Republican Call to Arm Syria's Rebels Could Feed Civilian Atrocities
September 12, 2012 Al Jazeera & Australian Broadcasting Corporation & The New York Times & The Huffington Post
US Republican Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham have urged Washington to help arm Syria's rebels with weapons. General Robert Mood, the Norwegian general who led a 400-strong UN monitoring mission in Syria has warned that Western governments supporting the opposition risk prolonging the conflict. And Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, warns that the rebels have been increasingly guilty of abductions, summary executions, and crimes against civilians.
Syrian Rebels Accused of Rampant War Crimes Hoda Abdel Hamid / Al Jazeera
ISTANBUL (September 12, 2012) -- The Free Syrian Army is facing fresh allegations of war crimes. An amateur video shot in Aleppo has shown the aftermath of a mass killing carried out by an opposition brigade. Warning: this report contains disturbing images.
(September 11, 2012) -- The Norwegian general who led a 400-strong UN monitoring mission in Syria has warned that Western governments supporting the opposition risk prolonging the conflict. General Robert Mood, who left Damascus two months ago, says countries, which aided the rebels were not helping to end the conflict in Syria.
"Anyone feeding the violence with money or weapons should consider very carefully whether this brings us closer, or further away from less violence and more dialogue," he said. "The international community may actually prolong the terrible suffering for the Syrian people."
His comments came as France admitted it had been helping key opponents of president Bashar al-Assad to defect from Syria. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said France had aided several defectors, including General Manaf Tlas.
"We have also -- and I will not go into details -- helped a certain number of defections," Mr Fabius told the French parliament's foreign affairs committee. "It's our role. Our agencies are active," he said, referring to ongoing defections. General Tlas, one of the most senior members of Mr Assad's government to flee Syria, said on Monday he had defected in July with the help of French special forces.
Mr Fabius publicly confirmed for the first time that France had helped General Tlas escape Syria and said he had met the general to discuss the country's future. "Why? Because we think that when there is somebody senior who wants to fight against Bashar al-Assad and to leave Syria, we help them," he said.
Meanwhile the World Health Organisation has warned that more than 500,000 people in the Syrian province of Homs need humanitarian aid. A team from the WHO gained a rare, independent insight into the conflict when they visited Homs last week. They say they found a "grave" humanitarian situation which "continues to deteriorate."
Much of the civil war has been centred on Homs, which endured weeks of artillery attacks from government forces. Now half the public hospitals and three-quarters of the private hospitals are closed. The team estimates a quarter of the 2.2 million people who live there are in need of humanitarian aid. Some 150 schools are being used to house people who have fled the fighting, but there is no mains electricity, water and sanitation services are unreliable, and rubbish is piling up.
Hollywood actress and UN special envoy Angelina Jolie has urged the world to help Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country. Jolie was speaking as she visited a refugee camp in neighbouring Jordan.
BEIRUT, Lebanon (September 10, 2012) -- The top United Nations human rights official warned opposition fighters in Syria on Monday that they would not be immune from prosecution for atrocities, as videos from the Syrian city of Aleppo appeared to show a mass execution by rebel fighters of bound and blindfolded Syrian government soldiers.
One of the videos, first publicized on Monday on the Brown Moses blog, which curates and analyzes video evidence from Syria, showed at least 20 corpses lying in a crooked row on a bloodstained street curb. The victims wore fatigues but no shoes. Several appeared to have been shot in the head.
In that video and another that captured the same scene, different rebel groups appear to take responsibility for the killings. It was impossible to immediately confirm the authenticity of the videos, or to determine exactly when and where they were recorded. If confirmed, the executions were likely to add to growing concerns about the conduct of the militias fighting to topple the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and particularly their treatment of prisoners.
In a brutal episode in late July, a group of rebel fighters was seen in a video executing several captives -- members of an Aleppo family accused of being enforcers for the government -- with a spray of gunfire. In recent days, other videos have captured summary executions by the rebels.
Speaking in Geneva on Monday, Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, warned of atrocities by both the government and its opponents. Both, she said, "deploy snipers that target civilians." Ms. Pillay also said the Syrian government's attacks on civilians and destruction of homes "may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity," according to a transcript of Ms. Pillay's remarks on her office's Web site.
And in a stern warning directed at antigovernment forces, Ms. Pillay noted the "undoubted climb in human rights violations" attributed to the rebels, including abductions and summary executions. "Opposition forces should be under no illusion that they will be immune from prosecution," she said.
In one of the videos showing the executed soldiers, a narrator claims that a rebel battalion called Salman al-Farisi was responsible for killing the men. A man who claimed to be a representative of the battalion, contacted through its Facebook page, condemned the killings but said he was not sure whether members of the militia were responsible for them. The video of the executions was subsequently removed from the battalion's Facebook page.
In a video posted by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a man attributes responsibility to a different battalion.
"Assad's dogs," the man says, panning the camera across the scene of bodies contorted in anguish or slumped in a fetal position. "God is great."
The leader of the Syrian Observatory, who uses the pseudonym Rami Abdul-Rahman for safety reasons, said that the exact location of the killings was not clear, but that the soldiers might have been part of a contingent from a military base in the Hanano district that rebel fighters attacked on Friday.
Also on Monday, Egypt's Foreign Ministry announced that it was convening a meeting of regional states to try to find a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict. Diplomats from Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were expected to meet in Cairo in the coming days -- an initiative that has been widely viewed as an effort by Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsi, to reassert his country's regional leadership role.
The prospects for that effort seemed questionable, at best: while Iran has been a strong supporter of Mr. Assad's government, Mr. Morsi has called for the Syrian president to step down. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have actively helped Mr. Assad's opponents, with weapons and other logistical support.
In a statement, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that the meeting would work toward the goals of ending violence, preserving Syria's territorial integrity, rejecting foreign military intervention and starting a political process that could achieve a "democratic, pluralist system."
Hala Droubi contributed reporting from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.
(September 7, 2012) -- CERNOBBIO, Italy -- US Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham on Friday urged Washington to help arm Syria's rebels with weapons and create a safe zone inside the country for a transition government. They also called for a far tougher position against Iran over its suspected -- and seemingly inexorable -- drive toward acquiring nuclear weapons capability.
McCain blasted President Barack Obama, who defeated him in the 2008 presidential election, for recently setting the "red line" for Syria at use of chemical weapons.
"If you're (Syrian President) Bashar Assad … maybe you interpret that to mean that you can do anything short of chemical weapons before the United States will intervene," the Republican from Arizona told the Ambrosetti Forum, a gathering of political and business leaders on the shores of Lake Como in Italy.
Lieberman and McCain -- who together with Graham have toured the volatile Middle East in recent days -- both argued that the longer the West waits the more jihadists will gain influence in the rebellion.
"We should be supplying weapons to the opposition to Assad (and) I strongly support the creation of a safe zone," said Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, who has since become a Connecticut independent.
"The opposition has effectively seized control of a piece of land in northern Syria," he said. "If we help them protect themselves from Assad's helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft they can establish a transitional government ... I am confident that if we set it up and told (the regime) that if they attacked it there would be a vigorous response, they would not attack it."
He said such a zone would enable potential future leaders now located in places like Istanbul and Paris to establish a presence among the people.
Recent Turkish efforts to push for just such action ran aground at the United Nations, due both to Russian and Chinese opposition as well as lack of enthusiasm in many Western countries for more direct involvement in Mideast tumult, especially after the less-than-stellar outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, agreed that people in the West are war-weary, but argued that if Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney "would speak out more forcefully about the consequences of doing nothing compared to the consequences of taking a calculated risk, public opinion would change."
"It is better to shape history than to see it pass by," he said.
Lieberman spoke of the human toll. "There is a slaughter going on," he said of the Syria conflict, whose death toll has reached about 25,000. "Everything that motivated all of us to get involved in Libya is happening in Syria, and more." He noted that "Assad is the number one ally in the Arab world of Iran, and Iran is that greatest threat to stability in the region and beyond the region at this point."
And on Iran, the three were united in a belief that economic sanctions will not cause Tehran to end its nuclear drive. McCain argued that with the notable exception of the case of Apartheid South Africa, "sanctions, when we look at history, rarely work" -- and in the case of Iran that's exacerbated by a sense that the nuclear program has the people's support.
"We have applied very tough economic sanctions on Iran and they have clearly affected the economy of Iran -- but they have not affected the nuclear program one iota," marveled Lieberman. "By its recalcitrance Iran is presenting the rest of the world with only two choices: Do we accept a nuclear Iran and try to contain it -- or do we take military action? That's a fateful decision that's got to be made in the months ahead."
Lieberman noted that the UN nuclear agency has shown "evidence that the Iranians are rushing toward having the capability to develop nuclear weapons (that) would be a total change of the balance of power in the Middle East and more broadly in the world," since Iran is a patron of terrorist groups. Lieberman said the "red line" should be the acquisition of capability as opposed to the actual construction of a nuclear weapon.
Graham said he did not expect Israel -- whose leaders have been saberrattling all year in what many suspect is a bluff aimed at sparking tougher Western action -- to forever remain inactive. But he argued that the US should be the one making military threats. "If the Iranians believed that there's a credible threat of a massive attack by the United States to disrupt their nuclear program and their regime's survivability, they will start thinking differently."
"I believe (Iranian leaders) feel that a nuclear weapon gives them complete immunity forever because the international community will leave them alone if they get that weapon," he said. "The one thing I know they cannot possibly believe is that they can survive a conflict with the United States."
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.