VP at odds with Assad over Syria war

Updated 19 December 2012
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VP at odds with Assad over Syria war

BEIRUT: Syria’s vice president has acknowledged that the army cannot defeat the rebel forces trying to topple the regime and called for a negotiated settlement to save the country from ruin.

The rare, candid comments by Farouk Al-Sharaa, a longtime close aide to President Bashar Assad’s family, suggested his embattled regime may be contemplating an exit strategy as rebel forces move closer to the capital Damascus. He spoke in an interview published Monday by Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.
“I don’t see that what the security forces and army units are doing will lead to a definitive victory,” Al-Sharaa was quoted as saying in the interview conducted in Damascus.
“All these opposition forces can only conclude the battle to topple the regime if their goal is to push the country into chaos and a cycle of violence that has no end,” he added.
Al-Sharaa pushed for a negotiated political settlement that includes the formation of a national unity government with wide jurisdiction.
His comments coincided with a step-by-step peace plan for Syria outlined by Iranian officials on Sunday. It would be capped by Syrian elections that presumably could usher in a new leader in Damascus.
Tehran is Assad’s closest and perhaps only remaining regional ally and the initiative suggests its embrace of the Syrian president could be cooling.
The initiative — while almost certain to be rejected by Syrian rebel factions — marks one of the clearest signals yet that Iran’s leadership is looking to hedge its bets and remain a player in Syrian affairs if Assad is toppled.
It was unclear whether Al-Sharaa’s comments were timed to coordinate with the Iranian initiative.
“Despite his rhetoric, Bashar Assad may now be contemplating an exit strategy — one which would allow him to seek refuge abroad with his neck intact,” said Anthony Skinner, an analyst at Maplecroft, a British risk analysis company.
In Washington, US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the statement by Al-Sharaa “speaks to the pressure that the Syrian regime is under.”
“Regrettably, however, it hasn’t changed the regime’s behavior, including the brutality it’s inflicting on its own people,” she added.
Al-Sharaa, 73, a longtime loyalist to the Assad family, has been a controversial figure since the start of the uprising.
He appeared in public in late August for the first time in weeks, ending repeated rumors that he had defected. The regime has suffered a string of prominent defections in recent months, though Assad’s inner circle and military have largely kept their cohesive stance behind him. Assad and his inner circle are predominantly Alawites, a minority sect that is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The opposition is dominated by the majority Sunni Muslims.
Early on in the uprising, the Syrian president delegated to Al-Sharaa, a skilled diplomat, responsibility for holding a dialogue with the opposition. A Sunni from the southern town of Daraa, birthplace of the Syrian uprising, Al-Sharaa’s silence since the start of the uprising made him a prime candidate for rumors that he broke with the regime.
His comments after a long silence suggest he may have been given a green light to sound out readiness for a political settlement.
Syrian rebels have made significant tactical advances in the past weeks, capturing air bases and military installations near Syria’s largest city of Aleppo and in the capital Damascus. On Sunday, an Islamist faction took an infantry base in Aleppo, a second army base that was captured from the troops in the northern city in a week.
Also, Western nations are talking of stepped up aid to the rebels. And there were mixed messages last week from Assad’s key international ally Russia, which tried to backpedal after a top diplomat said Assad is losing control of his country.
Al-Sharaa offered an unusually bleak public assessment of the civil war and even criticized how the government has handled the crisis.
“Every day that passes, the military and political solution gets more elusive,” he said. “We need to be in a position to defend Syria. We are not in a battle for an individual or a regime.”
In October, the Turkish leadership appeared to be making a diplomatic push to promote Al-Sharaa as a possible figure to head a transitional administration to end the conflict.
“No one knows the system better than Farouk Al-Sharaa,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at the time, adding that Al-Sharaa has not been involved in the violence and massacres.
The Syrian opposition is deeply fragmented, and various factions would likely disagree on whether they would accept him to lead a transitional government. Al-Sharaa, in the interview, said he was not seeking such a role.
Violence across many parts of the country, including a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus, flared again on Monday.
US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the United States is “deeply concerned” by reports that dozens of civilians were killed or wounded in Yarmouk camp as a result of aerial bombardment and fighting between Syrian government forces and armed opposition.
At least eight people were killed in the airstrike on Yarmouk Sunday, according to Syrian activists.
Ninette Kelley, a Lebanon representative for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said 22 buses carrying 100 Palestinian families from Yarmouk crossed into Lebanon in the past 24 hours, fleeing the violence.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem claimed the clashes at the camp were triggered by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Al-Nusra group, which was designated by the Obama administration a terrorist organization last week. He warned Palestinians inside the camp not to harbor terrorist fighters.
Syria’s official news agency SANA said Moallem’s remarks were made during a telephone call with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Separately, Italy’s government said three workers at a Syrian steel plant, including an Italian, have been kidnapped.
The Foreign Ministry did not say where or when the kidnappings occurred. But it said the plant is located in the regime stronghold of Latakia city on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. The ministry statement said the two workers kidnapped with the Italian were citizens of other countries, but did not identify them further.
Sky TG24 TV in Italy reported the other two hostages are Russians, but there was no immediate confirmation of that.


Campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

Updated 24 April 2018
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Campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

  • Lebanon's independent Sabaa party talks about exploitation of positions and money.
  • Several young men from the Sabaa party demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior.
BEIRUT: Sectarian and partisan polarization resulting from fierce competition for parliamentary seats in Lebanon has led to the first armed clash between two rival Druze parties.
Machine guns were used in the clash between the Progressive Socialist Party, led by MP Walid Jumblatt, and the Lebanese Democratic Party, led by Talal Arslan, which took place on Sunday evening in the city of Choueifat, about 5 km south of Beirut.
The two parties’ leaders acted quickly to calm their supporters.
“When politicians plant seeds of hatred and grudges among people, they commit a crime against citizens who have been breaking bread together for centuries,” Jumblatt said in a tweet.
In a joint statement, the two parties stressed “the need to avoid any steps that could provoke anger among supporters or disturb citizens who look forward to freely exercising their right to vote in an atmosphere of democratic competition.”
The two parties, alongside other parties with supporters in Choueifat, such as Hezbollah, the Lebanese Forces, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Amal Movement, have agreed on “disowning anyone who breaches security, requesting that the security forces intensify their presence in Choueifat, identifying fixed locations until the elections are over, and restraining from carrying out provocative processions.”
Campaigning lasts 24 hours before polling and has seen various kinds of violations of the electoral law.
Several young men from the Sabaa party — a group of independent activists — demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior, carrying banners questioning the ministry’s role in election-related issues.
“Serious violations are taking place because the country is out of control; many are exploiting their positions and pouring (in) their money, and conflicts are happening at grassroots level — people are tearing down photos of candidates and individuals are fighting with one another,” said Gilbert Hobeish on behalf of the demonstrators.
He added: “This is unacceptable, and the minister of interior must take responsibility.”
Hobeish criticized the Electoral Supervisory Commission, saying “it only oversees the civil society or change candidates.”
“We reject this in toto,” he said.
Ali Al-Amin, a candidate on the Shbaana Haki electoral list (who was assaulted last Sunday by Hezbollah supporters in the town of Shaqra because he hung his photo outside his house), held a press conference in the town of Nabatiyah Al-Fawqa and renewed his protest against “the tyranny that silences voices, oppresses liberties and acts on its own will and temperaments, making us feel as if we were in the law of the jungle era.”
He said that “resistance isn’t anyone’s property nor is it one party’s ownership.”
He also called on “the free people of the south to decide which life they wanted and to which homeland and identity they belonged.”
Campaign fever is rising in Lebanon 48 hours before the elections are held for the first time for Lebanese communities in several Arab countries. These elections are to be held 11 days before parliamentary elections take place inside Lebanon.