdrop of his participation in a conference held in the United States and a human rights legation on Monday in the Sham hotel.
Saad Hariri returned to Lebanon two days ago after a long absence in order to lead the anniversary commemoration of his father's murder.

Nicholas Blanford describes the mass rally in Beirut to commemorate the death of Rafik Hariri a year ago. Many say near a million people assembled in downtown Beirut. Politicians took up the demand that President Lahoud resign. He remains adamant that he will not. Saad al-Hariri branded Lahoud an agent of Syria, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt all but called for a national revolt to oust him. Jumblatt denounced Mr Assad as the "tyrant of Damascus" and a "terrorist.” He insisted that Lebanon would never be rid of Syrian influence as long as Emile Lahoud, the president, remained in office.

The Monday morning quarterbacking has already begun as Lebanon's two major political blocks try to spin the meaning of the demonstrations. Who represents Lebanon? Is Jumblatt being needlessly provocative or will he lead the crucial breakthrough, ending Syrian influence in Lebanon? Hizbullah and Syria are trying to pooh pooh the demonstration. Aoun is standing on the margins. Hariri and Jumblatt are claiming that they are on the road to victory.

Sean McCormack, Secretary Rice's Spokesman gave a long press interview about Hizbullah and US attitudes towards the Lebanese Government which is interesting in light of increased US military aid to the Lebanese government. Hizbullah, a terrorist organization, participates in the government, making further US aid to it awkward. The obvious parallel is with the new Hamas led governemnt in Palestine. McCormack said he didn't know if the US is giving any aid to the Lebanese government on the day that the US announced it would tripple military assistance to the Lebanese army. This is the assistance Saad Hariri negotiated during his trip to Washington two weeks ago and which is being announced on the occasion of his return to Beirut for the anniversary of the murder of his father.

State Dept. wants to triple aid to post-Syria Lebanon government
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has requested a significant increase in U.S. military aid to Lebanon.

The State Department has proposed to increase U.S. military aid to Lebanon by more than 300 percent in 2007. Officials said the request reflected closer relations between Beirut and Washington as well as the withdrawal of Syria's military from Lebanon in 2005.

Under the Bush administration's request, Lebanon would receive $4.8 million in U.S. military aid in 2007. Beirut received less than $1 million in such aid for fiscal 2006, which ends in October, Middle East Newsline reported.
Officials said the increased U.S. security aid would enable Lebanon to increase procurement of weapons and spare parts. They said the State Department also planned to offer increased training to the Lebanese Army and security forces.

But the department's request would not enable Lebanon to purchase any major weapons system. Officials said the administration was examining Beirut's request for surplus U.S. platforms to revive Lebanon's military.

Under the department's request for fiscal 2007, Israel and Egypt would receive $2.34 billion and $1.3 billion in military aid, respectively. Jordan would receive $206 million.
US row leads Syria to snub dollar

Syria has switched all of its government foreign exchange dealings from dollars to euros as part of a political stand-off with the US.

"The step aims to avoid any future disturbances," said Dureid Dergham, head of the Commercial Bank of Syria.

He said the move was necessary "in light of the current US threats against Syria, and the ensuing complications in banking procedures and transfer operations to Syria from US and European banks.”
Syria to Return Diplomatic Relations With Iraq

Vice President Farouk al-Shara has informed Leader of Sadrist movement in Iraq Moqtadah al-Sadr Syria’s decision to return diplomatic relations with Iraq and exchanging diplomatic representation on level of ambassadors after forming the new Iraqi government. “Returning the bilateral relations was axis of the talks with Shara and this would enhance cooperation and integration between Syria and Iraq,” al-Sadr added, stressing necessity of ending the occupation of Iraq.

Claude Salhani, UPI's International Editor explains how "America's foes are circling their wagons."


At 2/15/2006 11:45:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

The big qustion that come first to my mind, Who authorized the re-arrest of Mr. Mamoun Homsi and Mr. Riad Saif ? And what was is the content of the coded message being sent by the regime to the US, Saudi and French by this re-arrest? Are we seeing a confusion and miscommunications in the security forces? I am guessing the security forces bosses began to lose control over the oppositions issue. for sure I am reading cracks and leaks in this story.

At 2/15/2006 02:45:00 PM, Blogger t_desco said...

For those interested, Nibras Kazimi's new column: Ashen Cedars.

I've been thinking about scenarios that, starting from what we know already, would explain the presence of al-Qa'ida/Salafist elements without leading to al-Qa'ida responsibility:

- Taha al-Qa'ida operative, but had nothing to do with Abu Adas; Adas kidnapped (thus no suicide bomber) or duped
- Taha "double agent", Adas (and possibly others) duped
- "double agent" somewhere higher up in al-Qa'ida hierarchy, both Taha and Adas duped

Highly improbable scenarios (in my opinion):

- Taha and all members of his cell intelligence agents just pretending to belong to al-Qa'ida
- open collaboration between al-Qa'ida and some regional government

Did I forget something?

At 2/15/2006 04:28:00 PM, Blogger Joe M said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2/15/2006 04:33:00 PM, Blogger Joe M said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2/15/2006 05:13:00 PM, Blogger t_desco said...

And this is why I think that open collaboration between al-Qa'ida and the Syrian government (or any other government, for that matter) is highly unlikely:

Lessons Learned from the Armed Jihad Ordeal in Syria

Declassified al-Qa'ida document "that examines the jihad waged against the Syrian regime of Hafez el Assad from 1976-1982."

Some "lessons":

"Mujahideen must be self-sufficient, otherwise they become dependent on unreliable external benefactors."

"The movement lacked a strategic vision, had no understanding of the importance of terrain, and failed to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the Syrian regime. This led to events, not plans, controlling the course of the battle."

"Mujahideen failed to vet carefully recruits. This allowed many government informers and moles to join, and betray the movement."

"By developing relationships with the intelligence services of Arab states, the movement yielded its autonomy and came under the control of these groups."
Abu Musab al-Suri

Harmony and Disharmony:
Exploiting Al-Qa'ida's Organizational Vulnerabilities

Combating Terrorism Center at West Point

There are more declassified documents and some analysis.

At 2/16/2006 08:04:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

Some interesting quotes from an article by Al-Seyassah (so not necessarily very reliable, but one should mention that the plot involving Assef Shawkat which was to become the main line of the Mehlis investigation was first reported by Al-Seyassah just four days after the assassination of Hariri...):

"The Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyassah of February 9 seconded Fatfat's assertions. Quoting an Iraqi source, the journalist stated that Al-Qaeda is leading a large infiltration operation inside Lebanon, where it already has sleeper cells.

"It seems that the Iraqi Al-Qaïda branch has been thinking for a long time to transform Lebanon into a strengthened base, and to make in particular the area of Tripoli (in the north of Lebanon) a new Afghanistan since several of its bases are in this city", specified the source. He added that the interrogations carried out by the Lebanese police force of 13 Al-Qaïda members brought precise details on the infiltration operation, carried out under the direct supervision of Zarkawi. "Some 700 experienced militants of the terrorist network would have left Iraq for Lebanon", adds this anonymous witness."
Al Qaeda… in Lebanon

In perhaps related news, Nahartnet reports:

Two Suspected Qaida Members Held Over Army Barracks' Bomb

Military Examining Magistrate Rashid Mizher questioned two alleged al-Qaida network members suspected of detonating a bomb near an army barracks in Beirut two weeks ago.
Khalil al-Sowda and Abdel-Rahman al-Jasser, both Palestinians, are also suspected of hurling hand-grenades near Lebanese army checkpoints outside the Palestinian Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in the outskirts of Sidon. ...

An army statement issued later Thursday said investigators traced the call made to al-Balad newspaper to a public phone booth in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh. The camp near the southern port city of Sidon is known to be a hotbed for fugitives and Islamic extremists.

Reportedly, the caller demanded the release of the 13 members of another al-Qa'ida cell (headed by Khaled Taha) and of Abu Obeida's mother and fiancé. The Mehlis report mentions both Kahled Taha and Abu Obeida in connection with Abu Adas, the suspected suicide bomber.

At 2/16/2006 08:17:00 AM, Blogger Karfun said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2/16/2006 08:29:00 AM, Blogger Karfun said...

Mister Innocent Criminal,

you are famous for your intelligent comments in several blogs. I am just wondering, why and for what they admire you so much. Hope you will not be the next censored here.

Always by your side

At 2/16/2006 08:30:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...


Interesting, but do you have any material linking the Syrians to these supposed Al-Qaida members? i know anti-Syrian Lebanese have mentioned that a few times. The Palestinian camps have both pro and anti-Syrian parties, do you know the names of the factions involved? i like to take these reports with a pinch of salt because it can be disinformation thrown in the mixture to add confusion.

But if its coming from Al Seyassieh then chances are the finger will eventually point to Damascus.

At 2/16/2006 08:42:00 AM, Blogger Karfun said...

Agree with Innocent_Criminal, very interesting assumption t-desco. Hope to hear more.

At 2/22/2006 08:23:00 PM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Karfun? Why did you name yourself a name similar to Karfan?


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