[Marxism] Sarin gas in Syria?
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 4 08:39:23 MST 2012
On 12/4/12 10:20 AM, Ken Hiebert wrote:
> Rule #1: YOU MUST clip all extraneous text when replying to a message.
> The accusation that the Syrian government is preparing to sarin gas against Syrians is a dramatic development. i went to a number of sites that I would describe as pro-Assad. So far, none have responded to this story.
> ken h
NY Times December 4, 2012
Syrian Leader Hit by Setbacks in Fighting and Diplomacy
By ANNE BARNARD and ELLEN BARRY
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Fierce fighting on the battlefield and setbacks on the
diplomatic front increased pressure on the embattled Syrian government
as fresh signs emerged on Tuesday of a sustained battle for control of
the capital, Damascus.
News reports quoted activists as saying that fighting was raging in the
southern suburbs of Damascus and near the international airport for a
fifth straight day as government forces sought to dislodge rebels and
reverse their recent gains.
While the government has superior firepower and rebels are reporting
heavy losses, loyalist forces have been carrying out a serious
counteroffensive in the suburbs without being able to subdue the insurgents.
The latest reports followed developments on Monday when a senior Turkish
official said that Russia had agreed to a new diplomatic approach to
seek ways to persuade President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power, a
possible weakening in Russia’s steadfast support for the Syrian government.
In Damascus, a prominent Foreign Ministry spokesman was said to have
left the country amid reports of his defection, and President Obama and
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued warnings that any use
of chemical weapons by a desperate government would be met with a strong
international response. The NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh
Rasmussen, echoed this warning on Tuesday.
“The possible use of chemical weapons would be completely unacceptable
to the whole international community,” Mr. Rasmussen said, according to
A Western diplomat confirmed that there were grave concerns in United
States intelligence circles that Syrian leaders could resort to the use
of the weapons as their position deteriorates.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry, repeating earlier statements, told state
television that the government “would not use chemical weapons, if it
had them, against its own people under any circumstances.”
The United Nations said it was withdrawing nonessential international
staff from Syria, and the European Union said it was reducing activities
in Damascus “to a minimum,” as security forces pummeled the suburbs with
artillery and airstrikes in a struggle to seal off the city from its
restive outskirts and control the airport road. A senior Russian
official spoke for the first time in detail about the possibility of
evacuating Russian citizens.
The United Nations World Food Program reported on Tuesday that “the
recent escalation of violence in Syria is making it more difficult to
reach the country’s hardest-hit areas.”
“Food insecurity is on the rise due to bread shortages and higher food
prices in many parts of the country. High prices are also affecting
neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees,” the organization said in
“Road access to and from Damascus has become more dangerous, making it
difficult to dispatch food from World Food Program warehouses to some
parts of the country, the organization said, adding that there had been
increasing indiscriminate attacks on its trucks in different parts of
It also said it would relocate seven nonessential staff members to
neighboring Jordan while about “20 international and 100 national W.F.P.
staff remain in the country to carry out the emergency operation to feed
1.5 million vulnerable Syrians.” Mr. Assad has held on longer than many
had predicted at the start of the 21-month uprising. He still has a
strong military advantage and undiminished support from his closest
ally, Iran. Military analysts doubt the rebels are capable of taking
Damascus by force, and one fighter interviewed on Monday said the
government counteroffensive was taking a heavy toll. There were still no
firm indications from Russia that it was ready to join Turkey and
Western nations in insisting on Mr. Assad’s immediate departure.
But the latest grim developments follow a week of events that suggested
the Assad government was being forced to fight harder to keep its grip
on power. Rebels threatened its vital control of the skies, using
surface-to-air missiles to down a fighter plane and other aircraft. The
opposition also gained control of strategic military bases and their
arsenals, and forced the government to shut down the Damascus airport
periodically. The Internet was off for two days.
A Russian political analyst with contacts at the Foreign Ministry said
that “people sent by the Russian leadership” who had contact with Mr.
Assad two weeks ago described a man who has lost all hope of victory or
“His mood is that he will be killed anyway,” Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of
a Russian foreign affairs journal and the head of an influential policy
group, said in an interview in Moscow, adding that only an “extremely
bold” diplomatic proposal could possibly convince Mr. Assad that he
could leave power and survive.
“If he will try to go, to leave, to exit, he will be killed by his own
people,” Mr. Lukyanov said, speculating that security forces dominated
by Mr. Assad’s minority Alawite sect would not let him depart and leave
them to face revenge. “If he stays, he will be killed by his opponents.
He is in a trap. It is not about Russia or anybody else. It is about his
Many observers — United Nations personnel in Syria, Arab diplomats and
opposition activists — stress that it is difficult to reliably assess
the state of the government. But taken together, the day’s events
suggested that the government’s position was declining more sharply than
it had in months and that an international scramble to find a solution
to the crisis was intensifying.
Nabil al-Araby, the head of the Arab League, said on Monday that the
government could fall at “any time,” Agence France-Presse reported.
The Arab League has long called for Mr. Assad to step down. But Russia,
Mr. Assad’s most powerful ally, has held out the possibility of his
staying in power during a transition, so the Russian government’s
apparent shift of emphasis carried more weight.
Mikhail Bogdanov, a deputy foreign minister, told Itar-Tass that Russia
was ready to provide assistance to any of its citizens wishing to leave
Syria. Tens of thousands of Russians live there, mainly women married to
Syrian men after years of cold-war cooperation between the countries. He
said their route out would most likely be by plane.
After meeting in Istanbul on Monday, President Vladimir V. Putin of
Russia and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said they had agreed
on a new approach to resolving the conflict.
“We are neither protecting the regime in Syria nor acting as their
advocate, but remain worried about Syria’s future,” Mr. Putin said at a
joint news conference with Mr. Erdogan.
Mr. Putin did not elaborate, though Mr. Bogdanov said Russia would meet
intensively with Syrian opposition groups based inside the country in
the coming month. A senior Turkish official, speaking anonymously in
accordance with diplomatic protocol, said plans included looking for
ways to get Mr. Assad to step down. Russia has previously said it is not
wedded to Mr. Assad, but the official suggested it was now more
motivated to find an alternative.
“There is definitely a softening of the Russian political tone,” the
Turkish official said, adding that Mr. Putin had acknowledged that Mr.
Assad seemed unwilling to depart.
Yet, doubts remain about whether Russia can engineer a breakthrough. The
Kremlin has insisted the crisis would be resolved only through
negotiations between Syria’s government and its opponents, and its top
envoy to Syria has quietly continued to meet with defectors from Mr.
Assad’s government and members of the opposition.
But Russia has typically engaged mainly with Syria-based opposition
groups, which the exile opposition and many in the uprising say are too
close to the government
Lebanon’s Al-Manar television reported that a Syrian Foreign Ministry
spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, had been fired for making statements that did
not reflect the government’s position. Activists said he had defected.
Mr. Makdissi, whose polished persona and fluent English had long made
him one of the most cosmopolitan faces of the government, had not taken
reporters’ phone calls or made public statements recently.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who uses a pseudonym for safety reasons and is the
director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain,
said that Mr. Makdissi had met his family in Beirut, where they had been
staying, and was believed to have boarded a flight for London. He said
Mr. Makdissi had earlier angered some in the Syrian government with a
statement saying Syria would use chemical weapons only against a foreign
invasion — weapons the government prefers not to acknowledge it has.
Analysts say the rebels are forcing the government to devote forces to
Damascus, and their offensive could hasten the loss of control in other
parts of the country.
“We feel a change in the security situation,” said Muhannad Hadi, the
Syria director of the World Food Program. “You hear sounds of
explosions, you hear shelling, you don’t know where it’s taking off or
where it’s landing,” Mr. Hadi said. “It’s becoming part of daily life.”
Anne Barnard reported from Beirut, Lebanon, and Ellen Barry from Moscow.
Reporting was contributed by Alan Cowell in London, Sebnem Arsu in
Istanbul, Peter Baker in Washington, Hwaida Saad, Neil MacFarquhar and
Hania Mourtada in Beirut, and Christine Hauser in New York.
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