27 June 2012 / TODAY’S ZAMAN, ANKARA
Iran’s Vice President for International Affairs Ali Saidlu was scheduled to arrive in Ankara an official visit on Wednesday evening, at a time of heightened tensions between Turkey and Syria over Syria’s shooting down of a Turkish military jet.
Official talks are set to start on Thursday, the Anatolia news agency reported, when Saidlu is expected to meet with President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Saidlu will invite Turkey to attend a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) on Aug. 30-31 in Tehran. The movement, founded in 1961 in Belgrade, comprises 120 member nations that define themselves as non-aligned formally with or against any major power bloc. But the issue of the jet crisis with Syria is also expected to come up.
Iran is opposed to a possible regime change in Syria and is also accused by the international community of providing military and intelligence support to the Syrian administration. Turkey is a staunch critic of embattled President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, as recent developments have seen the evolution of the internationally discussed Syrian crisis into a bilateral problem between Turkey and Syria.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has reiterated his call to both Turkish and Syrian authorities to show restraint over the jet crisis. Salehi, visiting the Kazakh capital of Astana upon an invitation from his Kazakh counterpart, Yerzhan Kazykhanov, made a similar call to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during a phone conversation on Sunday.
Touching upon a series of economic sanctions the EU has taken against Iran relating to its nuclear program, Salehi invited the bloc to resolve this issue rationally. Western powers and Israel are very skeptical regarding the Iranian nuclear program, which is feared to be developing nuclear weapons. Iran insistently claims that its program aims only to generate energy.
Source: Today's Zaman
Members of armed opposition groups or defectors are believed to have carried out the attack on a pro-Assad TV station.
Media workers killed during an attack on a pro-government TV station in Syria should not have been targeted, Amnesty International said today.
The organization said that Ikhbariya TV, like other media facilities, is a civilian object, and those working in the media are civilians and must be protected from attack.
“Even a media organization engaged in propaganda is still a civilian object, so it and those working for it must never be deliberately targeted,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.
“All parties should condemn this attack and make clear to those under their command that attacks of this nature and other such violations will not be tolerated.”
According to the state news agency SANA, three journalists and four security workers were killed in the attack which took place early on Wednesday morning when armed men stormed the station’s headquarters in the town of Drousha, about 15 miles south of Damascus.
Several representatives of the opposition have claimed publicly that members of armed opposition groups or defectors carried out the attack.
The privately owned pro-government Ikhbariya TV station has broadcast programmes throughout the 15-month crisis which have blamed the violence on “terrorists” and shown what appear to be forced “confessions” of alleged dissidents.
It has also carried apparently coerced statements denouncing as “traitors” individuals who have criticised the Syrian government made by their neighbours and others.
Under international humanitarian law, in an armed conflict, only combatants and military objectives may lawfully be attacked. Military objectives are limited to those objects which make an effective contribution to military action and whose destruction offers a definite military advantage.
New UN report on Syria
The attack came as the Independent Commission of Inquiry’s latest update on Syria said that Syrian government forces have committed human rights violations across the country "on an alarming scale" over the last three months.
The Commission says it continues to investigate May’s massacre at Houla which led to the death of more than 100 people. Based on its investigations so far, it says that “forces loyal to the Government may have been responsible for many of the deaths”. The Commission has been unable to visit the area until now as it has not been given access to the country by the government.
The update also documents a range of abuses by anti-government armed groups which have been reported to the Commission, including the torture and killing of captured soldiers and shabiha as well as the kidnapping and killing of people known or suspected to support or work with the government and its forces and militias.
Amnesty International, which is investigating human rights abuses by members of the opposition, has condemned without reservation such abuses and in its latest report earlier this month called on the leadership of all armed opposition groups in Syria to publicly state that such acts are prohibited and to do all within their power to ensure that opposition forces put an immediate end to such abuses.
The report also warns that the situation risks becoming more aggravated in the coming months as fighting intensifies.
“There is now an urgent need for the international community to review the Annan plan, including the terms of the UN observer mission and consider how it could be better established and equipped to deliver human rights protection on the ground,” said Ann Harrison.
Foreign ministers of the five permanent UN Security Council members and the Arab League will meet Saturday in Geneva to discuss a faltering peace plan to end the crisis in Syria, international envoy Kofi Annan confirmed Wednesday, dpa
Annan invited the foreign ministers of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, as well as those of Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, who represent various Arab League bodies. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was also asked to take part.
"I look forward to a productive meeting this weekend, where we can all agree on concrete actions to end the cycle of violence and bring peace and stability to the Syrian people," Annan said in Geneva.
The United States opposed Annan's plan to invite Iran to the meeting.
GENEVA - The violence in Syria has matched or exceeded levels from before the April ceasefire agreement, the United Nations said Wednesday, as it suggested that government troops could be behind the killing of more than 100 civilians in the village of Houla last month.
Reflecting the sense of urgency, senior diplomats said world powers would meet Saturday in an attempt to end the bloodshed, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov being joined by other top diplomats from U.N. Security Council nations and possibly neighbors of Syria.
The U.N.'s deputy envoy for Syria, Jean-Marie Guehenno, told the U.N. Human Rights Council that the violence in Syria has "reached or even surpassed" levels seen before the April 12 ceasefire agreement and that a six-point peace plan forged by his boss, U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, "is clearly not being implemented."
Meanwhile, a U.N. probe into the massacre in the central Syrian village of Houla concluded that forces loyal to the government "may have been responsible" for many of the deaths.
The report by U.N.-appointed human rights experts says the military or pro-government shabiha forces had better access to the Houla village during the May massacre. The village leans toward opposition support and most of the victims were women and children who were slaughtered in their homes, it said.
The head of the expert team, Brazilian professor and diplomat Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, told the U.N.'s top human rights body in Geneva that "the manner in which these killings took place resembles those previously and repeatedly documented to have been committed by the government" but that a final verdict on who was responsible for the massacre would require further investigation by his team.
Fayssal al-Hamwi, a Syrian ambassador in Geneva, charged that the allegations against the government are "quite fantastic."
The increasing militarization of both sides in the conflict has Syria lurching toward civil war. The failure of Annan's internationally brokered peace plan has made it more difficult for outside observers, humanitarian workers and supplies to get in, or reliable information to filter out.
In the latest violence, Syrian officials said Wednesday that an unidentified "armed group" had stormed the office of a private TV network - which firmly supports Assad - and killed seven members of its staff. The reports could not be immediately confirmed, and it remains unclear who is behind the attack.
Activists say more than 14,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began in March last year.
U.N. officials said they were preparing to send out invitations and expected to make an announcement later Wednesday on the Saturday meeting. Guehenno, a former U.N. peacekeeping chief, said the Syrian government and rebel groups must be made to understand that there are "consequences" to failure to implement the six-point plan.
"But this effort cannot be open-ended. Time is running out. Syria is spiraling into deeper and more destructive violence," he said.
Russia and the United States have both said they want to help Annan. But Russia and China, two of the Security Council's five permanent members, have twice shielded Syria from U.N. sanctions.
Source: CBS News
Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis. (AFP Photo/Behrouz Mehri)
NICOSIA: Cyprus, which on July 1 will assume the rotating presidency of the European Union, is ready with its European partners to evacuate third party nationals from Syria, the foreign minister said.
"We are only 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the shores of Syria and Lebanon. Anything that goes wrong there will affect us," Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis said in an interview with AFP.
"We are now preparing with our partners of the EU for the possible evacuation (from Syria). We have a crisis management centre that we have strengthened," the minister said, adding that the Cypriot offer also applied to Syrians with dual nationalities.
Kozakou-Marcoullis said her country was "concerned" about the situation in Syria where a brutal uprising since March 2011 has already killed at least 15,800 people, according to human rights activists.
"We have taken the position from the very beginning that we should try to avoid at all costs a military intervention. For us, military operation in Syria will mean an explosive situation in the region that will not be contained only to Syria."
The Cypriot foreign minister recalled the role Cyprus played in evacuating 65,000 foreign nationals from Lebanon in 2006 during the Lebanon-Israel summer war that year.
She said she also reminded her European counterparts about the geographical location of Cyprus, making it a destination for Syrian refugees and asylum seekers in general.
"We keep telling them, I keep telling them. In every Foreign Affairs Council (meeting) I keep reminding about the geographical proximity but also about the dangers and the threats," said Kozakou-Marcoullis.
"If these potential refugees and asylum seekers do not come by boat and sea, they will come through the occupied areas and this is our biggest problem right now with asylum seekers."
Since 1974, Turkey has occupied the northern third of Cyprus which is separated from the Republic of Cyprus by a "green line" monitored by the United Nations.
The breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Ankara.
"Imagine there is a major upheaval in the Middle East, definitely part of them will try to come this way," the minister said.
"It happened with recent uprisings in North Africa, with Italy, with Malta, and this is why one of the inherited priorities of the presidency is the conclusion of this very important European common asylum system," she added.
Kozakou-Marcoullis said northern EU countries should share the cost of receiving refugees driven from their homes by the Arab Spring uprisings with their southern counterparts, who are already bearing the brunt of the migration.
She said Cyprus would not return Syrian refugees in the near term.
"We have taken the decision recently not to send back to Syria any of the asylum seekers or illegal immigrants who are here until the situation is more clear. But there is a limit to what we can do. We are a small country," she said.
The minister also discussed with AFP the issue of the island's division, saying it will not be influenced by the fact that Cyprus will hold the six-month EU presidency.
"Not only it has never been on the agenda and it is not up to us as the presidency to bring it on the agenda," she said.
But relations with Turkey are regularly discussed at meetings of EU foreign ministers and heads of the governments, she added.
"We have always wanted dialogue with Turkey. The problem is that Turkey has built a block, a concrete block, and not only they do not recognise us but they don't even want to talk to us. So there is a complete deadlock as far as any dialogue with Turkey itself is concerned."
Ankara has decided to freeze contacts with the EU presidency while it is held by Cyprus.
Source: Channel News Asia
KUREEN, Syria — Sa’id Agini can’t remember a time without bombing and gunfire. He just turned 4.
Until two weeks ago, his family lived in the besieged city of Homs in western Syria. Here, in their new home further north in Kureen, this animated boy speeds around on his toy car, offering “tea” to guests from a plastic cup and teapot.
Having witnessed more bloodshed and destruction in his short life than most will in a lifetime, he speaks offhandedly about bombs, tanks and death. In the distance, gunfire breaks through the hum of helicopter blades.
“Why doesn’t that helicopter ever stop shooting?” he complains to his guests, as if talking about the weather. “We need an RPG. Would someone just shoot that thing?”More from GlobalPost: Inside Syria: Adopt a Syrian rebel
Sa'id’s family is just one of thousands that has been displaced or worse since the Syrian conflict began 15 months ago. Their personal struggle is taking place against the backdrop of an international scramble to either hasten the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or protect him.
The march toward foreign intervention may have taken a leap forward this week when the Syrian army shot down a Turkish jet along its border, sparking strong condemnations from Turkey, Syria’s neighbor, and NATO, which aided Libyan rebels last year by enforcing a no-fly zone and launching airstrikes against government targets.
All of that, however, is happening far from Kureen, a small Sunni village in Syria’s northern Idlib province, where Sa'id and his family attempt to create a new, albeit tentative, home.
At the sound of the helicopter gunfire, Sa'id's older brother Alah, 14, tells everyone to lay low.
Their father, Assad Agini, says that of his three sons, Alah suffers the most from traumatic stress. While he has heard the same bombs and screams as his brothers, Alah was born blind. So he has had to imagine the horrors going on around him.
Until the schools in Homs closed at the end of last year, Alah had always been at the top of his class. He showed off his brail typewriter on which he now writes about the killing happening all around him, and how much he misses school, his teachers and his classmates.
His mother, Maha, says that Homs had the only school for blind children in the country. Every school in Homs, she said, is now either destroyed or occupied by government soldiers.More from GlobalPost: Syria's rebels learn the value of a prisoner
Until his recent defection, Assad Agini, 39, had been a major in the Syrian air force. He said the air force intelligence unit organized most of the attacks on Homs. Although he says his position did not require him to kill, he witnessed atrocities.
Assad Agini said Homs had been the victim of a “systematic eviction” by means of “genocide.”
Over time, the conflict in Syria has taken on sectarian tones, and Assad Agini said the government was specifically targeting Sunnis. The majority of Syria’s population is Sunni, while Allawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam and a minority, dominate the government.
“All Sunni areas are being emptied,” he said.
He described the process: first a city is surrounded by the military, which bombards it with heavy shelling. Then, a mixture of army, special forces and shabiha — civilian mercenaries fighting for the government — moves through houses looting and killing.
He has seen people slaughtered with knives, tortured and burned alive.
“We are told we are the army for our homeland. Our job is to protect our people,” he said. “Then we are ordered to carry out a brutal revenge against those we have sworn to protect. No words can describe how it feels.”
Assad Agini said he never witnessed army officials giving direct orders to kill. But, he said, those entering the city, in particular the shabiha, are given a “free hand” to kill, loot and attack at will.
“The job of the army is to prevent resistance to this kind of violence,” he said.
Some soldiers revel in the violence, he said, taking cell-phone videos so they can brag to friends. Many soldiers were benefitting from the looting. Especially for the newer recruits, wages are low, Assad Agini said, and these military actions have given them a chance to turn their fortunes around.
As for the rest, they are angry at the regime, he said. But they fear both the repercussions of defection and retribution from the rebels. Assad Agini said they see it as “kill or be killed.”More from GlobalPost: Syria's walking wounded
Often at home alone with the three boys, Maha said they are constantly afraid. While her husband was still an army officer, he was able to move more freely, enabling him to smuggle food for the family. Medicine, however, was harder to find.
Assad Agini sometimes managed to bring medical supplies back from the Lebanese border. On one occasion, Maha asked him to bring medicine for an old woman she knew was unwell. But when he got to the house, it had been set on fire. She was burned alive, Maha said.
Fearful that his family would be next, or that he himself would be arrested, Assad Agini defected after 20 years in the army. And the family fled to Kureen.
“We had to flee. There were snipers everywhere. We had to leave everything behind. This dress is all I have left,” Maha said. “I loved Homs. It was my home. Before the revolution it was beautiful.”
As Maha and her boys enjoyed dinner on the living room floor, Assad Agini cleaned his Kalashnikov rifle and prepared to join a new battle alongside the Free Syrian Army.
In between bites the boys giggled. When a rainstorm erupted outside, Sa’id yelled to his father: “Papa, the rain went boof! Just like a tank!”
“I don’t like Homs,” the boy added. “There are too many tanks and too much shelling. I like it here, where only the thunder goes boof.”
Source: Global Post
Defections, fighting closer to Damascus and the downing of a Turkish jet are all signs that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime is losing control, the United States said Tuesday.
Speaking on board Air Force One as President Barack Obama flew to a re-election campaign event in Georgia, White House spokesman Jay Carney particularly noted recent “high-level defections.”
“Clearly Bashar al-Assad's regime has slowly been losing its grip on its country,” Carney told journalists, repeating US condemnation of Syria's “unacceptable” shooting down of a Turkish fighter jet.
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is trying to convene a meeting of foreign ministers from the major powers in Geneva on Saturday to discuss political efforts to implement his floundering six-point peace plan.
The United States will continue to pursue a political transition that does not include Assad remaining at the helm, Carney said, specifying: “Our view is that the transition cannot include Assad.”
The downing Friday of the Turkish jet triggered a chorus of international condemnation. NATO on Tuesday met and condemned Syria, with the alliance's secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen voicing solidarity with member Turkey.
The United States said it was ready to consider further support to Turkey.
“Turkey is our ally. As NATO said today and as the secretary general (Rasmussen) said today, we're prepared to look at any requests that Turkey wants to make,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington.
A Turkish diplomat, meanwhile, told AFP that one Syrian general, two colonels and five other army officers including two majors, accompanied by 24 family members, crossed into Turkey late on Sunday.
The latest defections brought to 13 the number of generals seeking refuge in the country since the revolt against Assad's government erupted in March 2011.
The violence has killed more than 15,000 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.
Carney described the loss of life as “horrific” and accused Assad of “hubris.”
It is “essential for the international community to come together” to work towards a political transition in Syria, the White House spokesman said.
Russia is pushing for an international Syria conference and has already discussed the plan with Jordan as well as the European Union, Iran and Iraq.
President Vladimir Putin's strident rhetoric and a flat-out refusal to support sanctions against Moscow's Soviet-era ally Syria have pitted him against the West.
“We've had very productive meetings” with Russia, Carney said, but added: “There's no question we have differences.” The US has opposed Iran's involvement in any international meetings on Syria. - Sapa-AFP
The brutal killing of these young medics who took great personal risk to rescue and treat injured protesters is yet more evidence that Syrian government forces are prepared to commit unspeakable crimes to silence dissent
The discovery of the charred and mutilated bodies of three young medical workers a week after their arrest in Aleppo city is yet further evidence of the Syrian government forces’ appalling disregard for the sanctity of the role of medical workers, Amnesty International said.
All three men were students at Aleppo University – Basel Aslan and Mus’ab Barad were fourth-year medical students and Hazem Batikh was a second-year English literature student and a first-aid medic.
They were part of a team of doctors, nurses and first-aiders who have been providing life-saving medical treatment in makeshift “field hospitals” set up to treat demonstrators shot by security forces and who could not therefore go to state-run hospitals for fear of being arrested, tortured or even killed.
They had been detained by Air Force Intelligence since their arrest in the city on 17 June.
“The brutal killing of these young medics who took great personal risk to rescue and treat injured protesters is yet more evidence that Syrian government forces are prepared to commit unspeakable crimes to silence dissent,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser who recently returned from several weeks in Syria.
“As casualties from the current unrest have mounted, so President Bashar al-Assad’s
government has intensified its hunt for the wounded and for those who provide life-saving emergency treatment to them.
“Such violations are part of an increasingly entrenched pattern of crimes against humanity being perpetrated with impunity by Syrian government forces.”
The three students’ burned bodies were found in the early hours of 24 June in a burned-out car in the Neirab area of Aleppo’s north-eastern outskirts.
Medical personnel who saw the bodies at the morgue told Amnesty International that Basel Aslan had a gunshot wound to the head and his hands were tied behind his back.
One leg and one arm were broken, several teeth missing and the flesh was missing from his lower legs, leaving the bone exposed. Some of his fingernails had been removed.
The bodies of the others were more heavily burned and also bore other wounds.
Amnesty International has seen images of the corpses that back up these descriptions.
The students’ identity cards and university cards were found intact alongside their bodies, indicating that they had been left there after the bodies were burned.
A fourth, charred corpse found with the men has yet to be identified.
Shortly after the three students were arrested, one of their parents called their son’s phone and an unidentified man reportedly answered, saying: “You don’t know how to raise your son. We will teach him how to behave.”
During their detention by Air Force Intelligence, their friends tried in vain to seek their release. Senior Air Force Intelligence officers - who allegedly had released detainees in exchange for bribes in the past – told their friends “to forget them”. Crackdown in Aleppo
Security forces have routinely responded to peaceful protest demonstrations in Aleppo city by firing live rounds into the crowds and arresting and torturing known or suspected protesters and their supporters.
As more frequent and larger demonstrations have been taking place in the city in recent weeks, the security forces’ crackdown has become increasingly brutal and widespread.
In late May, an Amnesty International delegate witnessed security forces firing live rounds indiscriminately
against peaceful demonstrators in Aleppo on several consecutive days, killing and injuring demonstrators and bystanders, including several children.Medics targeted
From the outset of the protests which began in February 2011, Syrian government forces have been targeting doctors and other medical personnel suspected of providing life-saving emergency treatment to protesters and bystanders wounded in deliberate and/or indiscriminate attacks.
Amnesty International documented such attacks in a report
published last October.
Government forces and militias also systematically destroyed and burned down field hospitals and clinics
in towns and villages they attacked.
“Medics and first-aiders working amid unrest and conflict take enormous risks to provide immediate life-saving care to the injured and evacuate them to safety. In Syria such risks are magnified by a government policy to target medical personnel and to exact retribution against them,” said Rovera.
“Those responsible for such gross human rights violations at the highest level of government should be warned that they will not be able to enjoy impunity for such crimes for ever.”
As early as April 2011, Amnesty International concluded that crimes against humanity were being committed amid the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters that began in March last year.
It has repeatedly called on the UN Security Council to refer the deteriorating security situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and made clear that the crimes are subject to universal jurisdiction.
“Russia must stop blocking decisive action by the UN Security Council to end the suffering in Syria,” said Donatella Rovera.
“Most importantly, it should support the transfer of the situation in Syria to the ICC.”
NATO backs Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and vehemently chastises Syria for shooting down a Turkish jet, raising fears that an explosive regional war is comingTurkey's NATO allies called Syria's downing of a Turkish jet "completely unacceptable
" following an emergency meeting in Brussels on Tuesday. Bolstered by that Western support, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened a military response
if Syria pushes its soldiers, who are trying to put down an uprising
, too close to its Mediterranean neighbors' border.
Despite the increasingly bellicose rhetoric — and a second incident Monday in which Syria aimed menacing fire at a rescue plane looking for the downed Turkish jet's two-man crew — NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says he doesn't expect the clash to escalate. But NATO's charter states that an attack on one country in the security alliance is considered an attack on all 28 members. Could tensions between Syria and Turkey draw NATO into a war?
NATO will avoid a war at all costs: This saber rattling "has the feel of a turning point that could drag Western powers" into Syria's escalating conflict, say Slobodan Lekic and Suzan Fraser of The Associated Press
. But the "hard talk" is deceiving. NATO has no appetite for another war in the Middle East, nor do the Arab League and U.N. Security Council. Barring a truly dramatic change, a military intervention in Syria is "all but unthinkable.""Syria's downing of Turkish jet unlikely to pull NATO into Syrian conflict"SEE MORE: Syria's Houla massacre: Has the time for intervention finally come?
But the risk of a regional war remains: The downing of one Turkish plane probably won't drag NATO into a war, says Jonathan Marcus at BBC News
. But this latest showdown does justify "fears that the violence could move beyond Syria's own borders, prompting a broader regional conflagration." Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is increasingly desperate, and even though Turkey clearly wants to handle this diplomatically, if the fighting spills over Turkey's borders, all bets are off."Turkey seeks diplomacy, not war"
NATO may avoid the war, but Turkey is already in it: There is already "an undeclared, veiled war going on," Soli Ozel, a columnist for Turkey's Haberturk
newspaper, tells TIME
. Ankara is letting Saudi Arabia and other outsiders send arms over the porous Turkish border to Syrian rebels. Syrian opposition leaders meet in Ankara, and Syrian defectors and refugees stream over the border regularly. Turkey is already a player in this fight. Really, "how does Ankara expect Syria to respond?"
Source: Yahoo News
The Monitor's Nick Blanford has a well-researched piece
's alleged chemical weapons stockpiles out this morning that anyone interested in Syria's war should read. The firmly held belief in the US
, and other countries that the Baath
regime of Bashar al-Assad
holds large quantities of chemical weapons is a major factor under consideration for all the international players involved in the Syrian crisis.
Hard data on Syria's chemical and biological warfare capabilities is scarce, but the country is believed to have one of the largest chemical agents stockpiles in the world, including VX and Sarin nerve agents. It also has an impressive number of surface-to-surface missiles, such as Scud-Ds which can be fitted with chemical warheads, and modern Russian anti-aircraft missile batteries, including portable shoulder-fired systems.
"This is unknown territory," says Charles Blair
, senior fellow for State and Non-State Threats at the Washington
-based Federation of American Scientists
. "We have never been through the potential collapse via a very bloody ethnic civil war of a country that is likely armed with a very large stockpile of chemical weapons.”
The main concern in the West is that Al Qaeda
-affiliated groups fighting in Syria will attempt to obtain chemical agents from Syrian stockpiles. Al Qaeda has been seeking chemical and biological weapons since at least the late 1990s. Documents seized by US troops in Afghanistan
in 2001 indicated that Al Qaeda was working on acquiring weapons of mass destruction, possibly attempting to weaponize biological agents. In 2009, a British tabloid reported that an Al Qaeda group in Algeria
was forced to abandon a training camp after experiments to weaponize bubonic plague led to the deaths of 40 militants.
I wrote last week about reports of CIA
involvement in determining which rebel groups receive weapons
, and expressed some concern that they could be a first step towards a broader US involvement in Syria's civil war. Saudi Arabia
are backing the rebellion; Iran
and to a lesser extent Russia
are backing Assad. That's one messy situation to get in the middle of.
But I neglected to mention Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles and long-range missile systems, an issue that is probably at the top of the list of concerns of every US soldier and intelligence officer working on Syria. While the collapse of the Baath regime isn't imminent, it's certainly possible. And if that day comes, finding a way to secure the country's chemical weapons – which could end up almost anywhere, given the country's porous borders and history of smuggling over the Iraqi, Turkish and Lebanese borders – will be paramount.
It's a safe bet that the US operatives making contacts with rebel groups in Turkey
are bringing up this issue, and seeking to create relationships and cut deals that will give the US and its allies a head start on locking down Syria's chemical weapons if that day ever comes. Fear of so-called weapons of mass destruction is an issue that could see the US form temporary alliances with militant groups it wouldn't touch with a barge pole under other circumstances.