From the Editors
[The following monthly summaries on developments in Syria were compiled and published by the International Crisis Group (ICG). Jadaliyya Reports will update this post each month as subsequent monthly summaries are issued.]
Conflict’s transition to regional sectarian struggle continued to gain momentum. Regime continues to rely more heavily on foreign fighters: backed by Hizbollah fighters, Syrian army 5 June recaptured town of Qusayr near Lebanon border from rebels; launched offensives on Aleppo 11 June and Homs 29 June in bid to retake rebel-controlled areas. Iraqi Shiite militiamen reported to be streaming in in greater numbers, deploying in various parts of country. Rebel attack near military airport in Damascus 16 June reportedly killed at least 20 soldiers; 11 June massacre of Shiites in eastern village Hatla, reportedly carried out by opposition armed groups, further heightened sectarian tensions. Assembled in Cairo, leading Sunni clerics 13 June made joint call for jihad in Syria, endorsed by Egyptian President Morsi. Golan Heights border crossing briefly taken by rebels 6 June, recaptured a few hours later by Syrian army; Austria 11 June began withdrawing its UNDOF peacekeepers from Golan. U.S. 13 June committed to providing military support to rebels after assessing that regime has used chemical weapons; Friends of Syria group 22 June met in Doha to coordinate future arms delivery to Syrian rebels, while Russia 4 June defended planned delivery of MIGs and S-300 missiles to Syrian military saying it was in line with international law. Free Syrian Army (FSA) chief commander Salim Idriss 21 June affirmed FSA received arms shipments. Leaders at G8 summit 17-18 June failed to agree on resolution of Syrian conflict but committed to push for planned Geneva peace conference. UN/Arab League envoy Brahimi 25 June said Geneva conference unlikely until at least Aug as opposition doesn’t appear ready. Russia 26 June completed withdrawal of all military personnel from Syria due to security threat. UN 7 June launched largest ever humanitarian aid appeal of $5bn.
Fears of wider regional conflict grew after Israeli jets 5 May targeted military base in Damascus reportedly housing Iranian missiles for Hizbollah, killing several in first major Israeli strike. Followed reported earlier strike on shipment of weapons headed for Lebanon. In response, President Assad and Hizbollah threatened to turn Golan Heights into “resistance front”. Opposition accused regime forces of massacre, killing at least 50 people in Baida 2 May. Fighting ongoing in al-Qusayr between Syrian rebels and govt troops backed by Hizbollah fighters. Regime forces 8 May retook strategic town Khirbet Ghazaleh after 2-month bombardment, reestablished control of supply route to Daraa. Rebel Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade 12 May freed 4 Filippino UN peacekeepers captured 5 days earlier near Golan Heights. U.S. and Russia 7 May agreed to convene a new peace conference in Geneva in June; Syrian govt 24 May agreed “in principle” to attend but opposition Syrian National Coalition (NC) 30 May threatened to boycott conference if Hizbollah and Iran keep “invading” Syria. NC failed to elect new leader during talks in Istanbul. UNGA 15 May adopted resolution condemning ongoing violence in Syria; 31 May added militant group Jabhat al-Nusra to sanctions list due to al-Qaeda ties. EU 27 May lifted arms embargo on Syria; EU foreign policy chief Ashton said no current plans to deliver arms. Russia 28 May said it would honour contract to deliver S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Syrian govt; Israel suggested it could strike any Russian arms shipment to Syria.
Opposition further consolidated foothold in south with seizure of military base near Daraa 3 April, while regime forces mounted successful counter-attacks in Damascus, Homs, 14 April broke 6-month rebel siege of Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiya military compounds outside Maarat al-Numan in north. Fighting intensified in western city Al-Qusayr; Hizbollah fighters from Lebanon reported to be leading Al-Qusayr operation against rebels. Army 11 April launched retaliatory attacks on Sanamein and Ghabagheb villages in Deraa province, accused of harbouring deserters; dozens of civilians reported killed. Regime PM al-Halki survived bomb attack on his convoy in Damascus in which 6 died 29 April. 13 killed by car bomb in central Damascus 30 April. Reports emerged 22 April of several hundred civilians killed in alleged regime massacre SW of Damascus. Rebel armed group Jabhat al-Nusra 10 April refuted reports it had merged with al-Qaeda in Iraq but pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda central. UN set to investigate mounting allegations that regime is using chemical weapons. Rebels 22 April abducted 2 Aleppo archbishops. Opposition Syrian National Coalition (NC) PM Hitto 6 April begun talks to form interim govt; NC 22 April named George Sabra as interim leader. President Assad 16 April offered reduced prison sentences for some detained rebels. UN/Arab League envoy Brahimi 19 April deplored lack of cooperation from regime, urged UNSC action; denied rumours he plans to resign. 5 top UN humanitarian officials issued plea for international aid. U.S. 21 April said will double non-lethal aid for rebels to $250m; EU 22 April eased oil embargo for opposition, remains divided on arms ban.
First credible reports emerged of chemical weapons use: govt and rebels accused each other of firing a rocket loaded with chemical agents near Aleppo 19 March; opposition 25 March said govt killed 2, wounded 23 in chemical missile attack on Adra, near Damascus. 49 killed, including key pro-regime cleric, in attack on Damascus mosque 21 March; 20 killed in mortar attack on Damascus University 28 March. President Assad 22 March vowed to “cleanse” Syria of extremism. Rebel advance continued: rebels early March captured northern city Raqqa, their first entire provincial capital, began renewed push into Baba Amr, Homs. In Istanbul Syrian National Coalition (NC) 19 March elected Ghassan Hitto PM for rebel-held areas of Syria; NC leader Moaz al-Khatib resigned 24 March over “lack of help” from international community. At EU summit 15 March France and UK faced opposition to their proposal that EU arms embargo be lifted to allow arming of rebels. Rebel group “Martyrs of Yarmouk” 6 March captured 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers monitoring 1973 Israel-Syria armistice line in Golan, released 9 March. UN 25 March announced temporary withdrawal of some staff from Damascus citing insecurity. Syrian opposition opened embassy in Qatar 27 March, day after assuming Syrian seat at Arab League summit.
Month saw violence on part of regime further escalating, with use of Scud missiles, as UN 27 Feb warned of severe rise in refugees and a humanitarian situation “dramatic beyond description”. Rebels continue to consolidate hold on North and East, made several strategic gains. Renewed clashes reported in Aleppo end Feb; Human Rights Watch reported govt ballistic missile strikes in civilian areas killed over 100. Rebels launched new offensive on regime-stronghold Damascus. Car bomb 21 Feb killed dozens, injured over 200 in central Damascus near ruling Ba’ath party HQ. Reports emerged of worsening maltreatment and torture of prisoners in govt jails. UN/Arab League Envoy Brahimi 17 Feb, Syrian National Coalition (NC) 22 Feb announced support for NC leader Mouaz Khatib’s Jan initiative for conditional talks with regime; Brahimi called for talks between opposition and “acceptable delegation” from govt; Syrian FM Walid al-Moualem 25 Feb said regime is prepared to talk to armed opposition. EU 19 Feb renewed arms embargo on Syria for further 3 months with amendment allowing more non-lethal and technical support for civilian protection. NC 23 Feb threatened to boycott 28 Feb “Friends of Syria” meeting with Western backers due to lack of international condemnation following govt’s bombardment of Aleppo; rescinded after condemnations issued, Western states promised increased non-lethal aid. NC 22 Feb announced it would establish govt to run rebel “liberated” areas of country. Brahimi’s contract extended to end-2013.
Over 80 killed 15 Jan in reported govt missile strike at Aleppo University housing students, people displaced by conflict; over 100 killed same day in Basatin al-Hasawiya, outside Homs, reportedly by forces loyal to President Assad; over 70 bodies found massacred in Aleppo river 29 Jan. UN/Arab League Envoy Brahimi 29 urged UNSC to overcome differences, support plan for political transition, said country “being destroyed”. Following rare visit across conflict lines by UN humanitarian delegation, UN official 21 Jan said conditions “appalling”. President Assad 6 Jan pledged to continue fighting “terrorist” violence but offered national dialogue, constitutional referendum to end crisis; plan roundly rejected, as no indication he would step down as first stage of political transition. Islamist rebels 24 Jan reportedly raided civilian opposition organisations’ HQs in Saraqib. Rebels mid-month clashed with govt-leaning Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in NE; 11 Jan captured Taftanaz airbase, northern Idlib province. Israeli airstrike on convoy in Syria reportedly carrying weapons to Lebanon 30 Jan. Exile Syrian National Coalition leader Khatib 30 Jan set conditions for opposition’s direct talks with regime representatives; prospect rejected immediately by Syrian National Council component of National Coalition. National Coalition 21 Jan failed to form transitional govt at talks in Istanbul. Over 50 UN member states 14 Jan requested ICC investigation into possible war crimes by both sides; Russia 15 Jan said it would block effort.
Violence escalated with rising death tolls and displacement; intense fighting continued in Aleppo, reached new levels in Damascus, where fighting most intense in southern suburbs, particularly Palestinian-dominated Yarmouk where mid-Dec airstrikes and clashes left scores dead and caused mass exodus. Increased violence in Hama province as rebels launched new offensive, gained several towns; regime air strike, among most deadly to date, in Halfaya, Hama province killed dozens 24 Dec; nearly 400 reported killed 29 Dec, including approx 150 bodies found in Deir Baalba, Homs. Govt denied reports regime using Scud missiles. UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria 20 Dec said conflict escalating, becoming increasingly sectarian: video posted 12 Dec showed rebels destroying Shiite mosque in north; up to 200 Alawite civilians killed in Aqrab early Dec. UN 19 Dec increased refugee and IDP projections following significant increase in civilians fleeing Syria. Remainder of “Friends of Syria” group, including U.S., 12 Dec recognised National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, formed Nov, as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people at Morocco conference. U.S. 11 Dec officially designated rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra as terrorist organisation. UN/Arab League Envoy Brahimi met President Assad and opposition in Damascus late Dec, visited Moscow 29 Dec to discuss proposals for ending conflict, expressed strong support for “Geneva plan” based on formation of transitional govt; Assad 26 Dec sent senior diplomat to Moscow to discuss proposals. National Coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib 28 Dec rejected Russia’s invitation for peace talks, demanded Russian apology for its support for Assad; said could meet in Arab country if clear agenda set. Major General Abdelaziz Jassim al-Shalal, head of Syria’s military police, defected 25 Dec.
Opposition 12 Nov announced break-through formation of National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces following week of talks in Qatar, external pressure. Former Syrian National Council merged into new body; former Damascene imam, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, named leader. 6 Gulf states 12 Nov, France 13 Nov, Turkey 15 Nov, UK 21 Nov, Spain 29 Nov formally recognised coalition as sole legitimate representative of Syrian people. Opposition forces in Aleppo 20 Nov voiced support for coalition day after rejecting it, called for greater representation; Syrian-Kurdish PYD party 20 Nov rejected coalition. Worst violence in months in southern, eastern Damascus rebel strongholds included airstrikes, fierce clashes; dozens killed in 2 car bombs 28 Nov; fighting 29 Nov closed Damascus Airport. Number of strategic gains by rebels, winning control of oil field, hydroelectric dam, several army bases; weapons captured. Rebel Free Syria Army 9 Nov captured Ras al-Ain on Turkish border; army responded with days of intense bombardment, occasionally spilling into Turkey: fighting sparked unprecedented exodus into Turkey. Month saw several incursions into Golan Heights demilitarised zone; Israel sought UN action, in later incidents responded with direct fire. Rebels 7 Nov shelled mainly Alawite Damascus district.
Fighting between government and rebels continued with reported death tolls frequently exceeding one hundred per day, ongoing internal and external displacement. Ceasefire brokered by UN/Arab League envoy Brahimi for Eid al-Adha festival 26-30 Oct repeatedly broken with extensive fighting across country. Surge in regime airstrikes late Oct; Syrian rights activists claimed 29 Oct worst day yet of regime air raids. Rebels continued attempts to establish “safe zone” in north, 9 Oct recaptured strategic town Maarrat al-Nu’man; battle for nearby Wadi al-Deif base ongoing. As Egyptian “contact group” on Syria appeared to stall, Qatar 15 Oct called for “well-armed” peacekeeping force. Mid-month formation of “committee of wise men” by former Syrian National Council president Ghalioun met with widespread cynicism. At least thirty killed in first reported case of Syrian-Arab rebels exchanging fire with Syrian Kurds in Aleppo 24 Oct; clashes ongoing. Turkish PKK threatened intervention if clashes persist. Reports emerged early Oct of late Sept clash between rival Alawite clans in al-Qardaha, President Assad’s hometown. State TV 30 Oct reported “terrorist” assassination of air force general Abdullah Mahmoud Al-Khalidi; some activists assert regime responsible, claim Khalidi wanted to defect, regime acted in anticipation. Concerns over regional instability exacerbated by ongoing cross-border fire with Turkey.
Casualties and displacement continued to rise as fighting between rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Syrian military continued, with regime forces conducting large-scale military operations, bombing raids on opposition-controlled areas. UNHRC-mandated Commission of Inquiry 17 Sept. reported regime’s “gross violations of human rights,” said violations significantly increased throughout late Aug., early Sept with indiscriminate attacks against civilians occurring daily; Human Rights Watch 17 Sept. accused Syrian opposition groups of committing war crimes including torture and summary execution of prisoners. New UN/Arab League envoy Brahimi met with interlocutors including President Assad throughout month. Egyptian initiative comprising Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey met 17, 27 Sept., cautioned against expectations of quick solution to crisis; Saudi Arabia absent both occasions. Opposition National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (NCB) 23 Sept called for regime overthrow at meeting in Damascus attended by Iranian, Russian, Chinese diplomats; stated opposition to violent uprising, foreign military intervention.
Month saw scores of civilians killed by clashes between the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and pro-regime forces fighting for control of Aleppo; gov't continued airstrikes against towns in northern Syria. Fighting, shelling in Damascus continued throughout the month, killing scores. Opposition 26 Aug accused regime of massacre following discovery of some 300 bodies in Daraya; UNSG Ban 27 Aug called for immediate investigation. Newly appointed PM Hijab 6 Aug defected to Jordan; VP Shara 26 Aug denied own defection. Syrian, Jordanian troops 10 Aug clashed along border (see Jordan). UN/Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan resigned 2 Aug; UNSC 16 Aug ended UN observer mission, agreed to set up civilian liaison office; veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi 16 Aug announced as new UN envoy. UNGA 3 Aug passed resolution condemning Syrian gov't’s use of heavy weapons, UNSC inaction. UN Human Rights Council report 15 Aug concluded Syrian army, pro-regime militia responsible for March killing of 108 in Houla. FSA 4 Aug announced abduction of some 48 Iranian Shiites, allegedly members of Iranian Revolutionary Guards; Organisation of Islamic Countries 16 Aug suspended Syria.
Month saw fierce fighting spread to Aleppo and Damascus, seizure by rebels of border crossings with Turkey and Iraq, thousands fleeing to neighboring countries. ICRC 15 July declared Syria “non-international armed conflict.” Four senior officials assassinated in 18 July bombing of national security HQ in Damascus, including top security chief Shawkat, Defence Minister Rajiha, Intelligence Chief Bekhtyar. Senior defections reported, including close-Assad confidant and Republican Guard Brig Gen Tlass, prominent tribal chief and Syrian Ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Fares. Numerous massacres reported by opposition activists, including some two hundred allegedly killed by regime forces in Tremseh. Concern over Syria’s unconventional weapon stockpiles increased; Syrian Foreign Ministry 23 July said chemical weapons to be used only against external aggression; Israel vowed to prevent any transfer to Hizbullah. Russia, China 19 July vetoed UNSC Chapter VII resolution threatening sanctions. UNSC 20 July extended UNSMIS mandate for “final” thirty days, appointed Senegalese Lieutenant General Gaye as new mission head. Kurdish forces reportedly consolidated control over northeast Syria. Kurdish opposition Democratic Union party (PYD), Kurdish National Councils (KNC) mid-month met in Erbil (Iraq) under auspices of Iraqi Kurdish Regional Gov't. President Barzani agreed to form Supreme Kurdish Council, popular defense forces.
Month saw continued insecurity, massacres of civilians: UN/Arab League Envoy Annan 2 June warned of all-out sectarian war; UNSG Ban 8 June said little evidence of gov't. complying with peace plan; UN Peacekeeping head Ladsous 12 June said Syria in civil war; UN Supervision Mission (UNSMIS) 16 June suspended operations due to increased risk to monitors, lack of willingness by parties to seek peaceful transition; President Assad 27 June reported Syria in state of war. Turkey said fighter jet downed 22 June by Syria in international airspace, search and rescue plane shot at 25 June; PM Erdoğan 26 June instructed Turkish army to treat Syrian military units approaching border as threat; NATO SG Rasmussen said NATO stood by Turkey following Article IV consultations. Activists claimed pro-regime militias 31 May executed thirteen workers near Qusair, 7 June slaughtered seventy-eight civilians in Mazraat al-Qubair. Regime said twenty-five men shot by rebels in Darat Izza; seven executed during attack on pro-gov't. TV station in Drusha. Heavy shelling of towns by regime continued, including Deraa, Homs; fierce fighting reported 26 June in Damascus between Free Syrian Army, elite Republican Guard. Newly formed UN Action Group 30 June backed Annan calls for national unity govt. Opposition Syrian National Council 10 June elected Kurdish activist Abdelbaset Sayda as new chairman. President Assad 6 June appointed Agriculture Minister and loyalist Riad Hijab as new PM.
Month saw continued violence, fighting despite presence of UN monitors. UN reported 108 killed 25 May in Houla during regime shelling, many summarily executed; residents reported scores of women, children massacred by pro-regime Alawite militia, attribution disputed by regime, questioned by Russia; UNSC condemned killings, use of heavy weapons by regime; numerous countries, including US, France, UK expelled Syrian diplomats. UN 29 May found thirteen executed near Deir al-Zour. Series of bombings: 5 May reportedly targeting business in Aleppo linked to pro-regime militia, at least five killed; 10 May against military intelligence building in Damascus, fifty-five reported killed, 372 wounded; 19 May against security building in Deir al-Zour, nine killed. Security forces 3 May stormed Aleppo university campus following anti-regime protest by students, five killed, over two hundred arrested; thousands 18 May demonstrated in Aleppo in solidarity with students. Security forces 15 May attacked funeral in Khan Sheikhoun during UNSMIS visit, twenty reported killed, three UN vehicles damaged. Opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) 20 May claimed six senior regime officials poisoned, including head of Syrian intelligence Asif Shawkat. UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan 28 May arrived in Damascus to push for implementation of peace plan, warned Syria at “tipping point.” UNSG Ban 31 May said Syria moving towards “catastrophic” civil war, demanded Syria implement peace plan. Senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander late-month reportedly confirmed Iranian troop presence in Syria. As part of regime-touted reforms, 7 May parliamentary elections held amid low turnout, opposition boycott. Opposition Syrian National Council chairman Burhan Ghalioun 17 May resigned following widespread criticism.
Early-month saw upsurge in violence despite acceptance of Annan peace plan by Syrian regime, opposition. Security forces 9 April opened fire on Turkish refugee camp in Kilis, two killed. Following UN pressure, regime 12 April agreed to ceasefire with opposition; UNSG 24 April expressed alarm at surge in regime violence, 26 April said regime in contravention of peace plan; France 25 April said UNSC should consider use of force; US 27 April said “patience exhausted.” Renewed anti-regime demonstrations took place mid-month despite continued regime targeting. UNSC 14 April unanimously approved deployment of thirty UN observers, 21 April voted to increase number to three hundred. Activists 23 April claimed Hama shelled by regime as punishment for UN visit, dozens reported killed, 26 April reported up to seventy killed in explosion in Hama. Regime 27 April said ten killed in “suicide bombing” in Damascus. At least nine killed in 30 April blasts in Idlib reportedly targeting security buildings. Opposition fighters 28 April reportedly launched sea raid in Latakia province. Second Friends of Syria Summit held 1 April in Istanbul, opposition group SNC said rebel fighters to receive salaries. EU 23 April agreed new round of sanctions against Syria.
Month saw continued descent into civil war with increased clashes between opposition armed groups and security forces, growing humanitarian concerns, continuing anti-regime protests countrywide: gov't. forces continued onslaught against opposition strongholds; activists said civilians massacred. Twenty-seven reported killed 17 March by car bombs targeting Damascus security buildings; shadowy Islamist group al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant claimed responsibility. Two killed 18 March by car bomb in Aleppo. UNSG Ban 2 March said regime committed widespread crimes against civilians, 21 March warned crisis has “potentially massive repercussions.” UNSC same day issued non-binding presidential statement supporting UN/Arab League Special Envoy Annan’s six-point plan including calls for UN supervised ceasefire, humanitarian access; Syria 27 March accepted peace plan, but many questions remain regarding implementation; Syria 31 March announced troops to stay in residential areas until “peace and security” achieved. Outgoing Russian President Medvedev 25 March said Annan mission last chance for Syria to avoid civil war; UN 15 March said two hundred thousand Syrians displaced during conflict; Turkish PM Erdogan 16 March raised possibility of buffer zone inside Syria to protect refugees. HRW 13 March said regime mining routes used by escaping refugees along Turkish, Lebanese borders; 20 March accused armed opposition elements of human rights abuses against regime loyalists. UN HRC 23 March extended mandate of UN expert panel investigating alleged abuses; UNHR chief Pillay 28 March said regime “systematically detaining and torturing children.” EU 23 March imposed sanctions on al-Assad family members.
Fears of civil war grew as regime targeted protesters and civilians on unprecedented scale, clashes continued between security forces and Free Syrian Army across country; UN 28 Feb. announced over seventy-five hundred killed so far. Regime 4 Feb. began heavy shelling of Homs, killing two Western journalists 22 Feb.; opposition warned of massacre. Two truck bombs 10 Feb. targeted security compounds in Aleppo, killing twenty-eight. Al-Qaida leader al-Zawahiri 12 Feb. vowed support for uprising. Security forces 19 Feb. fired on estimated fifteen thousand demonstrators in Damascus. International community remained divided: Russia, China 4 Feb. vetoed UNSC draft resolution backed by Arab League (AL) condemning violent crackdown and supporting Jan. AL roadmap; AL 12 Feb. called for joint UN/AL peacekeeping mission; UNGA 16 Feb. approved Arab-backed resolution condemning human rights violations. UN HR chief Pillay 13 Feb. called for ICC referral of situation; UN Commission of Inquiry 23 Feb. reported Syrian security forces, senior officials responsible for gross, systematic human rights violations. UN Human Rights Council 28 Feb. held emergency session; Pillay described rapidly deteriorating situation. US 22 Feb. warned of "additional measures" if regime fails to end violence. Kofi Annan appointed UN-AL special envoy to Syria 23 Feb. “Friends of Syria” contact group - including sixty countries - 24 Feb. met in Tunis, recognized opposition Syrian National Council as “a legitimate representative of Syrians;” Saudi Arabia, Qatar vowed to arm opposition; EU 27 Feb. announced new sanctions against Syria; France, US 28 Feb. drafting new UNSC resolution to alleviate humanitarian suffering. Russia 7 Feb., China 17 Feb. dispatched envoys to Damascus: Russian FM Lavrov called for solution based on Dec AL peace initiative; Chinese deputy FM Zhai Jun backed Syrian reforms. National referendum 26 Feb. approved new constitution removing Ba’ath party monopoly.
UNSC in debate 31 Jan. failed to agree on resolution calling on Assad to step down, talks continue. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 18 Jan. stated Russia would reject sanctions, use UNSC veto to block any proposals for military intervention; Britain, France, US 24 Jan. condemned Russia’s sales of weapons to Syria. Gulf Arab states 24 Jan. withdrew observers after gov't. rejected plan for President Assad to surrender power; Arab League 24 Jan. requested meeting with UNSG Ban to discuss crisis, demand UNSC support. Arab League 28 Jan. announced withdrawal of observers due to increased violence; FM Muallem 24 Jan. accused Arab League of plotting to internationalize crisis. Despite continued violent crackdown on anti-gov't. protests, wide-scale demonstrations in support of Free Syrian Army continued throughout Jan. Damascus suicide bombs 6 Jan. killed twenty-five; explosions in Idlib province 21 Jan. killed at least fourteen; at least thirty-seven reported killed by security forces 27 Jan.; seventeen dead found 28 Jan. on streets, allegedly killed by govt. forces; at least thirty-three killed in attack by govt. forces in Rankous, north of Damascus. Activists 30 Jan. claimed over one hundred dead, mostly in Homs.
UN reported over five thousand people killed in nine-month crackdown on anti-regime protests; regime said over two thousand security force members killed. Hundreds of thousands continued to protest against President Assad as violence intensified. Increasing defections to Free Syrian Army and attacks on security forces. General strike started early month along with numerous forms of civil disobedience. EU 2 Dec. imposed sanctions on three Syrian oil firms, including state-owned Sytrol. Regime 12 Dec. signed Arab League (AL) peace plan, agreeing to let in monitors, pull troops from protest-hit towns, free political prisoners and start talking to opposition. UNGA 19 Dec. condemned Syria for crackdown and rights abuses; UNSC continued to debate resolution. Regime escalated crackdown ahead of arrival of Arab League observers, with over two hundred people killed 19-20 Dec. Advance team of AL monitors arrived 22 Dec., nearly one hundred by end of Dec.; over one hundred fifty people reported killed since monitors’ mission began. Twin car bomb attack 23 Dec. on security buildings in Damascus killed forty-four, injured over one hundred fifty; officials blamed al-Qaeda, opposition figures accused govt. of staging attack. Govt. 28 Dec said 755 prisoners released in compliance with Arab League plan.
Fears of escalation in violence as month saw failed Arab League attempt to end bloodshed, accelerated militarization of protest movement, internationalization of conflict. UN reported some thirty-five hundred killed in crackdown on ongoing anti-regime protests. Authorities blamed violence on foreign-backed armed groups, said killed some eleven hundred soldiers and police. Opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) 7 Nov. called for international intervention in security forces siege of central city Homs, called it “humanitarian disaster area.” Arab League 12 Nov. voted to suspend Syria after it failed to implement 2 Nov. deal to end bloodshed and withdraw forces from cities; Russian FM Lavrov called suspension ploy by West to destabilize Syria. Pro-Assad crowds 12 Nov. attacked Saudi Arabian embassy, French and Turkish consulates. President Assad 20 Nov. said parliamentary elections would be held early 2012 ahead of new constitution including provisions for presidential elections; gov't. said over two thousand political prisoners released in month. UNGA 22 Nov. adopted non-binding resolution condemning Syria’s actions. French FM Juppe 23 Nov. said France seeking international recognition for SNC at UN. UNHRC published report 28 Nov. accused regime of systematic murder, torture and rape. Escalating attacks by Free Syrian Army, made up of army defectors, including killing of eight soldiers in 26 Nov. ambush in Idlib. Arab League 27 Nov. agreed economic sanctions against regime; Turkey 30 Nov. imposed financial sanctions.
UN reported over three thousand now killed in crackdown on ongoing anti-regime protests, including at least 187 children; thousands more arrested, tortured or disappeared. UNSC resolution condemning Syria vetoed 5 Oct. by Russia and China over mention of possible sanctions. FM Moallem 9 Oct. warned foreign countries not to recognize newly formed opposition Syrian National Council. Kurdish opposition leader Mashaal Tammo killed 7 Oct. by gunmen; at least five killed by security forces as tens of thousands attended funeral. Tens of thousands demonstrated in Damascus, Aleppo in govt.-organized rallies in support of President Assad. US Ambassador Ford 24 Oct. left country after receiving threats; Damascus immediately withdrew Washington envoy. In deadliest Friday demonstrations since May some thirty-five reportedly killed 28 Oct., mostly in Homs and Hama. Increased clashes between army defectors and security forces including clash 29 Oct. in Homs that reportedly killed twenty soldiers, injured fifty. NATO Sec Gen Rasmussen 31 Oct. ruled out possibility of military intervention. Arab League 30 Oct. called for end to violence, release of prisoners, negotiations with opposition in Cairo from 2 Nov.
UN reports military crackdown has killed at least twenty-seven hundred people during continued nationwide uprising against Assad regime. Tanks pounded towns in central region of Homs, major flashpoint between troops loyal to President Assad and army defectors. Syrian authorities claim seven hundred police and army killed during unrest by “terrorists” and “mutineers.” At least two hundred opposition members gathered 16 Sept in meeting of National Coordinating body outside Damascus. Group of activists 16 Sept formed Syrian National Council in Istanbul, marking six-month anniversary of beginning of uprising. UNSG Ban 15 Sept said Assad has repeatedly broken promises of reform, called for international action. OHCHR 23 Sept alarmed by “increasingly brutal crackdown,” urged UNSC to refer Syria to ICC. Turkey 23 Sept imposed arms embargo against Syria for brutal crackdown on pro-democracy uprising; EU increased sanctions primarily on oil sector. US Ambassador Ford mobbed by Assad supporters 29 Sept, while visiting opposition figure in Damascus; officials accused US of interference, inciting violence against security forces.
Thousands took part in end of Ramadan anti-gov't. protests across country, despite increased crackdown on major flashpoint cities; UN 23 Aug. reported govt. forces killed nearly twenty-two hundred since unrest erupted mid-March. Armored forces backed by tanks and snipers continued to crush protests in Daraa, Damascus, Homs, Latakia, Deir el-Zour, and elsewhere. At least forty-five people reported killed 3 Aug. in military assault in Hama. Navy gunboats 14 Aug. began firing on coastal city Latakia, killing at least twenty-eight; Five thousand Palestinians also driven from al-Ramal camp. UNSC 3 Aug. released first statement condemning rights violations against protesters. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah 6 Aug. recalled envoy to Syria, urged President Assad to “stop the killing machine.” Arab League 7 Aug. for first time condemned action of Syrian authorities; Sec. Gen. Nabil al-Arabi visited Syria 28 Aug. UNOHCHR 18 Aug. published report on crackdown, recommended referral to ICC over possible crimes against humanity; UNHRC 24 Aug. ordered independent investigation into violence. US, EU same day urged UN sanctions, called for Assad to step down; Washington froze all Syrian assets under US jurisdiction. Foreign Ministry rebutted western accusations, said regime facing threat from “terrorists;” Assad 21 Aug. said gov't. will not fall.
Security forces backed by tanks 31 July launched assault on rebellious cities, scores killed nationwide with over eighty reported killed in flashpoint city of Hama; international community condemned violence, US embassy said govt. launched “full-on warfare” against its own people. Syrian rights groups said more than sixteen hundred people killed, at least twelve thousand arrested since unrest began in March. Hundreds of thousands took to streets over month as daily anti-regime protests continued to spread, including to Homs, Hama. “National Dialogue” meeting opened 10 July, opposition figures boycotted, said any reform would remain on paper as long as security apparatus continues to operate with impunity. President Assad 20 July, in third speech since uprising began, again promised reforms. Cabinet 24 July approved law allowing formation of political parties other than ruling Baath party, 26 July approved new election law; opposition dismissed “cosmetic” changes. Two special advisers to UNSG Ban 22 July warned “serious possibility” regime had committed crimes against humanity, called for independent investigation.
Repression continued. Opposition said some fourteen hundred people killed since March in ongoing regime crackdown on anti-regime protests, including over one hundred fifty in scorched earth campaign in NW province Idlib near Turkish border. Regime claimed “armed thugs,” foreign conspirators behind violence; military spokesman 26 June claimed over three hundred members of security forces killed. Over twelve thousand civilians fled across border to refugee camps in Turkey. President Assad 20 June, in third speech since uprising began, promised reforms, including committee to study constitutional amendments; opponents said reforms too little, too late, too vague. Mass pro-regime demonstrations 21 June in several cities, clashes with anti-regime activists; rival rallies 30 June in Aleppo as unrest spread to Syria’s second city. Gov't. 27 June invited opposition figures to 10 July talks to set framework for dialogue; opposition dismissed offer, said not credible while mass killings and arrests continue. Tens of thousands protested 24 June in defiance of military crackdown, at least fifteen reported killed across country; EU condemned “shocking violence” of regime, extended sanctions against those supporting crackdown. At least ten killed 5 June in clashes between pro-Palestinian protesters and IDF along border with Israeli-controlled Golan Heights (See Israel/OPT).
Rights groups reported more than eleven hundred killed, over ten thousand detained, widespread torture in ten-week violent crackdown on nationwide anti-regime protests; majority in southern Hauran Plain region where uprising first erupted. Forty-four killed 20 May as troops backed by tanks deployed at protest sites. Officials continued to blame violence on “armed criminal gangs,” said more than one hundred twenty members of security forces killed. EU, US expanded sanctions on regime, added President Assad to list of officials banned from travelling, subject to assets freeze. US President Obama 17 May said Assad must allow political transition or step aside. Assad 31 May issued general amnesty for all members of political movements including Muslim Brotherhood; opposition said amnesty comes too late. EU nations 24 May proposed resolution to UNSC condemning Syria for bloody crackdown but did not include UN sanctions, intervention. Two killed, dozens wounded 15 May by IDF gunfire as pro-Palestinian protesters commemorating Nakba entered Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Govt. condemned Israeli “criminal activities;” US accused Damascus of inciting border clashes to divert attention from violent crackdown (See Israel/OPT). IAEA 24 May reported Dair Alzour site bombed by Israel in 2007 “very likely” nuclear reactor; govt. 27 May reportedly offered full cooperation, will allow first inspection of site since 2008.
Sharp escalation in violence during month with some five hundred fifty civilians killed since start of anti-regime protests last month; over one hundred ten protesters killed 22 Apr. in worst day of bloodshed. Troops and tanks deployed 25 Apr. in Deraa, besieged city where revolt began, in violent crackdown. Over three hundred members of ruling Baath party resigned late month in protest at ongoing military assault on Deraa. UNSC 28 Apr. failed to agree on joint statement condemning repression; UNHRC 29 Apr. voted to investigate alleged crimes committed against civilians. US 29 Apr. imposed targeted sanctions against regime officials. President Assad 22 Apr. lifted forty-eight-year state of emergency; however, protesters demanded end of Baath party monopoly, establishment of democratic political system. Authorities blamed armed groups, infiltrators and Sunni Muslim militant organizations for provoking violence by firing on civilians and security forces.
Fears of further unrest after anti-regime protests spread across country over month, including to Damascus from southern city Daraa, where at least fifty-five reported killed by security forces since 18 March. Dozens reported killed in other cities in violent crackdown by security forces; army deployed 27 March after twelve reportedly killed in northwestern port Latakia. In first public address since beginning of unrest, President Assad 30 March blamed foreign conspiracy; remarks seen as inflammatory. Assad 26 March reportedly released political prisoners, including lawyer Diana Jawabra; 31 March ordered study on replacing emergency laws, probe into civilian deaths. Cabinet resigned 29 March in face of protests. UNSG Ban 26 March phoned Assad to urge “maximum restraint,” US condemned gov't. “repression.” Syria 2 March agreed to allow IAEA inspectors to examine Homs acid purification plant on 1 April; US 9 March said insufficient, warned Syria cannot be allowed to “stonewall” IAEA investigations.
Third peaceful protest in three weeks in Damascus violently dispersed 23 Feb. by police; planned 5 Feb. “Day of Rage” protests failed to draw any protesters. Gov't. 9 Feb. allowed access to Facebook and YouTube three years after blocking websites. Higher State Security Court 14 Feb. sentenced teenage blogger to five years in prison on charges of spying for CIA; US criticized secret trial, appealed for release. Turkey PM Erdoğan 6 Feb. praised booming ties with Syria at launch of public works on “friendship dam” at border between countries. Two Iranian warships 23 Feb. docked at Latakia, first Iranian navy vessels to pass through Suez Canal since 1979 Revolution (see Iran).
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