Syrian Opposition Unites, Rohingya Groups Speak Out, and More Top News This Week

REUTERS/Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham/Handout


US-approved Syrian opposition group forms governing body

After US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a "more trustworthy" Syrian opposition last week, New TV reported that a leader in the Free Syrian Army announced that the Free Army is reorganizing its ranks to gain the trust of the international community, adding that his leadership has started to settle inside Syria. The Syrian opposition also announced during its ongoing meetings in Doha that it accepted a proposal to establish a transitional government headed by opposition member Riyad Saif. The initiative, headed by Saif, stipulates creating a unified leadership dubbed the Syrian National Initiative, from which a government in exile will be formed.

World groups organize global day of action in support of Myanmar's Rohingyas; Suu Kyi under fire for ignoring violence

Myanmar's Rohingyas are fleeing Rakhine State after a new wave of attacks from the Buddhist majority. Press TV reported that Rohingya groups around the world held a global day of action for the Rohingyas on November 8. International rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, have also criticized Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence on the issue. The president of Arakan Rohingya National Organization, Noor al-Islam, added in an interview during a rally in London that if the persecuted had been Rakhine's Buddhists, Suu Kyi would have spoken out. Additionally, the aid group Doctors Without Borders says its workers have been threatened and stopped from reaching violence-hit areas in Myanmar. The group says thousands are left without medical care in the western Rakhine State as a result, adding that many of the victims are extremely vulnerable.

Tens of Thousands Demand Nobel Peace Prize for Malala Yousafzai

 

BBC Arabic reported that over 60 thousand people signed a petition calling for Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The 15-year-old girl is recovering in The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, Britain, after suffering an armed attack by the Taliban movement in Pakistan. Malala and her campaign for education gained notoriety around the world after she wrote her memoirs in the Urdu section of the BBC about life under the teachings of the extremist Taliban movement that rejects girls' right to an education.

Oil Giant Shell Undercuts Iran Sanctions with $1.4B Grain Barter

 

Dubai TV reported that the Royal Dutch Shell Company aims to circumvent international sanctions imposed on Iran by concluding a swap through which it would pay its USD 1.4 billion debt to the Iranian national oil company with a grain barter deal through the American agribusiness Cargill. Through the deal, Shell would deliver grain to Iran worth USD 1.4 billion, or what amounts to nearly 80 percent of Iran's yearly grain imports. Sources also revealed that the Royal Dutch Shell company, Tehran's second largest customer, imports 100,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day, and continued to purchase oil until the sanctions went into effect on July 1st.

 

Image: Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai talks to her father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, as she recuperates at the The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters on November 8, 2012. REUTERS/Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham/Handout

 
 

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Syrian Eid Truce Broken, Sudanese Arms Factory Bombed, and More News This Week

REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

 

Brahimi-brokered Eid al-Adha ceasefire quickly broken

New TV reported over the week that UN-Arab League Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi had been working with the Syrian government on a ceasefire for the Eid al-Adha holiday. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced a conditional truce on behalf of the Syrian regime, but armed opposition groups such as Ansar al-Sharia rejected the conditions and made their own demands. Sure enough, the ceasefire was broken on Friday, the first day of Eid.

Afghanistan: Dozens killed in Eid suicide blast

BBC Arabic reported on Friday that in the most violent attack in Afghanistan in months, 41 people were killed and at least another 50 were injured when a man blew himself up inside a mosque in the city of Maimana, the capital of the Faryab region in northern Afghanistan, during the early morning prayers for Eid al-Adha. The suicide bomber was reportedly wearing a police uniform. Many of the victims were government soldiers, and prominent local authorities were inside the mosque at the time of the explosion.

Sudan blames Israel for bombing of arms factory in Khartoum

Press TV reported on Wednesday that Sudan has blamed Israel for an air raid on an ammunition factory in Khartoum that killed two people. Sudanese Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman announced that evidence pointing to Israel was found among the remnants of the explosives, adding that Sudan reserved the right to retaliate. Hamas also accused Israel of orchestrating the bombing. However, Al Jazeera reported on Thursday that Israel denied the claims, and Israeli defense official Amos Gilad described Sudan as a "dangerous terrorist state."

More violence erupts against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

Press TV reports that at least 112 Rohingya have been killed in Rakhine State, and homes of Rohingya Muslims have been torched all across Myanmar in a new round of sectarian violence perpetrated mainly by Buddhist extremists. The violence had died down after a spate of killings in August that drove a number of Rohingya to flee the country, but they are again forced to leave their homes in light of the new wave of attacks.

 

Image: A member of the Free Syrian Army talks on the radio during an operation in Haram town, Idlib Governorate, October 26, 2012. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

 
 

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Iranian Rial's Plunge, Turkey's Syria Strike, and More of This Week's Top News

REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

 

Iranian rial falls to all-time low as Western sanctions take hold

The rial has hit an all-time low against the American dollar, trading at 37,000 to the dollar this week, Future TV reported. And as objections against his government have risen, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the presence of a shortage of hard currencies in the Iranian market, and clarified that the Iranian rial was devalued because of international sanctions on Iran. He also said that he sees a psychological war accompanying this external international pressure, which led to the devaluation of the currency.

Tunisian woman accused of indecency after being raped by security forces

Dubai TV reported that the Tunisian judiciary charged a girl with public indecency on Wednesday, after police said they had arrested her in a car under what they described as "suspicious circumstances" this past September. The girl had accused security agents of raping her. After a number of protests worldwide, Tunisian President Moncef al-Marzouki offered a state apology to the girl, and viewed the security flaw as not being within the security institution, but rather in the mindset of some of its members.

Turkey strikes Syrian targets in retaliation for deadly shelling

Press TV reported that tensions simmered between neighbors Turkey and Syria, as Turkey hit targets on Syrian soil in retaliation for mortar shelling from Syrian territories that hit Akcakale in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa on Wednesday. At least five people were killed and over a dozen others injured.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera reported that Turkey's parliament agreed to allow the government to wage a military operation outside the border if found necessary. Following the decision, anti-war protestors gathered around parliament and clashed with riot police there. Turkey's shelling eventually stopped, but New TV reported that at an AKP gathering on Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a new warning to Syria of the consequences of another shelling in Turkish territory.

Jailed Bahraini activist Mohammed Mushaima dies in custody

On Tuesday, 24-year-old Bahraini activist Mohammed Mushaima died of an illness while in custody. Press TV reported that he was in jail serving a prison term of seven years for taking part in anti-regime protests. Manama officials said that he was suffering from a hereditary disease. Lawyers said that they asked the court to release Mushaima because of his health, but their request had been denied.

Al-Alam reported that Bahraini regime forces launched a crackdown on his funeral procession in Manama on Wednesday, which was attended by "tens of thousands" of protestors. Al-Wefaq Society accused the Bahraini regime of being behind Mushaima's death, through depriving him of medical treatment and fabricating accusations against him.

 

Thousands of Jordanians take part in Friday protests despite king's dissolution of parliament


On Thursday, Jordan's King Abdullah II decided to dissolve parliament and call for early parliamentary elections in his country, reported Dubai TV. This was likely a preemptive move to head off the massive protests being called for by opposition groups on Friday. However, BBC Arabic reported that thousands still gathered in Amman on Friday for a day of protests dubbed "Friday to Save the Homeland," as called for by the opposition parties, most notably the Islamic Action Front.

 

Image: Protesters chant slogans during a demonstration against charges of indecency filed against a woman raped by two police officers, in front of the court in Tunis October 2, 2012. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

 
 

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The Second Coming, Cartoon Bombs, and Angry New York Mobs: Mosaic's UNGA Roundup

 Press TV / United Nations

 

The UN General Assembly's yearly get-together is a time for high-flying international diplomacy between world leaders. The General Debate, in particular, allows all world leaders who participate in the United Nations to deliver a public address to the General Assembly. As such, it has been used as a highly-visible platform by many countries' representatives to push their views.

This year's debate theme was "Adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations by peaceful means," which seems a little tongue-in-cheek given the current situation in parts of the Middle East and Africa.

As BBC Arabic reported that Somali and African forces were closing in on the final al-Shabab stronghold of Kismayo, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Ali gave his remarks at the Assembly, saying that there was no place in Somalia for the "few ideological extremists" in the Islamist group's ranks.

Barack Obama's appearance at the UN was brief, which some say was to avoid tough discussions with other world leaders on Iran and Syria. He honored Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in an attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, and condemned the American-made film that criticized Islam's Prophet Muhammad and sparked anti-US riots across the Muslim world. Meanwhile, Libya's new president, Mohamed Yousek al-Magariaf, apologized for the attacks, and apologized to the world on behalf of Libya for Muammar Gaddafi's decades-long rule.

With regard to Syria, world leaders condemned the violence across the board, but their approaches to end the conflict varied greatly. According to IBA News, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Jordan's King Abdullah II both called for Bashar al-Assad to step down, saying that the Syrian president's ouster is vital to the success of peace efforts.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supported the Syrian regime, and criticized the efforts by the Western world to interfere in what he sees as an internal conflict. Ahmadinejad, in his last speech to the Assembly as a world leader, also spoke of his belief in the imminent arrival of Jesus Christ and the twelfth imam, Imam al-Mahdi, whom Shiites believe will come at the end times with the prophet Jesus to help humanity. The United States and Israel were both absent from the General Assembly Hall when he gave his remarks.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also addressed the United Nations with a long-anticipated bid to join the UN General Assembly as an observer. The Palestinian Authority previously asked the UN for full member status last year, but had been rejected by the Security Council, which has the Israel ally, the United States, as a permanent member with veto power. Press TV reports that Abbas also lambasted Israel for its "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians, as well as the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land. A UN report that came at the beginning of the week and before the General Assembly meeting echoed similar statements-- that Israel must do more to halt the abuse of Palestinian rights.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stole the show by using a prop, which has not been done in the General Assembly since the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi pulled out a copy of the UN Charter and threw it in the air in 2009. Netanyahu used a picture of a cartoon bomb and drew a red line through it to illustrate how far Iran has come in enriching uranium, and how the United Nations must draw a red line for the country before it acquires enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb. Press TV analysts expressed concern over Netanyahu's mental health following this incident.

Outside of the Assembly Hall, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Rahmin Mehmanparast captured the attention of the American channel Fox News after he was attacked by a group of "about 100" Iranian dissident protestors on a New York City sidewalk. He managed to flag down an NYPD police car, but according to Dubai TV, the cops appeared "uninterested."

 

Image: Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red line on a bomb illustration at the UN General Assembly, September 27, 2012. Press TV / United Nations

 
 

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French Cartoons 'Fuel' Anti-Blasphemy Protests, and More of This Week's Top News

REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood


French cartoons insulting Islam condemned as 'fuel on the fire'

As Muslims across the globe continue to protest the US-made film that insulted Islam's Prophet Muhammad, a French weekly called Charlie Hebdo published a series of cartoons of the prophet, sparking a new wave of rage in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Press TV reported that the cartoons were denounced by both Egypt's al-Azhar Mosque and the Vatican as "fuel on the fire," and Al Jazeera reported that a number of French embassies and schools would close today for fear of violence.

According to BBC Arabic, anti-blasphemy demonstrations have spread to South and Southeast Asia, specifically the capitals of Afghanistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, while Pakistan experienced deadly Friday protests after security forces opened fire on demonstrators.

This Week in Syria: 'Friends of Syria' meeting, 'massacre' in ar-Raqqah, and fears of chemical attack

New TV reported a massacre by the Syrian regime in ar-Raqqah on Thursday, while Holland hosted a meeting of representatives of the group known as "Friends of the Syrian People," which includes 60 countries and the Arab League. Meanwhile, IBA reported on Tuesday that the Syrian army flew in members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to witness firing tests for chemical weapons at the country's largest chemical weapons research center. Newly-defected Major General Adnan Sillu, who was the head of the Syrian weapons program, also said that the Assad regime had plans to conduct a chemical weapons assault on the rebels, as well as transfer missiles with chemical warheads to Hezbollah.

Large-scale IDF exercises in Golan Heights, as Israeli air strike kills two Hamas officers in Gaza

IBA reported surprise large-scale military exercises involving top IDF brass amid the Jewish High Holy Days. The exercises simulated a deteriorating security situation in the Golan Heights. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reported that an Israeli air strike resulted in the deaths of two Hamas security officers near the town of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, saying that the officers were on an official mission near the tunnels by the Egyptian-Palestinian border. IBA, on the other hand, reported that the deaths were of Hamas operatives who were tasked with securing smuggling tunnels for explosives, and were planning a terror attack against Israel.

 

Image: A girl is photographed as she attends an anti-U.S. demonstration with religious students in the compound of the Red Mosque in Islamabad September 22, 2012: REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

 
 

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The Not-So-Innocent Film that Sparked Rage Across the Muslim World, and More

American film offensive to Islam sparks anti-US protests across Muslim world

REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Adding to the death of the American ambassador to Libya and members of his staff in Benghazi on September 11, demonstrations condemning a film that insulted the Prophet Muhammad have spread to Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Lebanon, Gaza, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco, and Mauritania, leading to four deaths in Yemen. Other Western embassies have also been attacked in Sudan.

IBA reported that the film that was released on the Internet and sparked the protests is called "Innocence of Muslims," and was produced by a California-based Jewish writer and producer. Most of Mosaic's broadcasters have reported that he is an Israeli American, leading to further anti-US and anti-Israel sentiment among Muslims.

 

Israel quickly denounced the film, with New TV reporting on Wednesday that the Israeli Foreign Ministry called it "unbearable extremism." Press TV noted that US President Barack Obama condemned the killings, but stopped short of condemning the film.

 

In addition to depicting the prophet Muhammad, which is strictly taboo in many interpretations of Islam, the film struck a nerve in the Muslim and Arab worlds for being American-made. Al Jazeera English discusses the nature of the protests, touching on the deep-seated anger of some citizens in the region regarding US foreign policy, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Syrians come out for another round of Friday protests after a week of heavy shelling

As the new UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi visits Damascus for the first time since his appointment, cities and villages across Syria have continued to endure heavy army shelling, especially in and around Aleppo and Damascus. Algerie TV reported that the most recent statistics from the UNHCR indicate the number of Syrian refugees has surpassed 250,000, with 85,000 currently in Jordan.

Despite the daily attacks, BBC Arabic reported that on Friday, anti-regime demonstrations took place across Daraa, Idlib, the countryside of Damascus-- which the Syrian government says still harbors "terrorists" that they are trying to pursue-- and al-Hasaka Province, which has a Kurdish majority.

Newly-elected Somali president escapes assassination attempt

Hassan Sheikh Mahmud, who hails from the same tribe as departing president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, is the first Somali president to be elected within the country in more than two decades. However, BBC Arabic reported that just days after his election, he escaped two bombings that targeted the Mogadishu hotel in which he was residing. He was was meeting with Kenyan Foreign Minister Samson Ongeri at the time of the attack, which came as a surprise given the number of Somali and African Union forces protecting his hotel and convoy.

 

Image: Tunisian protesters burn the U.S. flag during a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Tunis September 12, 2012. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

 
 

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Trouble Brews in Yemen, Words Fly at NAM Summit, and More Top Stories This Week

REUTERS/Mehr News Agency

 

Words fly at Non-Aligned Movement summit

On Wednesday, Al-Alam reported that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Tehran to take part in the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, despite outcry from the United States and from Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu over Iran taking over NAM leadership. However, Ban went on later in the week to sharply condemn Iran's denial of the Holocaust during WWII, as well as Israel's right to exist, in a speech at the summit.

Ban's comments were part of a number of verbal attacks at the meeting, which was heavily covered by Mosaic's broadcasters. BBC Arabic reported that the Syrian delegation left the summit's conference hall when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi criticized the Syrian government during his speech, in which he affirmed his country's "full solidarity" with those seeking freedom and justice in Syria. Additionally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Western countries of fabricating crises around the world, and of monopolizing the UN Security Council.


Trouble brews for a shaky Yemen in transition

New protests have broken out in the Yemeni capital Sanaa to denounce the deteriorating security situation in the country, and to demand the dismissal of relatives of deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh from their military positions. Al Jazeera reported that this comes after an assassination attempt targeted Yassin Saeed Noman, the most prominent leader of the Joint Meeting Parties opposition coalition.

In addition, Press TV reported another US drone strike in Yemen killed at least eight people in Hadhramaut Province, the second such attack in the region this week. Dubai TV reported the killing of three al-Qaeda members in an air raid in the Khashamir area of the Qatan district, but the source did not specify the origin of the plane that carried out the raid.

Yemen has been experiencing difficulty in restructuring the country's government after the fall of former president Saleh. Earlier this week, members of the Southern Movement in Yemen refused to participate in the national dialogue conference scheduled for the end of the year. They demand the south's secession from the north, which would mean a return to the country's pre-unification division.

More leaders express stance on Syrian Civil War

As the Syrian army's shelling intensified all across Syria this week, Press TV reported that President Bashar al-Assad sat down for an interview with Syrian channel Al-Dunya, saying more time is needed to end the insurgency in his country and that a buffer zone, the idea being championed by "hostile countries" and "Syria's enemies," is unrealistic.

Meanwhile, some leaders expressed their stance on the Syrian war during the NAM summit, most notably Egypt's President Morsi, Iran's President Ahmadinejad, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who opposed any kind of military intervention, as well as criticized the ongoing flow of weapons to insurgents. The head of Russia's army also rejected media reports this week that Moscow was winding down its military presence in Syria, saying that it is not in the process of evacuating its naval base in the Syrian city of Tartus, which it has leased since Soviet times.

 

Image: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad talks to Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (R) after his speech during the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran, August 30, 2012. REUTERS/Majid Asgaripour/Mehr News Agency

 
 

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If Bashar Falls, What Will Happen to Syria's Alawites and Kurds?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is facing immense pressure to step down from power to end the conflict in his country. Unfortunately, ending the Syrian conflict is not that easy. Syria, like most countries in the Middle East, has kept a precarious balance of power between religious and ethnic groups for centuries. Assad stepping down may be the drastic change that the Syrian people need, but it could also have disastrous consequences for some of these groups.

 

Let us examine two of the largest minority groups in Syria-- Alawites and Kurds-- and see how they fit into the scene of this ongoing conflict.

Alawites

 

Map showing the presence of Alawites in the three countries where they are found: Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. NordNordWest and Supreme Deliciousness / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-1.0

 

The ruling al-Assad family is part of the Alawite community, which is a minority religious group in Syria and constitutes about 12 percent of Syria's population (2.1 million people). The term Alawite or Alawi comes from the name "Ali," referring to the fact that they are followers of Imam Ali bin Abi Taleb, a cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad.

While Alawites are classified as a distant branch of Shia Islam, many Muslims consider Alawite practices, such as drinking wine and believing in reincarnation, to be heresy. As such, Alawites have long suffered persecution, and have taken to keeping their beliefs behind a veil of secrecy.

Alawites have held a disproportionate amount of Syria's political and economic power since Bashar's father Hafez seized power in the 1970s. Sunnis, who comprise about three-quarters of the population and ruled the area for centuries, have resented this imbalance. However, the mostly-Alawite Assad government has been largely tolerant of other ethnic and religious minorities. The government has also enjoyed the support of neighboring Shiite political groups, such as Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Aside from Damascus, the Alawites of Syria are concentrated in the country's northwest, along the Mediterranean coast, in the provinces of Latakia and Tartus. They are joined by significant Alawite minorities in Turkey's southern Antakya Province (formerly Antioch) to their immediate north, and Lebanon's northernmost district of Akkar to their immediate south.

South of Akkar, the Jabal al-Mohsen neighborhood in Tripoli (Tarabulus) is also mostly Alawite in a bastion of conservative Sunnis, and has experienced clashes with the anti-Assad Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood for decades. The fighting in Tripoli has only increased with the escalation of the war in Syria.

Many Alawites in the country fear a backlash against their community if Bashar al-Assad were to step down from power. Even if they are not pro-Assad, they fear being "massacred" by Sunnis once they are no longer under the protection of the Syrian army.

Kurds

 

Kurdish-inhabited area, by CIA (1992)


Most of Hasaka Governorate, which is in the northeastern tip of Syria, forms a small part of the geocultural region of Kurdistan. This historically Kurdish region includes the majority of southeastern Turkey, the northern border of Iraq, most of the western border of Iran, and a small portion of Armenia. There are some 30 million Kurds living in this region, making them the largest ethnic group in the world without their own country.

Kurds are also one of the largest ethnic minorities in Syria, consisting of about 10 percent of the Syrian population (2 million people). They have been regularly discriminated against by the Syrian government, and were considered stateless for decades until earlier last year, when Bashar al-Assad granted them Syrian citizenship in a bid to prevent them from joining the growing opposition against his regime. This bid was largely unsuccessful, and many Kurds have joined the uprising with the hope of securing their autonomy as a separate Kurdish state within Syria, if not establishing Kurdistan as a nation, to the dismay of neighboring countries.

When the fighting between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army intensified in western Syria this July, Syrian forces withdrew from the Kurdish northeast to strengthen their fronts against the FSA in western urban areas such as Aleppo and Damascus. The withdrawal left Syrian Kurds almost completely in control of their own region for the first time, much to Turkey's chagrin, which fears that the Kurdish region in Syria could become a haven for the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

At the moment, the region is one of the safest and most secure in the country, due in part to Kurds preventing both the Syrian army and the FSA from entering. However, many are worried that once the greater conflict is resolved, either the Syrian regime or the opposition will try to take back the Kurdish region, something that the newly-autonomous Kurds will not take kindly to.

Possible consequences of regime change

Neighboring countries fear that the fall of the Assad regime will lead to the fracturing of Syria along ethnic and religious lines, which would almost inevitably create complications in the greater region. King Abdullah of Jordan has said that the creation of an Alawite state along the predominantly-Alawite Syrian coast may be Bashar al-Assad's "Plan B." The creation of an independent Kurdish state in Syria's east may lead to more calls for Kurdish autonomy, even for a unified Kurdistan, in the surrounding Kurd-populated areas. Additionally, the influx of Syrian refugees will change the demographic makeup of the countries surrounding Syria, which could upset other precarious balances of power and lead to new conflicts years down the line.

 

Images:

1. Map showing the presence of Alawites in the three countries where they are found: Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. NordNordWest and Supreme Deliciousness / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-1.0

2. Kurdish-inhabited area, by CIA (1992)

 
 

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This Week in Syria: New Aleppo Violence as Free Syrian Army Falls Under Scrutiny

 REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

 

In Aleppo, the Free Syrian Army made a "tactical withdrawal" from the strategic neighborhood of Salaheddine last week, citing a shortage of ammunition. According to BBC Arabic, they have returned and opened new fronts in the city, including a push to control Aleppo International Airport, as well as the military airfield adjacent to it.

However, Aleppo City and some of the governorate proper is coming under heavy fire from the Syrian Army. On Thursday, Dubai TV reported that at least 80 were killed in an air strike on the town of Azaz, which is about 50 kilometers from Aleppo. There were also air raids on several Aleppo neighborhoods on Friday.

The Free Syrian Army, known in Arabic as al-Jaish al-Suri al-Hurr, also came under scrutiny this week after videos surfaced showing alleged FSA members participating in a morally questionable execution in Aleppo and kidnapping a Lebanese national, the latter of which the FSA denied. New TV showed the footage of a what appears to be a "shabeha" getting his throat slit by an FSA member, alongside footage of the FSA with a captured Syrian Army pilot. According to Dubai TV, however, the FSA claimed that both the kidnapping of Hassan al-Miqdad of the powerful al-Miqdad family, as well as the group involved in the abduction, were fabricated by the Syrian regime in an attempt to fuel strife between Syrians and Lebanese.

In the south of the country, Damascus also experienced heavy fighting this week. Al Jazeera reported on Wednesday that the Free Syrian Army detonated a bomb under a fuel truck near Umayyad Square. The FSA said that the bomb had targeted a meeting of the Syrian Air Force, but the explosion was also very close to the UN observers' hotel. The bombing was followed by clashes in the neighborhood of Kafr Susa, which is near the prime minister's office.

Meanwhile, at the Organization for Islamic Cooperation's latest summit in Mecca, Algerie TV reported that Syria was suspended from the OIC, and the leaders agreed to continue pursuing the political solution and a peaceful solution to the crisis that would guarantee the country's unity and sovereignty during the violence. The meeting ended by confirming support for oppressed Muslim people, and with calls to combat strife between Islamic teachings, as well as countering terrorism and extremism.

 

Image: A man cries in front of houses destroyed during a recent Syrian Air Force air strike in Azaz, some 47 km (29 miles) north of Aleppo, August 15, 2012. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

 
 

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This Week in Syria: The Battle for Aleppo, and Breakthroughs Abroad

The Syrian city of Aleppo, known in Arabic as Halab, has been suffering from intense fighting between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army since July. The onslaught has been referred to as "The Battle of Aleppo" by various news outlets, and even "the mother of all battles" by some. This northeastern city is the most populous in Syria, and is of key economic and strategic importance in the fight between the rebels and the regime.

Let's take a look at this week's developments in Syria, paying particular attention to the situation in Aleppo, as well as the recent breakthroughs regarding the Syrian conflict in the United Nations and other countries.

 

REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic


Tuesday, July 31

Syria's Aleppo under heavy fire; 40 regime soldiers killed in fighting

 

BBC Arabic -The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 40 members of the Syrian army were killed at a police station in Aleppo as part of a number of attacks on police and intelligence stations in the area. In addition, the Free Syrian Army took control of the strategic Adnan checkpoint only a few kilometers away from the city of Aleppo, which allows them to link the city to Turkey. The Salaheddine (or Salah ed-Din) neighborhood is thought to be the focal point of the struggle. Taking control of the city would be considered a strategic gain, and a decisive factor in the power balance between the two sides.

Meanwhile, renewed fighting also broke out in Damascus, notably in the neighborhoods of al-Tadamon and the Yarmouk camp, which is home to the largest Palestinian refugee community in Syria.

Wednesday, August 1

Free Syrian Army claims advances in Aleppo as Turkey conducts military drills at border


Future TV - Over one hundred people were killed by al-Assad's brigades, while the Free Syrian Army expanded its control over the countryside of Aleppo. It also waged an attack on several security headquarters in the governorate, and killed Zain Berri, the leader of what is known as the Shabehat al-Berri, a criminal group that killed dozens of anti-regime protestors in Aleppo. This resulted in retaliatory attacks by the shabeha on a number of the Free Army's centers in Aleppo.

Two kilometers away from the Syrian border, the Turkish army conducted a military drill in the Mardin Governorate, after Turkey warned of military intervention to protect Syrian refugees if al-Assad's brigades attack them.

In Damascus, al-Assad's brigades raided a number of neighborhoods amid resistance by the Free Army in al-Qadam and Tadamon, while the Yarmouk camp was subject to tank and mortar shelling, with fears of being stormed.

Thursday, August 2

UN warns that three million Syrians need food aid as Annan quits Syria peace envoy


New TV - International envoy Kofi Annan resigned from his position as a mediator for the United Nations and the Arab League in Syria as the battle in Aleppo intensified. Gunmen seized three police stations, while videos said to have been taken in the Salaheddine neighborhood showed a number of dead bodies. Also, the nearby Menagh Military Airport was attacked by the Free Syrian Army with heavy weaponry, including tanks they had seized.

According to United Nations figures, three million Syrians are in need of food in light of the current crisis. Also, 200,000 residents have deserted Aleppo since the fighting began; a number of them have fled to Idlib Province, particularly to the neighboring town of Dana, which is under the control of the Free Army. However, living conditions there are difficult because of the large influx of people, and reports of shelling that targets bakeries.

Friday, August 3

UN General Assembly adopts Syria resolution


BBC Arabic - A large majority of the UN General Assembly backed a resolution on Syria condemning the government's use of heavy weapons, and criticized the UN Security Council's inability to take action in the face of the ongoing crisis in the country. Ban Ki-moon says that he views the conflict in Syria as a test for the principles of the United Nations, comparing the current international stance to his helpless position before the massacres in Yugoslavia.

The Russian and Syrian ambassadors to the UN objected to the condemnation, with Syrian Ambassador Bashar al-Ja'afari noting that "foreign interference" is helping to push the Syrian people's demands down the Syrian government's list of priorities.

Obama authorizes secret US support of Syrian rebels


Press TV - US President Barack Obama has reportedly signed a secret order, approved earlier this year, authorizing more support for the Syrian rebels in fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces. The order broadly permits the CIA and other US agencies to aid them against the Syrian army. A US government source also confirmed that Washington is collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.


Image: A boy plays with an AK-47 rifle owned by his father in Azaz, some 47 km (29 miles) north of Aleppo August 3, 2012: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

 
 

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