When talking about Syria, it is critical to know who the players are on the ground in this complex “warscape.”
With so many “dirty players” it is important to protect one’s reputation if there is something to be protected.
The main player is Bashar al-Assad who, it is said, will do whatever it takes to hang onto his dictatorship, which doesn’t have anything to do with reputation at all. This couldn’t have been more clear at the Geneva 2 conference. It seemed that the US [Secretary Kerry] was the only one taken aback that Assad’s delegation came to Geneva 2 arrogantly unwilling to accept the Geneva 1 communique as it was written. Assad’s delegation said they accepted the Geneva 1 communique; however, they had a different understanding of its intent.
Despite all the run up conversations before the Geneva 2 conference, the Assad delegation stated that there was no basis for Assad to step aside and accept a transitional government. Simply put, they said “It is not going to happen.” In fact, Assad has said several times recently that he is interested in letting the people decide, therefore he wants to run for President in elections again in June.
Obviously, it is too late for Assad to get a do over, and there was a thought that he could walk away and allow for a transitional government according to the Geneva 1 Communique. However, Assad’s delegation to the Geneva 2 conference made it clear that Assad has no intention of stepping down. He is too egocentric to go that route.
On January 31st, a U.S. State Department Senior Official said, “It’s a very bitter, very nasty conflict on the ground in Syria, 130,000 dead, and you don’t expect to solve a conflict like that in a week or two. I wish it were otherwise. I wish that the Syrian Government had engaged in a more substantive way to the ideas put forward by the opposition forces coalition this week [at Geneva 2] on how a transition governing body might be established, but they didn’t. And so we hope for a more substantive discussion in round two.
Assad has shown his commitment to the Geneva process by upping the ante. As the war has progressed into a blood bath, Bashar al-Assad pulled in all his resources to ensure “he will win this war no matter what.” The Syrian warscape has changed dramatically over the last 36 months, and the period since the inception of Geneva 2 has been no different. Each month, it is said that “regime tactics get dirtier than ever before.”
One example of the regime’s new tactics is a rather crude and very deadly barrel bomb, made from oil drums or cylinders packed with explosives and metal fragments. These can clearly be seen in use in the video below, being dropped from helicopters. The regime has increased the intensity of their attacks, designating many targets that have a major impact on civilians. On January 31st, the Syrian Coalition and the Friends of Syria “condemned in the strongest terms the continued use of barrel bombs, ballistic missiles and heavy artillery by the regime against the Syrian people, as being in full contradiction with the Geneva process as well as basic human rights principles.”
Assad Barrels | Daraya by Syrian Zero
Filmed by activists in the southern Damascus suburb of Daraya, this ten minute video is a compilation of footage between January 25 – January 31st 2014, showing barrels, loaded with TNT, being dropped on the neighborhood during the week the Geneva II conference was convened.
The Assad regime has also begun using one of the most drastic weapons of war, and an ancient one at that. This weapon is low tech and low cost; however, the cost to the victims is monumental. The strategy, which is most certainly a war crime, is called “surrender or starve”. This tactic deprives the opponent of nutritious food for a period of time until they are no longer able to go without food. No humanitarian aid is allowed in and no people are allowed out.
The theory is that at some point the opponent will surrender rather than starve to death. The miscalculation in Assad’s plan is that Syrians would rather starve to death than become his captive by any other means. It is well known what happens to people who become captives in Assad’s prison chambers. Some are too elderly or too young to make any decision at all.
There are towns throughout Syria that are being held hostage by the regime. On January 31st, a Senior Official of the U.S. State Department expressed outrage at the regime’s use of “surrender or starve.” The Official went on to say, “It is all the more important that the Geneva II process lead to tangible and immediate benefits to the Syrian people. We call on the international community to use all its influence to secure full humanitarian access throughout Syria without delay. The regime must let UN convoys have access to the old city of Homs, as proposed by the UN and accepted by the opposition.” They had additionally asked for access to Yarmouth, and Damascus suburbs such as East Ghouta.
Who Is Blocking Aid?
There is often confusion regarding who is blocking humanitarian aid, especially when it isn’t specifically regime forces. On January 31st, the State Department released a statement that said “the opposition” was blocking food convoys for about 45,000 people in Zahra, Nebul and a town nearby called Fua. After research with the help of Syrian Activist Yalla Souriya, NewsBlaze had different findings. It is clear that the towns being held under siege are held by elements other than the Syrian opposition.
Yalla Souriya provided the video below, which was leaked by a regime soldier (annotated English Translation provided) which clearly demonstrates that the Regime is colluding with “Loyalists” within the towns, to secure Nebul/Zahra and ultimately Aleppo.
The UN, the US State Department and others say there is a direct link between the regime and ISIS. Activists say it should not be ruled out that ISIS figures could be involved with the “Loyalists” present at the meeting shown in the video and ISIS is a coordinating factor in regime plans.
Assad Intelligence Brigade meeting with Zahra Shabiha Leaders and Aleppo Security Forces
Abridged Translation: Sectarian song for Hussein, We will lift Hussein’s Flag at Mennagh, We are the one concerned with the martyrdom – We have been martyrs for a long time – We will change that on the ground – We are all believers – Thus, I don’t want any to be afraid and to hesitate, … we are going to Mennagh. Each of you will join the battle, and should consider himself a civil servant. Those who want to volunteer, Nubel will have arms and men. The civil servants will get 50% on their normal wage. All Nebul problems are solved. Zahra and Nebul will become the capital of Aleppo. Tomorrow we will have the victory meeting. We organize ourselves into groups of 50 each and then provide the names of the members of your groups. I want men with arms and good military training. Don’t waste ammunition as it costs money. We will liberate Mennagh, bring all the equipment to Zahra and Nebul; and then some of you with a part of the equipment will attack Aleppo to open the road between Aleppo and Nebul/Zahra.
NewsBlaze provided the State Department with our research and after reviewing it, the State Department said:
“We note that the areas of Nebul and Zahra are also besieged. The problem is that the regime has blocked convoys to these areas and elements of the opposition have said they would. But let us place blame where blame is most due: this is a regime-generated problem.”
After evaluation of the information provided and their own assessment of the situation on the ground, the National Syrian Coalition had this to say:
“ISIS is the group besieging those towns and blocking aid convoys from coming in. The Syrian Coalition condemns this behavior and is strongly opposed to using aid as a weapon of war. These are the dirty tactics of the Assad regime and they do not represent the values of the Syrian opposition. Furthermore, we must emphasize that ISIS is not part of the Syrian opposition. Their values sharply differ from ours and in fact there is evidence that links elements of ISIS to the Assad regime.”
The Friends of Syria core group which includes Senior Officials from Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States, after having met in Geneva with the Syrian opposition delegation, led by the Syrian National Coalition, released the following statement about Assad’s “surrender or starve” strategy.
“We express outrage at the maintaining, by the regime, of its ‘starve or surrender’ strategy which in particular deprives hundreds of thousands of people in the suburbs of Damascus, in the old city of Homs and elsewhere, from receiving food and medicine, and at the arbitrary detention of tens of thousands of civilians. It is all the more important that the Geneva II process lead to tangible and immediate benefits to the Syrian people. We call on the international community to use all its influence to secure full humanitarian access throughout Syria without delay. The regime must let UN convoys have access to the old city of Homs, as proposed by the UN and accepted by the opposition.” – London 11 communique.
Outrage Is Not A Weapon
The London 11 may be outraged, but opponents do not respond to outrage. U.S. Secretary of State Kerry said in a press release this week that he cannot believe Assad’s “Staying Power.” Assad doesn’t stay in power on his own. He is backed by Russia who cannot afford to lose the Syrian war. The Russians are Assad’s guide, war chest, and mouthpiece as needed. This week it was Russia who said that Assad would be returning for round 2 of the Geneva 2 conference – actually Assad’s delegation. Assad also has support from Iran, which provides the Assad regime with Revolutionary Guard Support (including both Strategic and Tactical).
ISIS, the infidel ex-al-Qaeda group that is thought by most analysts, including the State Department, to be connected to Assad, has never been directly or indirectly attacked by Assad. However, ISIS has an interesting record of splintering the opposition or being in the right place at the right time to help Assad with besieging a town or using massacres to remove people from a problem area.
Assad’s “Staying Power” is easier to understand once the real dynamics are analyzed. He is killing citizens and growing terrorists to win the war so Russia can keep Tartus and the new oil deal to pay off Syria’s war debt, and so Iran can keep their direct pathway to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Then there is China, “the quiet veto power.” China has quite a lot invested in Syrian industry. An obvious question is: are they being quiet just in case things don’t go Assad’s way, giving them room to play either side of the fence?
The wakeup call for Syria is that there isn’t going to be much left above ground if a solution is not negotiated soon. The interested parties are polar opposites, each with their own clashing non-negotiable positions.