McCain, Lieberman, Graham, Urge Obama to Usher Assad Out

by Matthew Shaffer

Via Politico:  

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a joint statement that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown against pro-democracy protesters “has reached a decisive point.”

“By following the path of [Qadhafi] and deploying military forces to crush peaceful demonstrations, al-Assad and those loyal to him have lost the legitimacy to remain in power in Syria,” the senators said. “We urge President Obama to state unequivocally — as he did in the case of Qadhafi and [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak — that it is time for Assad to go.”

On Wednesday Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, criticized Obama’s response to the unrest in Syria and called for sanctions and the withdrawal of the U.S. ambassador.

More than 450 people have been killed by Syrian security forces amid weeks of anti-government demonstrations, according to The Associated Press.

Obama, the senators said Thursday, should pursue sanctions and other “tangible diplomatic and economic measures” to pressure leaders of the al-Assad regime to stop the crackdown…
“Rather than hedging our bets or making excuses for the Assad regime, it is time for the United States, together with our allies in Europe and around the world, to align ourselves unequivocally with the Syrian people in their peaceful demand for a democratic government.”

 

The Scene from Dara’a

by Matthew Shaffer

On Monday, army tanks entered Dara’a, the center of some much of Syria’s protests, in what was largely seen as a pivotal escalation on the Assads’ crackdown (they had previously relied on security forces, not the military). Reports emerging from inside the city now are quite frightening: 

In the besieged city of Dara’a, which has become a symbol of Syria’s uprising, residents on Wednesday told of shortages of bread and even baby formula. Some stick a pole wrapped in a scarf out the door to see whether snipers are lurking. Doctors in a mosque have resorted to using sewing needles to stitch wounds, amid shortages of bandages and disinfectant.

 

Some spoke of moments of camaraderie in the three-day blockade, as Palestinians from nearby refugee camps ferried canned food and bread by foot to Dara’a, a poor border town in a drought-stricken region where protests last month galvanized nationwide demonstrations. Others spoke of a deepening fear of snipers by day, raids by night and people so scared they would not open their doors, even to neighbors.

“Dara’a and its hinterland are a ghost town,” one resident of the area said as he fled across the border to Jordan on Wednesday. “You can’t go in and you can’t go out.”

As the crackdown in Dara’a entered its fourth day on Thursday, opposition activists reported a growing number of resignations from the Baath Party, which has ruled Syria in some fashion since 1963. Though the figures did not occupy senior positions, activists said the resignations were symbolically important, signaling the willingness of people to defy the inevitable repercussions and forego the privileges that membership secured.

Bahrain’s Crackdown

by Matthew Shaffer

Four Shiite protesters sentenced to death today, in the first trials related to the demonstrations that rocked Pearl Square earlier this year, with the combined Khalifa, Saudi, and UAE forces having largely quelled the protests. Hopefully not a sign of things to come:

 

A military court in Bahrain sentenced four Shiite protesters to death after convicting them on Thursday of killing two policemen during anti-government demonstrations last month, state media said.

Three other Shiite activists, who were also on trial, were sentenced to life in prison after they were convicted of playing a role in the policemen’s deaths.

The verdicts — which can be appealed — were the first related to Bahrain’s uprising. The kingdom’s Shiite majority has long complained of discrimination and is campaigning for greater freedoms and equal rights in the tiny, Sunni-ruled island nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Bahraini human rights groups blasted the verdict and said the trial, conducted in secrecy, had no legal credibility and was politically motivated.

“This verdict is a message from the government, determined to stop the democracy movement,” said Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “It’s a warning saying ‘this is how we will treat you if you continue to demand your rights.’”

Faced with unprecedented political unrest, Bahrain’s king declared martial law and invited troops from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Gulf countries to help quell Shiite dissent after weeks of street marches and bloody clashes in the capital Manama. At least 30 people have died since Feb. 15, when the anti-government protests erupted. Four opposition supporters have also died in police custody.

A Royal Sanction

by Matthew Shaffer

Syria’s ambassador to the U.K. isn’t invited to William and Kate’s wedding anymore.

U.N. Fails to Pass Syria Sanctions

by Matthew Shaffer

They couldn’t even get a press statement condemning the violence, over the strong objections of Russia… Via NYT

An attempt by the United States and its European allies to condemn Syria in the United Nations Security Council was rebuffed on Wednesday, as the willingness to intervene in the region — strong enough to lead to military action against Libya under similar circumstances just weeks ago — appeared to evaporate.

 

Envoys for several wary Council members that had agreed to at least abstain in the vote against Libya, particularly Russia, spoke out against any international intervention on Wednesday, while Lebanon would have found it impossible to support criticism given the influence Syria holds over it. The required unanimity among the 15 members for a press statement was impossible.

“The current situation in Syria, despite the increase in tension, does not represent a threat to international peace and security,” said Alexander Pankin, the Russian deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. Intervening would be “an invitation to civil war,” he said. All council members addressed the body after it became clear that no consensus would emerge.

 

More on the U.N. Security Council meeting here. Syria is resorting to the claim that the protesters are not, as it were, autochthonous, but are motored by foreign elements. Possible sanctions and resolutions were opposed by Russia, China, and Lebanon: 

 

“This unrest and riots in some of their aspects have hidden agendas,” Mr. Jaafari told reporters. “Some armed groups take advantage of the demonstrations; they get within the demonstrators and start shooting on the military men and the security forces. This is why there are many casualties.”

Mr. Jaafari also defended President Bashar Assad’s record, saying that more political reforms were coming on the heels of Mr. Assad’s decision to lift the emergency law.

“President Assad is a reformer himself, and he should be given the chance to fulfill his mission in reforming the political life in the country,” he said.

Government opponents openly mock both assertions. Syrians, not foreign agitators, are demanding basic freedoms that have been denied them for the 40 years in which the Assad family has run the country, they say. Although Mr. Assad, 45, promised reform when he inherited the presidency from his father 11 years ago, he has put none in place — instead, they say, the government has strangled any nascent reform movement by jailing its leaders for years.

But efforts by the Security Council to issue the mildest of statements criticizing Syria was postponed until at least Wednesday afternoon. Several member states — Russia, China and Lebanon — seemed firmly opposed, diplomats said, although the ambassadors of China and Lebanon would only note that further discussion was scheduled.

Syria Only Escalating

by Matthew Shaffer

Over 100 Syrians were killed during Friday’s post-prayer protests. Now tanks are entering Deraa, one of the main centers of demonstrations. Via Al Jazeera

 

More deaths have been reported in Syria where thousands of troops backed by tanks and heavy armour have swept into the volatile town of Deraa in the south of the country and the large Damascus suburb of Douma.

Security forces also continued a crackdown in the coastal town of Jableh for a second day.

Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Damascus, said the government’s offensive on Monday was an “unprecedented” offensive against the wave of dissent that has swept the country since the uprising began on March 15.

Witnesses in Deraa told news agencies on Monday that at least five people had been killed when gunmen opened fire on a car.

The vehicle was riddled with bullets, a witness told AFP. Intense gunfire could be heard reverberating across the town, he added.

NATO Now Striking Qaddafi Compound. Propaganda Outlets

by Matthew Shaffer

Mission creep much? David Kirkpatrick reports

NATO warplanes struck Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s compound here early Monday and bombed a state television facility in an escalation of the air campaign to aid the rebellion against his four decades in power.

 

The attack on the compound was the third since air raids began in mid-March, but the strike at the television facility was the most significant broadening yet of the NATO air campaign, suggesting that nonmilitary targets would be hit in an effort to break down the instruments of Colonel Qaddafi’s broader control.

A senior Libyan government official said Monday that the strike knocked state television off the air for about half an hour.

In the port of Misurata, 130 miles east of the capital, rebels reported that a widely publicized government pullback had given way to renewed shelling by government forces outside the city. The initial withdrawal by pro-Qaddafi forces over the weekend after a nearly two-month siege had bewildered some rebels.

Saleh Accepts GCC Deal; Protesters Skeptical

by Matthew Shaffer

Via the New York Times

Yemen’s embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, said Saturday that he accepted a proposal by Arab mediators that would shift power to his deputy 30 days from the signing of a formal agreement and grant him and his family, who occupy key positions in Yemen’s security apparatus, immunity from prosecution.

 

Mr. Saleh is a wily political survivor, and it was unclear whether his offer to step down was a real attempt to calm the political turmoil and growing demonstrations that have rocked his country for months or a way to shift blame for a stalemate to the opposition. His offer follows days of unrelenting pressure to step aside from Saudi Arabia and other neighboring states fearful of more instability in the region.

The president’s announcement set off a flurry of political maneuvering and meetings, but by the end of the night, it was far from clear that it would end the deadlock and ease him from power after 32 years of autocratic rule.

The agreement would require the opposition to halt the street protests and to take part in a coalition with Mr. Saleh’s ruling party. The opposition’s leader, Yassin Saeed Noman, said his coalition accepted the agreement in principle, but rejected those conditions, preferring to allow Mr. Saleh’s party to govern until he resigns and then join a power-sharing government. Mr. Noman also said the opposition lacked the power to force protesters from the streets.