’Secret steps’ adopted to change Syria balance

Updated 28 June 2013

’Secret steps’ adopted to change Syria balance

DOHA: World powers supporting Syria’s rebels decided on Saturday to take “secret steps” to change the balance on the battlefield, after the United States and others called for increasing military aid to insurgents.
Yet even as they prepared to step up their own involvement in a war that has killed nearly 100,000 people, they demanded that Iran and Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah stop supporting President Bashar Assad’s regime.
In their final communique, the ministers agreed to “provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground, each country in its own way in order to enable them to counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies and protect the Syrian people.”
Speaking in Doha, top Qatari diplomat Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani said the meeting of foreign ministers of the “Friends of Syria” had taken “secret decisions about practical measures to change the situation on the ground in Syria.”
Ministers from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States attended the talks.
Washington and Doha called for increasing military aid to end what US Secretary of State John Kerry called an “imbalance” in Assad’s favor.
Kerry said the United States remained committed to a peace plan that includes a conference in Geneva and a transitional government picked both by Assad and the opposition.
But he said the rebels need more support “for the purpose of being able to get to Geneva and to be able to address the imbalance on the ground.”
To that end, he said, “the United States and other countries here — in their various ways, each choosing its own approach — will increase the scope and scale of assistance to the political and military opposition.”
Sheikh Hamad echoed Kerry’s remarks, calling for arms deliveries to the rebels to create a military balance that could help forge peace.
A peaceful end “cannot be reached unless a balance on the ground is achieved, in order to force the regime to sit down to talks,” he told the ministers.
“Getting arms and using them could be the only way to achieve peace.”
On Thursday, the rebel Free Syrian Army said it was already receiving unspecified new types of arms that could change the course of the battle, but also said it needed anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons.
In their communique, the ministers agreed that all military aid provided would be chanelled through the FSA’s Supreme Military Council.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the ministers demanded that predominantly Shiite Iran and Hezbollah stop meddling in the war by supporting Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
“We have demanded that Iran and Hezbollah end their intervention in the conflict,” said Fabius.
“Hezbollah has played a terribly negative role, mainly in the attack on Qusayr,” a strategic town recaptured from rebels earlier this month with the group’s help.
“We are fully against the internationalization of the conflict,” he told reporters.
Kerry also accused Assad of an “internationalization” of the conflict, which has claimed nearly 100,000 lives, by bringing in Iran and Hezbollah.
And the final communique said the crossing into Syria of militia and fighters that support the regime, a clear reference to Hezbollah, “must be prevented.”
The ministers also warned of the “increasing presence and growing radicalism” and “terrorist elements in Syria.”
It is “a matter that deepens the concerns for the future of Syria, threatens the security of neighboring countries and risks destabilising the wider region and the world,” they said.
Sheikh Hamad also voiced support for a peace conference but insisted there could be no role in the future government for “Assad and aides with bloodstained hands.”
He accused Assad’s regime of wanting to block the Geneva conference in order to stay in power, “even if that costs one million dead, millions of displaced and refugees, and the destruction of Syria and its partition.”
The final communique stated that Assad “has no role in the transitional governing body or thereafter.”
On the ground, loyalist forces pressed a fierce four-day assault on rebel-held parts of Damascus, while insurgents launched a new attack on regime-controlled neighborhoods of second city Aleppo.
Saturday’s developments come as the military pushed on with its bid to end the insurgency in and around Homs in central Syria, said the Observatory.
They also come a day after at least 100 people were killed nationwide, it added.


Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

Updated 32 min 7 sec ago

Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

  • Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the Gemmayzeh district came days after Macron took a tour of the same street last week
  • Students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives and provide emergency support

BEIRUT: Arriving in Lebanon after last week’s deadly Beirut blast, US envoy David Hale bypassed politicians to head straight to a hard-hit neighborhood where young volunteers are helping people abandoned by their state.
At the volunteer hub dubbed the “Base Camp,” there is a “focus on getting things done,” Hale told a press conference after his tour.
He contrasted the hive of activity to the “dysfunctional governance and empty promises” of Lebanon’s political leaders, who face public outrage over the explosion of a vast stock of ammonium nitrate stored for years at Beirut’s port.
Volunteer efforts “could not only be tapped to rebuild Beirut but (also) to undertake necessary reforms that will bring the kind of transformation that is necessary for Lebanon,” Hale said.
In the wake of the August 4 explosion of a the huge chemical store that laid waste to whole Beirut neighborhoods, students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives, provide emergency support and start to rebuild.
Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the blast-hit Gemmayzeh district came days after French President Emmanuel Macron took a tour of the same street last Thursday, as well as meeting Lebanese leaders.
But while Macron was welcomed as a savior, it was clear that the heroes of the moment were the volunteers.
“I don’t know why (Hale) would do that second step and go to meet politicians,” said Wassim Bou Malham, 33, who leads a database management team at the Base Camp.
“The aid is happening here, the data collection is happening here, the cleaning is happening here, the reconstruction is happening here,” he told AFP.
Wearing face masks and neon vests, volunteers sounded like international experts as they explained how they were cleaning up their government’s mess.
In fluent English, they described 3D mapping operations, data collection and relief efforts organized since the cataclysmic blast.
Bou Malham, who spoke with Hale during the tour, is not a data expert but picked up useful experience managing client databases for two of Beirut’s biggest nightclubs.
After the blast tore through the city, wounding 6,500 people and displacing 300,000 from their homes, his skills became vital for the aid effort.
The digitised database developed by Bou Malham and his team of volunteers is now critical for sorting and delivering aid to thousands of blast survivors.
“We haven’t seen any government official or representative actually come in here and ask us if we need anything,” he said.
“It’s so funny that David Hale is the first.”
It is not only in the Base Camp that the state has been thin on the ground.
In the first hours after the explosion, civil defense teams were vastly outnumbered by young volunteers flooding the streets to help.
By the next day, the latter had set up a camp where they offered food, medicine, temporary shelter and repair services to thousands of blast victims, in partnership with several non-governmental groups.
Operations have continued to expand since.
A Base Camp relief hotline received more than 200 calls in the first two hours. Volunteers have assessed the damage to around 1,200 homes and installed at least 600 wooden doors.
“The work is going to speak for itself,” said Bushra, a 37-year-old volunteer.
Simmering anger against Lebanon’s leaders has flared since the blast, which appears to have been caused by years of state corruption and negligence.
With 171 people dead, it is widely seen as the most tragic manifestation yet of the rot at the core of the country’s political system.
Western donors too are fed up with Lebanon’s barons, who have for years resisted reforms demanded by the international community.
In a joint statement released after an international donor conference organized by France in the wake of the disaster, world leaders called for aid to be delivered directly to the Lebanese people.
USAID acting administrator, John Barsa, said at the time that American help “is absolutely not going to the government.”
USAID “will increase its financial support to civil society groups in Lebanon by 30 percent to $6.627 million,” Barsa said in a press briefing on Thursday.
At the volunteer camp in Gemmayzeh, it was clear that funding would be put to good use.
Ziad Al-Zein, arrives before volunteers start their shifts at 9:00 am to ensure the camp is clean and secure.
The 33-year-old was among the first groups of volunteers clearing debris in Gemmayzeh.
“We are not speacialists in crisis management or catastophe management. We are learning things as we go,” he said.
“There is no state,” he added. “We will not abandon our fellow Lebanese in these conditions.”