’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.


Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

Updated 19 October 2019

Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

  • A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut
  • In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands

BEIRUT: Lebanese celebrities joined thousands of protesters on the streets of Beirut on Saturday to voice their anger at the country’s ruling elite.
Singers, actors and playwrights were among a host of high-profile artists who backed demands for action over government corruption and to counter Lebanon’s spiralling economic crisis.
Beirut has been shrouded in smoke for three days following widespread protests and rioting over government tax plans.
A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut and crying inconsolably about her financial state.
The actress, wearing jeans and her face blackened, told protesters: “I am Nadine Al-Rassi. I was hungry for seven days. I have debts. Banque du Liban (Lebanon’s central bank) seized my house and I am unable to rent a home. Corrupt people should be held responsible.”


In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands, saying: “This is the first time I wish I were in Lebanon. My heart is with you.”
In another tweet, the high-profile singer, one of the Middle East’s best-selling performers, said: “I proudly follow the news of Beirut and its citizens ... who are demanding a decent life. It is time for people to get back their dignity.”
Meanwhile, singer and composer Ragheb Alama expressed his dismay at a Council of Ministers plan to impose a daily fee on WhatsApp calls.
“The people’s misfortunes are not funny. Why don’t you tax the polluted air people breathe? It is a great idea that brings money to your fathers’ treasury, too,” he wrote.
Alama accused the Parliament of responsibility for the country’s dire economy: “Why do deputies receive money, privileges and overheads, and what have they done? They covered up for looting and stealing for decades. They are responsible for destroying the economy and the country.”
Nancy Ajram, one of the Arab world’s most popular singers, wrote on Twitter: “My heart goes out to my country every moment and with every heartbeat. We are a people who deserves to live and it is our right to live with dignity. May God protect Lebanon.”
Singer and actress Haifa Wehbe tweeted: “There is nothing better than the Lebanese people when they stand in unity and under one slogan, without any political affiliation. We are all for our country.”
Comedian and prime-time TV host Hisham Haddad was among celebrities who joined protesters at Riad El-Solh Square, near the Prime Minister’s office, site of the biggest centralized demonstrations.
Actress Maguy Bou Ghosn, singer Moeen Shreif, actors Abdo Chahine, Badih Abou Chakra and Junaid Zeineldine, playwright Ziad Itani and musician Ziyad Sahhab also joined the protests.
Actor Wissam Hanna called on Twitter for protesters to close the Beirut Airport road to stop corrupt officials fleeing the country.
“I am all for closing down the airport road to stop thieves from fleeing. I am all for recovering stolen funds. Lebanon rises, revolts and it is time to hold them accountable,” he wrote.
Actress Gretta Aoun said: “We have to take to the streets. They must know the extent of our pain.”