Syria Live Coverage: Insurgents Change the Situation on the Ground

Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 10:45 | Scott Lucas in EA Live – Friday’s Syria Live Coverage: International Meeting in London Discusses Support for “New” Opposition

1450 GMT: Turkey/Syria Reuters carries an unconfirmed report from German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung which claims — citing unnamed sources — that Turkey will ask NATO on Monday for permission to set up missiles on its border with Syria. Sueddeutsche Zeitung also claims that up to 170 German soldiers could be dispatched as part of the mission. Asked about the claims, a Turkish government official said:

    As we have said before, there have been talks between Turkey and NATO and NATO allies on various issues regarding the security risks and challenges and possible responses to issues regarding Turkey-NATO territories. Normally we could not reveal the nature of NATO deliberations while they continue.

1430 GMT: Syria An op-ed in the New York Times on Thursday by Simon Adams, the director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, raised the spectre of future massacres in Syria:

    At a recent meeting hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Peter W. Galbraith, a former American ambassador who witnessed ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, made a chilling prediction. “The next genocide in the world,” he said, “will likely be against the Alawites in Syria.”

    A few months ago, talk of possible massacres of Alawites, who dominate Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, seemed like pro-regime propaganda. Now, it is a real possibility.    (…)

    Governments that have publicly committed themselves to helping end Syria’s misery, including the United States, must immediately do two things to help prevent a violent backlash against Alawites and other minorities. First, they must impress upon the newly united Syrian opposition that support depends on strict adherence to international humanitarian law. Armed groups who advocate fracturing Syria along sectarian or regional lines should be denied funds; there should be absolutely no aid for rebel groups who target Alawites and other minorities for reprisals or who commit war crimes.

    Second, outside governments should intensify their efforts to hold all perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable at the International Criminal Court, regardless of their allegiance. That also means allocating funds for additional United Nations human rights monitors on the Syrian border in order to collect evidence and testimony for future prosecutions.

1417 GMT: Syria The new Syrian opposition coalition has appointed an Ambassador to France, following this mornings announcement by French President Hollande and new opposition head Moaz al-Khatib. AP reports:

    Al-Khatib said the new envoy will be academic Mounzir Makhous, describing him as “one of the first to speak of liberty” in Syria. He holds four doctorate degrees and belongs to the Muslim Alawite sect of Islam, like Syrian President Bashar Assad, al-Khatib said. The new envoy was at the talks Saturday in Paris.

    It was widely believed that France might agree to the appointment of an ambassador but not before a provisional Syrian government was formed. Al-Khatib suggested that a provisional government would come quickly.

    “We have no hidden agenda,” al-Khatib said in a bid to reassure other nations.

1402 GMT: Syria The United Nations has written a letter of protest to the Syrian government after the regime claimed it had permission from the UN to attack rebels in the Golan Heights. In the letter, sent late on Thursday, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous wrote:

    We regard it as a serious matter that Syrian authorities would claim that a United Nations senior official would approve activities in violation of Security Council resolutions.

Ladsous went on to say that the UN “strongly denied” the claim by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad that the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) commander had given the approval for Syrian military operations.

    On the contrary, the force commander informed the Syrian authorities that should the SAAF (Syrian Arab Armed Forces) proceed with the operations, UNDOF would protest officially.

1301 GMT:Syria More on the claims that rebels took Hamdan airport yesterday. An activist website describes the site as “a pumping station with a couple of short 1.2km runways and no other obvious military airport equipment”, adding that “there is at least one tank which has been captured, BMPs and military trucks”. The captured tank can be seen in this video:

There is also a currently unverified claim by Washington based activist academic Murhaf Jouejati that there were “37 defectors from Hamadan air force base”.

1238 GMT:Syria Reuters reports that a Turkish cameraman who was captured by Syrian forces in August has been released. Cuneyt Unal, who works for the US funded al-Hurra station went missing shortly after entering Syria in August. His colleague, Bashar Fahmi from Jordan, is still missing.

1107 GMT: Syria. Reports continue that the Free Syrian Army has taken Hamdan airport in the northeast, wth activists saying that this video verifies the claim:

1040 GMT: Syria. Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, held talks today in Paris with French President Francois Hollande on “ways and means to assure the protection of liberated zones, humanitarian aid for refugees and the constitution of a provisional government”.

Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met Khatib and SNC Vice Presidents Riad Seif and Suheir Atassi, four days after France became the first Western country to recognize the Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

The three SNC leaders met British Foreign Secretary William Hague in London on Friday.

Hague said Britain would decide within days whether to officially recognise the Coalition. He set the conditions of expanded support within Syria and observance of human rights and international law.

0640 GMT: Syria. We noted this week, amid all the political manoeuvring over the creation of the opposition Syrian National Coalition and possible support for it, that the effective change was coming through the insurgency inside the country.

More evidence for that on Friday — a one-day international meeting in London reached no apparent conclusions on aid to the Coalition and the insurgents. The British hosts made their caution clear in the morning, setting conditions for formal recognition of the opposition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Doing so, they followed the US line and maintained distance from France, Turkey, and the six Arab States of the Gulf Cooperation Council, all of whom have given their endorsement to the Coalition.

So the day’s telling events came from protests, deadly clashes, and the insurgent advance. The insurgents, having taken Al Bukamal in the northeast, pressed the advantage, attacking Hamdan airport and claiming the killing and defection of dozens of regime soldiers. The Local Coordination Committees documented 497 demonstrations throughout the country, with 121 of them in Hama Province and 104 in Idlib Province.

Some of those protesters paid the highest of costs. Dozens were reportedly killed in the Bustan Qasr section of Aleppo, cut down by security forces. They were among 122 people who were slain on Friday.