Syrian Civil War - 2012
|Daily News Updates|
On 4 February 2012, the UN Security Council again considered a resolution on Syria during a special meeting. The resolution was vetoed by both Russia and China, permanent members of the UN Security Council. The remaining 13 members of the UN Security Council voted in favor of the resolution, which was based on a plan developed by the Gulf Cooperation Council. That plan had originally outlined a planned transition to an interim leadership followed by elections. The UN resolution had called for a transition government in Syria and the text had maintained strong condemnation of the "continued widespread gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities." It also called for "an inclusive Syrian-led political process conducted in an environment free from violence, fear, intimidation, and extremism, and aimed at effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people."
The double veto recieved wide condemnation from western and UN officials. On 6 February 2012, the Russian and Chinese governments criticized that response and defended their decisions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia specifically asked the Security Council to delay voting on the resolution until after his talks in Damascus and that the decision to go ahead with a vote at the UN on 4 February 2012 was disrespectful. He also maintained that the proposed resolution was still one-sided in its demand for an end to violent action by the Damascus government, without also imposing special, specific obligations on the armed groups battling the Assad regime. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Weimin said that his government's decision was ultimately aimed at avoiding more casualties and that supporters pushed through the UN Security Council vote while different sides of the Council were still "seriously divided." Lui went on to say China was paying close attention to the situation in Syria and was calling on all sides there to stop violence. Beijing's ultimate goal, he said, was to avoid casualties of innocent civilians and restore normal order in Syria.
Following the veto violence in Syria continued. Western critics and United Nations officials suggested that the veto had been interpreted by the Syrian authorities as a blank check to continue its crackdown. Syrian authorities were also later reported to have made it difficult for refugees to flee into neighboring countries, going so far as to place mines along known refugee routes.
In February 2012, Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, was appointed by the United Nations and the Arab League as their Joint Special Envoy for the crisis in Syria. Also in February 2012, the United Nations, the United States, and other western and regional powers gathered in Tunis, Tunisia for a "Friends of Syria" conference, modeled on similar meetings conducted for the benefit of Libyan opposition groups in 2011. Few tangible results were garnered from the conference, with violence in Syria continuing.
In March 2012, opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called for international supporters to arm their uprising against Damascus. Defecting military units had already formed themselves into the Free Syrian Army in July 2011. Similar calls were echoed by members of the United States Congress. However, President Obama and other members of his administration said they were unconvinced that arming the opposition would achieve the desired results. In addition, President Obama said that acting unilaterally against Syria would be a "mistake."
Reports from Syria of continuing violence, arbitrary detention, and torture continued to appear. By the middle of March 2012, the Free Syrian Army had suffered significant setbacks, with major government offensives against most of their strongholds. Members of the opposition forces had been largely forced to pull out of the population centers by 20 March 2012, where Syrian authorities had continued to make use of infantry, artillery, and armored vehicles. There were subsequently reports of massacres of civilians who remained behind.
On 21 March 2012, the UN Security Council adopted a statement of support for a 6-point peace plan outlined by Kofi Annan, designated as the Joint Special Envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League with regards to the crisis in Syria. The Annan Plan called for Syria to work with the Joint Special Envoy (point 1) to stop the violence by all parties (point 2), allow humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by fighting (point 3), accelerate the release of persons arbitrarily detained and allow access to the facilities where they were being held (point 4), ensure overall freedom of movement for journalists (point 5), and respect the rights to free association and peaceful demonstration (point 6). Point 2 required that Syrian government forces immediately stop their assaults on population centers and pull their forces back. Point 3 required the establishment of a designated 2 hour humanitarian pause every day to help in the distribution of aid. The Annan Plan set a deadline of 10 April 2012 for implementation. The UNSC statement added that Syria would face undefined "further steps" if the proposal was rejected by Syrian authorities. The UN also reported that it believed at least 8,000 people to have been killed in the Assad government's violent crackdown up to that point.
The Syrian Government subsequently agreed to implement the plan on 27 March 2012, but on 28 March 2012, reports came that Syrian government troops were continuing their assault on various rebel strongholds. The Syrian government also said that it would reject any resolution passed or initiative proposed by the Arab League at their meeting, which had opened on 27 March 2012 in Iraq. The Arab League was expected to pass a resolution calling for Syria to implement the Annan Plan, but without any formal calls for Assad to leave his post.
On 1 April 2012, a second Friends of Syria meeting was convened in Istanbul, Turkey. At that meeting, Arab and Western countries, including the United States, formally recognized the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of all Syrians. Millions dollars and communications equipment were also pledged to Syrian opposition groups. The decision came after various participants of the conference criticized the Syrian authorities for apparently failing to make motions toward implementing the Annan Plan. Calls were also made by the Syrian National Council and other participants to arm and otherwise assist the Free Syrian Army. Russia and China did not participate in the conference, and Russia denounced the conference as being contrary to goal of peaceful resolution of the conflict as outlined in the Annan Plan.
On 2 April 2012, the UN Security Council reported that Syrian officials had stressed their commitment to complete the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from population centers by 10 April 2012. This statement followed a briefing to the UN Security Council by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan. By 5 April 2012, a deadline of 12 April 2012 for a complete cease-fire had been set by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan.
Fighting between Syrian government forces and the Free Syrian Army continued throughout April 2012 and into May 2012. The UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) and others also noted a rise in terrorist type attacks, blamed by some on factions linked to Al Qaeda. On 10 May 2012, at least 55 people were killed and over 370 were injured in 2 explosions that rocked a highway near the capital, Damascus. On 15 May 2012, 3 vehicles belonging to a convoy of UN observers in Syria were damaged in a bomb blast near the city of Hama, but no one was injured. The UN observers were left without transport, however, and stayed overnight in the Syrian town of Khan Cheikhoun before being picked up and returned to their basecamp on 16 May 2012.
At the same time, the opposition Syrian National Council, operating in France, experienced a leadership crisis on 17 May 2012, with the newly re-elected head of the organization, Burhan Ghalioun, offering to resign due to criticism of his leadership and infighting that has plagued groups trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad. The Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists in Syria, had accused the Syrian National Council leadership of marginalizing council members, monopolizing power, and not coordinating closely enough with activists on the ground, and threatened to pull out of the umbrella organization. The threat by the Local Coordination Committees followed the departure of other key activists from the Syrian National Council. The disputes highlighted a continued lack of unity in the Syrian National Council.
On 26 May 2012, there were reports of Syrian government shelling of the village of Houla on 25 May 2012, which led to the deaths of more than 90 people (later reports put the death toll at over 100), including many children. The attacks on Houla, near Homs, represented some of the worst violence since the uprising began. Al Jazeera reported that Free Syrian Army representatives had announced they would no longer adhere to the Annan Plan unless the UN could guarantee protection of civilians in response to the massacre. The attacks in Houla were confirmed by observers from the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) after having viewed the bodies in the village. There they also confirmed from an examination of ordnance that artillery and tank shells were fired at a residential neighborhood.
On 27 May 2012, the Syrian government denied responsibility for the killings in Houla and condemned the atrocities there, saying instead that the attacks had been carried out by al-Qaeda and "Takfiris," an Arabic word used in some cases to describe radical Salafists. On 28 May 2012, the UN Security Council condemned the killings and on 29 May 2012, the US, Australia, Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Switzerland, and Germany, expelled Syrian diplomats in protest. The killings also prompted strong language from Russian officials, with Foreign Minister Lavrov saying that while rebels were also responsible, blame for the 15 months of carnage in Syria was primarily the result of actions by the Syrian government. Russia, however, did say that the US led move to expel diplomats had been counterproductive. Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan had also arrived for scheduled meetings with Syrian authorities as the latest crisis unfolded and left Syria on 30 May 2012 without securing any major steps from the Syrian government to implement his faltering peace plan for the country.
On 31 May 2012, the US State Department released additional satellite imagery, which included images of Syrian Air Force attack helicopters and fixed wing aircraft deployed to an airfield near Shayrat, Syria, in the center of the country. By early June 2012, amateur video shot on the ground in Syria began to show the use Mi-8/-17 and Mi-25 helicopters against rebel controlled areas.
On 4 June 2012, the Free Syrian Army said that due to the refusal of the Assad government to implement the Annan Plan that it was ending its ceasefire and returning to conducting operations against the government.
On 6 June 2012, there were reports of another massacre, this time in the village of Mazraat al-Qubeir near the flashpoint city of Hama, where between 70 and 90 individuals, including women and children, had been killed. As in the case of the incident in Houla, both the Syrian opposition and the Syrian government blamed the other side for committing the atrocities. Russia's Foreign Ministry terms the incident a "despicable provocation" intended to scuttle the Annan plan. UN observers were subsequently prevented from reaching the site to investigate due to the roadblocks and threats of violence.
On 7 June 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that President Bashar al-Assad's regime had lost all legitimacy. Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan warned that Syria was becoming more radicalized and polarized as a result of the massacres and admitted that his plan was clearly not being implemented. Annan said the international community had to take its response to the crisis to "another level." Also on 7 June 2012, the UN said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would soon present the Security Council with a range of options for resolving the crisis in Syria. Russia and China remained categorically opposed to military intervention, having made a joint declaration against such a mission at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Beijing on 7 June 2012. The declaration was made together with other SCO members Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
On 8 June 2012, UNSMIS reported that an observer team had reached the village of Mazraat al-Qubeir, the site of a reported massacre, but was still attempting to ascertain the facts of what had occurred. Observers arrived at the village to find it empty, with buildings having suffered damage from a variety of weapons.
On 13 June 2012, it was reported that UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous had noted a massive increase in violence and declared that the conflict in Syria had become a civil war. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on 13 June 2012 also said that Syria was experiencing a civil war and that he would call on the UN to enforce the Annan Plan through the UN Charter's Chapter Seven, which would likely involve the deployment of an international force to Syria, a major point of contention in the UN Security Council. On 13 June 2012, Syrian authorities challenged the claims of a civil war in the country by reiterating their stance that government forces were engaged in fighting terrorists and armed gangs.
On 14 June 2012, UNSMIS observers reached the town of al-Haffeh. Observers had been attempting to reach the city for days, but had been prevented by ongoing violence in the area. Observers found the town deserted of its residents, but apparently experiencing ongoing fighting between rebels and government forces. The town's Baath Party headquarters had been shelled and appeared to be the site of heavy fighting.
On 16 June 2012, UNSMIS suspended operations until further notice because of increasing violence and the threat to its personnel. Also on 16 June 2012, Human Rights First and western media reported that a ship, the Professor Katsman, reportedly carrying weapons, had docked in Syria on 26 May 2012. The company that owned the ship, Universal Cargo Logistics Holding, a Russian company, denied the claim. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also reiterated that any deliveries of weapons to Syria were "completing right now the implementation of military contracts that were signed and paid for a long time ago." There had also been various reports of the Russian government sending warships and other military elements to Syria, possibly to protect the Russian military facilities at the Port of Tartus. Russian officials said that no deployment to the region was specifically targeted at Syria in any way, but were instead previously scheduled tests and exercises.
On 19 June 2012, a ship heading from Russia to Syria, the MV Alaed, had its insurance withdrawn by The Standard Club in London while off Scotland's coast. Owned by a Russian company, FEMCO, the MV Alaed was reportedly carrying attack helicopters and other weapons to Syria. The ship was subject to the EU arms embargo against Syria, being registered in Curacao in the Dutch Antilles. The ship subsequently headed back to the Russian port of Murmansk, where it was to be reregistered in Russia and given new insurance to allow it to complete its voyage. Again, Russian authorities stated that the equipment on board was part of previous contracts with the Syrian government and not related to the crisis in the country.
On 20 June 2012, the Commander of UNSMIS, Major General Robert Mood, said that the mission was prepared to stay in Syria, despite having suspended operations. UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said that it was important to stick to the original mandate because "there is no other plan."
On 21 June 2012, a Syrian fighter pilot was reported to have flown his Mig-21 jet to Jordan, where he had landed and requested asylum. The defection was reported a major blown to Syrian authorities, who immediately branded the pilot, Colonel Hassan al-Hamade, a traitor who would be punished.
On 22 June 2012, Turkey reported that it had lost contact with an F-4E Phantom II fighter jet, which had been flying over the Mediterranean Sea near Syria on a training mission. A search and rescue effort was immediately mounted, which subsequently recovered a seat and parachute. The effort involved Turkish ships and aircraft and Syrian ships. Manar TV in Lebanon reported that the aircraft had been shot down by Syrian forces, citing Syrian security sources. Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News, citing an unnamed Turkish official, alleged that Syria has apologized for downing the Turkish plane, adding that both pilots had survived. There was no immediate response from Turkish authorities confirming or denying either report. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan later said at a news conference othat he did not know if the plane had been shot down by the Syrians and added that Syria had sent no word of apology.
On 23 June 2012, Syrian authorities admitted that they had engaged "unidentified air target," which had penetrated Syrian airspace. Independant observers speculated that the aircraft might have been a Turkish RF-4E attempting to conduct a reconnaissance mission over Syria based on the units stations at the air base where the aircraft had departed from. The fate of the pilots remained unknown, though Turkish and Syrian authorities continued their search. The Turkish government promised a decisive and legitimate response once all the facts surrounding the incident were known. On 24 June 2012, it was reported that the Turkish government had called for a consultation with other NATO members under Article 4 of NATO's founding treaty.
The consultation meeting was held on 25 June 2012 and on 26 June 2012 Turkey announced that Syria had become an "open threat" to the country. The plane was admitted to be an RF-4E, but the Turkish authorities maintained the aircraft had been on a training and test mission. Turkey also accused the Syrians of firing on one of their CN-235 aircraft participating in rescue efforts. The aircraft had not been damaged and their were no casualties. The rules of engagement for Turkish forces on the Turkish-Syrian border were subsequently changed to allow them to engage any Syrian forces approaching the border. NATO also condemned the shoot down and announced its support for Turkey. With Turkish authorities refusing to say how close Syrian forces would be able to get to the border before invoking the new rules of engagement, a no-fly/no-drive zone was effectively created along the shared border.
On 26 June 2012, President Assad declared that Syria was in a "state of war" and directed the newly appointed Syrian government to focus all of its efforts on subduing the uprising. On June 27, a team of United Nations investigators told the UN Human Rights Council that Syrian government forces had committed grave human rights violations "on an alarming scale" in the preceding 3 months and added that Syrians were being targeted by government troops on the basis of their religion compared to earlier crackdowns, where people had been targeted solely for their opposition to Assad's regime.
On 30 June 2012, the Turkish Air Force scrambled F-16 fighters on 3 separate occasions in response to Syrian helicopters observed heading towards the shared border. Jets scrambled from Incirlik Air Base twice in response to Syrian helicopters flying as close as 7 kilometers to the shared border near the Turkish province of Hatay. Jets were also scrambled from Batman Air Base in response to a Syrian helicopter flying close to the border near the Turkish province of Mardin.
On 30 June 2012, an entity called the Action Group held its first meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. Action Group members included the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Ban Ki-moon and Nabil Elaraby, respectively, the Foreign Ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America), as well as the Turkish Foreign Minister, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Foreign Ministers of Iraq, as Chair of the Summit of the League of Arab States; Kuwait, as Chair of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the League of Arab States and Qatar, as Chair of the Follow-up Committee on Syria of the League of Arab States. At the meeting the Action Group proposed establishment of a transitional governing body, with full executive powers, as part of important agreed principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition that would meet the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. The Action Group also called for all parties to immediately re-commit to a sustained cessation of armed violence, to fully cooperate with observers serving with UNSMIS, and to implement the 6-point peace plan put forward earlier this year by the Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the League of Arab States on Syria, Kofi Annan.
On 1 July 2012, the Syrian National Council rejected the plan of action developed by the Action Group on 30 June 2012, saying that it was ambiguous. In addition, the opposition ruled out any power-sharing agreement with the regime of President Assad. The Local Coordination Committees also rejected the plan, calling it a step backwards.
On 2 July 2012, members of the Syrian opposition and Arab diplomats began talks in Cairo under the auspices of the Arab League to consider measures to step up pressure against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said that President Assad had flouted written agreements and resorted to military might rather than political means. He also called on the Syrian opposition to unify. This view was echoed by others, including the Russians, who also asked the Syrian opposition to develop a common agenda.
On 4 July 2012, Turkey reported that it had found the bodies of the 2 pilots onboard the RF-4E that had been shot down on 22 June 2012. The bodies, along with other wreckage from the aircraft were found in the Mediterranean Sea.
Also on 4 July 2012, head of UNSMIS Major-General Robert Mood said that he had received a clear commitment from the Syrian government to implement the Annan Plan. On 5 July 2012, Major-General Mood announced changes UNSMIS in order to better meet its operational mandate. UNSMIS would consolidate its 8 local team site locations, spread out in different parts of Syria, into the regional locations, with monitors and assets moved from locations in Hama, Idleb and Tartus to boost the mission's presence in other locations. At that time, UNSMIS' activities remained suspended and Major-General Mood also noted that violence had reached "unprecedented levels."
On 6 July 2012, it was reported that Syrian Army Brigadier General Manaf Tlass had fled to Turkey, where he had also sought asylum. Brigadier General Tlass was the son of former Syrian defense minister Mustafa Tlass, who had served in the position from 1972 to 2004 and helped the Assad family set up the repressive regime in Syria. Brigadier General Tlass was said to have been close to President Assad and US officials said that his defection should not be taken lightly. Another Friends of Syria conference also concluded on 6 July 2012, with the participants agreeing that President Assad had to step down and criticizing China and Russia for allegedly holding up international efforts to end the crisis in Syria.
On 9 July 2012, Joint Special Envoy Annan traveled to Syria for discussions with President Assad. Annan described the meeting with Assad as "very candid and constructive." Annan said that Assad had assured him of his commitment to the 6 point peace plan. Annan later traveled to Iran and on 10 July 2012, where he talked with authorities and highlighted the potential for Iran to assist in resolving the crisis peacefully. Annan also traveled to Iraq to talk with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on the impact of the Syrian crisis in the region.
Also on 10 July 2012, Russia announced that it was sending the Admiral Chabanenko Udaloy II class destroyer, the Alexander Otrakovsky, Georgy Pobedonosets and Kondopoga large amphibious assault ships, as well as the Nikolai Chiker and Sergei Osipov support vessels for exercises in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and the Black Sea. The force was to be joined in the northern Atlantic by a group of Baltic Fleet ships, including the Yaroslav Mudry frigate and the Lena tanker. Western sources suggested that these vessels might in fact have been heading to the Russian naval base at Tartus, Syria. Two of the ships were later confirmed to be heading to Tartus. Rosoboronexport added that there were no attack helicopters being transported on the ships to Syria.
On 11 July 2012, it was reported that Syria's ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, had defected to the opposition. This was later confirmed in a statement broadcast by Al-Jazeera, in which Fares also called on his colleagues and others to join him. The Syrian government subsequently stated that Fares had been relieved of his position and duties and should face legal and disciplinary action. Fares was said to have subsequently relocated to Qatar, one of the Gulf states overtly supporting the Syrian opposition and calling for an end to Assad's regime.
On 12 July 2012, news reports suggested that Syrian authorities might be in the process of moving elements of their chemical weapons stockpile away from conflict areas to improve their security. This also raised fears that the weapons might be being deployed. On 13 July 2012, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters there were no indications that Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles have become less secure and that the US assessment, that the Syrian government continued to exercise control over the arsenal, remained unchanged.
On 13 July 2012, it was reported that Syrian authorities had massacred some 200 individuals in the village of Tremseh, near Hama, and had used artillery, tanks, and helicopters during the assault. The attack sparked widespread condemnation, but Syrian authorities denied the total deaths and said that most of those killed were terrorists. Special Envoy Annan said that the attack violated Syria's commitment to the 6 point peace plan. UNSMIS also confirmed that heavy fighting had occurred in the vicinity of Hama and later traveled to Tremseh on 14 July 2012. Observers reported that there were indications that the attack had been specifically directed at the homes of opponents of the regime. The observers could not confirm the death toll of the attack. At the time the UN estimated that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, had been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad began in 2011.
The attack subsequently sparked new efforts to approve UN sanctions against Syria. On 16 July 2012, Russia had labeled the new efforts as "blackmail" and "unrealistic," continuing to push for a plan that would see President Assad remain in power. Also, by 16 July 2012, the International Committee of the Red Cross had said that Syria was in a state of civil war, defining the situation as a "noninternational armed conflict," bringing into force the Geneva Conventions. Previously, the Red Cross had regarded only the areas around the troubled towns of Idlib, Homs, and Hama as civil-war zones. This new designation had the potential to open up more actors in the conflict to war crimes charges.
On 17 July 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon traveled to China for talks with President Hu Jintao, with Syria likely to be one of the topics. China, along with Russia, continued to staunchly oppose foreign intervention in Syria, even as fighting began to intensify in the country's capital, Damascus. Also on 17 July 2012, Special Envoy Annan traveled to Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin on coming to a compromise on Syria.
On 18 July 2012, former Syrian Ambassador Nawaf Fares told the BBC that he believed that Assad regime could be pushed to use chemical weapons and that there were unconfirmed reports that such weapons had already been used in Homs. Later on 18 July 2012, it was reported that President Assad's brother-in-law General Assef Shawkat, the head of his crisis team General Hassan Turkomani, and the country's Defense Minister General Daoud Rajiha had been killed in a suicide bombing. Director of the National Security Bureau Hisham Ikhtiar and Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar were initially said to have been injured in the attack. Al-Shaar was later reported to have died as well. The Free Syrian Army and a jihadist group calling itself Lord of the Martyrs Brigade both claimed responsibility.
On 19 July 2012, Russia and China again vetoed a proposed UN Security Council resolution that would have imposed non-military sanctions on the Syrian government. The Security Council voted 11-2 in favor of the measure, with Pakistan and South Africa abstaining. It marked the third time that Russia and China had voted against the resolution. Russia again said that the resolution was biased against Syria and both Russia and China also objected to the potential for an armed intervention in Syria as a product of the resolution. The US said that with the continued failure of the Security Council to find a common position it would work outside UN process to help resolve the Syria crisis.
Also on 19 July 2012, fighting continued to rage in and around the Syrian capital Damascus. It appeared that the bombing on 18 July 2012 had been a watershed event in the crisis as well. Numerous reports suggested that President Assad, his family, and other members of his inner circle had already fled the capital for the coastal city of Latakia. State TV released a video to show that Assad was still in Damascus, but there was nothing in the footage to confirm the date it was recorded on. Reports also surfaced that tanks and troops had been deployed to defend the large Presidential Palace in Damascus.
On 20 July 2012, Foreign Secretary William Hague said that Britain would work outside the UN Security Council to support the opposition movement in Syria. Hague's comments came amid continued vetoes and threats of vetoes of security council resolutions by Russia and China. Later on 20 July 2012, the Security Council did renewed the mandate of United Nations observers tasked with monitoring the cessation of violence in Syria and announced continued support for the full implementation of the international peace plan put forward to end the ongoing crisis.
By 22 July 2012, intense fighting had begun to be reported in the capital Damascus and in the city of Aleppo, Syria's second largest and a major economic center. On 23 July 2012, Syria offered a tacit admission of their chemical weapon capability, when they said that they would not use such weapons "would never be used against civilians or against the Syrian people" during the crisis for any reason. However, the government spokesman did say that Syria reserved the right to use the weapons against foreign aggressors. Given that Syria continued to maintain that opposition fighters were "terrorist gangs" and full of foreigners, Western powers and the UN warned Syria of grave consequences if they decided to use their chemical weapons stockpile to suppress the rebellion.
On 24 July 2012, Iraq reopened its border with Syria and pledged to help fleeing refugees. This was in part due to the more than 10,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria who were trying to flee the country in the face of violence. Seen as close to the regime, Iraqis had been reportedly targeted in reprisals by opposition fighters. On 25 July 2012, Turkey made the decision to close their border with Syria due to the advances of Kurdish groups in Syria to secure portions of the country. Turkish authorities were worried that the area could become a safe haven for the PKK. On 26 July 2012, Turkey's Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey could be compelled to act against "terrorist" elements inside Syria.
Also on 25 July 2012, the United Nations peacekeeping chief announced that half of the 300 UN observers in Syria had left the country, while adding that the crisis there remains "of utmost concern" and the world body would continue to promote a political solution. On 26 July 2012, Hervé Ladsous, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that the move would be temporary and that the observers could be recalled if the situation changed.
This announcement came as fighting in Damascus and Aleppo continued to escalate, with Free Syrian Army fighters in the latter city expecting a major government counterattack. Fighting in Aleppo raged into August 2012, with reports on 1 August 2012 of the summary execution of suspected Assad loyalists by Free Syrian Army fighters in the city. Also, NBC News issued a report on 1 August 2012 that Turkey had supplied man-portable surface-to-air missiles, such as the FIM-92 Stinger, to Syrian opposition fighters along with other equipment. This transfer of materiel was reportedly coordinated by Turkey at a base near the border with Syria, but also involved Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
On 2 August 2012, Kofi Annan resigned as the United Nations-League of Arab States Joint Special Envoy for the Syrian crisis. Annan blamed his decision in part on what he called "finger-pointing and name-calling" in the UN Security Council. He added that he did not feel he had been given all the support the cause deserved. On 3 August 2012, the UN General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution that condemned the Syrian government's campaign against opposition forces and criticized the UN Security Council for failing to agree on measures to help end the violence. The measure was approved by 133 representatives of the 193-member assembly, with 12 "no" votes, and 31 abstentions. Russia and China were among those to vote against the resolution.
On 4 August 2012, as opposition forces made pushes to secure portions of Syria's capital Damascus and the major city of Aleppo, it was reported that 48 Iranians had been kidnapped from a bus in Damascus. Iran said that the group was on a religious pilgrimage, but opposition forces who detained the Iranians said that they were members of the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) assisting the Syrian government. On 7 August 2012, the Iranian government sent a message to the United States through the US foreign interests section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran saying that the US had responsibility for the 48 Iranians and that any harm that came to them would be on their hands. Tehran later asked the UN and Turkey for assistance in freeing the hostages. On 8 August 2012, Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi also added that the pilgrims included "retired" members of the IRGC and Iranian military.
On 6 August 2012, Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab said he had defected, speaking from Jordan where he had fled with his family. The Syrian government said that Hijab had been fired and replaced by his deputy, Omar Ghalawanji. On 9 August 2012, it was officially announced that Wael al-Halqi, the former health minister, had in fact taken the position of Prime Minister. Hijab, a longtime member of Ba'ath Party, but not an Alawite, had only been at the post for 2 months. The defection came as fighting in Aleppo continued to rage, with opposition forces reportedly making headway.
In addition, on 6 August 2012, Kurds in the north of Syria say they have taken control of most of the region's major towns and cities from government forces. The Turkish government, which had made public statements in support of forces fighting the Syrian government and was reported to have been supplying materiel to the opposition, was extremely concerned by these developments. Many Syrian Kurds were reported to be sympathetic to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) movement, deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey and in the West. Authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan were also said to be worried about PKK-links among Kurdish refugees.
On 8 August 2012, the Syrian government was said to be massing forces for a major assault into opposition controlled areas in the city of Aleppo. On 9 August 2012, the Iranian government hosted a meeting in Tehran looking to find a solution to the crisis. Representatives from Belarus, Mauritania, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Benin, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Algeria, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Oman, Venezuela, Tajikistan, India, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Sudan, Jordan, Tunisia and Palestine attended the meeting. After the meeting the participants condemned the violence on both sides in Syria and called for peaceful political solutions based on dialogue to end the conflict. No specific course of action was announced. While UN Secretary General Ban had called for action to spring from the meeting, during the State Department's daily press conference on 9 August 2012, Acting Deputy State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that the US "had a few instances to reiterate our position that we think the Iranian behavior in Syria is destructive."
Also on 9 August 2012, Susan Rice, the US ambassador at the United Nations, said it was hard to envision that the conditions set by the UN Security Council for the UNSMIS observer mission could be met in the time that remained in their mandate and that the mandate was unlikely to be renewed as a result. On 10 August 2012, the US added new unilateral sanctions against Syria, including sanctioning the Syrian state-run oil company Sytrol under the Iran Sanctions Act, as amended by the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, for business dealings with the Iranian energy sector. The US also added the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hizballah to its list of organizations sanctioned for ties to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Reports also continued of covert movement of military materiel to Syrian opposition forces. There had been public admissions from Western powers about the shipment of non-lethal materiel to Syrian opposition elements.
On 11 August 2012, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Turkey and the US both wanted to expand operational planning to assist the rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Establishing a no-fly zone was said to be one of the options considered. This came after reports on 10 August 2012, that Turkish authorities had determined that Syrian anti-aircraft artillery had not been responsible for the downing of a Turkish RF-4E aircraft on 22 June 2012. The Hurriyet newspaper said the detailed report rejected the possibility of any involvement of Syrian air defense forces, based on the chemical and physical analysis of 20 fragments of the crashed aircraft. There was no indication of whether the report posited an alternative explanation for the crash. Also on 11 August 2012, UN Secretary General Ban said that he supported a continued UN presence in Syria, that "goes beyond our important humanitarian work would allow systematic and meaningful engagement with the Syrian stakeholders."
On 12 August 2012, Syrian authorities said they had killed one of the ringleaders of al-Nusra Front terrorist group, Wael Mohammad al-Majdalawi. The Al-Nusra Front had claimed responsibility for several terrorist attacks in Syria, including blasts in Aleppo in January 2012 and terrorist acts against intelligence service officers in Damascus in January and March 2012. He was reportedly located with the help of local civilians.
On 14 August 2012, at a joint press conference with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that the IRGC was training and otherwise providing assistance to the Jaish al-Sha'abi, a pro-regime militia made up of Shia and Alawite Syrians. Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey both added that the US was in consultations with Turkey and Jordan about otherwise expanding their involvement in Syria, to potentially include a no-fly zone.
In August 2012, the regime began to employ jet aircraft in an interdiction role as battle lines in Aleppo hardened and the regime’s helicopter usage peaked. Al-Assad may have ordered the use of fixed-wing platforms because of maintenance issues associated with operating approximately 50 helicopters and a lack of the highly capable Mi-25 Hind attack helicopters.
The rebels’ growing air-defense capability, which forced the regime to operate at higher altitudes, also accounts for the transition from rotary to fixed-wing aircraft. The opposition responded to the regime’s air-power by shooting down a limited number of aircraft and attacking airbases. By late summer 2012, the rebels’ equipment probably included 15–25 ZU-23s, two to five 57 mm towed air defense artillery guns (or others), and 15–30 SA-7 man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS). Reports also indicated the presence of SA-16 and -24 surface-to-air missiles (SAM). The rebels primarily relied on heavy anti-aircraft machineguns like the ZU-23 and, on at least one occasion, a MANPADS. As of October 2012, the FSA had shot down an estimated five rotary-wing and six fixed-wing aircraft.
During the last two months of 2012, anti-Government armed groups reached strategic regions and were able to challenge state forces control of sensitive infrastructure such as oil fields, major highways, airports and military camps. The armed groups have increasing access to weaponry, though those in the south tend to be less wellarmed. Most anti-Government armed groups are equipped with individual light weapons and small arms, typical to any insurgency, including Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) of different calibres and types. The larger armed groups possess mortars, heavy machine guns and heavy anti-aircraft machine guns. A few obtained anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. The quality and quantity of such missiles appear to be limited but would be sufficient to affect Government forces use of air assets. While significant quantities of arms were taken from army camps, weapons and ammunition have also been smuggled in from neighboring countries.
The death toll in the ongoing conflict in Syria surpassed 60,000 by the end of 2012, accordng to the United Nations human rights office. Preliminary analysis carried out by data specialists on behalf of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) led to the compilation of a list of 59,648 individuals reported killed in Syria between 15 March 2011 and 30 November 2012. "Given there has been no let-up in the conflict since the end of November, we can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of 2013," said High Commissioner Navi Pillay said 02 January 2013 . "The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking," she added. The analysts noted that 60,000 is likely to be an underestimate of the actual number of deaths, given that reports containing insufficient information were excluded from the list, and that a significant number of killings may not have been documented at all by any of the seven sources.
The later part of 2012 witnessed an escalation in the conflict, which began as an uprising against President al-Assad and was now in its 22nd month by the end of the year. The crisis left four million people inside the country in need of humanitarian assistance, and it was estimated that up to a million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries will need help during the first half of 2013. As the situation continued to degenerate, increasing numbers of people were n killed by anti-government armed groups, and there was a proliferation of serious crimes including war crimes, and – most probably – crimes against humanity, by both sides. Cities, towns and villages have been, and are continuing to be, devastated by aerial attacks, shelling, tank fire, bomb attacks and street-to-street fighting.
The increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict was highlighted in a 20 December 2012 update by the UN-mandated independent international Commission of Inquiry on Syria, meaning a swift end to the conflict would be all the more difficult to accomplish. The update described the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict, with Government forces and supporting militias attacking Sunni civilians, and reports of anti-Government armed groups attacking Alawites and other pro-Government minority communities, including Catholics, Armenian Orthodox and Druze. Some minority communities, including Christians, Kurds and Turkmen, have also been caught up in the conflict, and in some cases forced to take up arms for their own defence or to take sides. The presence of foreign fighters, some with links to extremist groups, and the radicalisation of some of the Syrian anti-Government fighters is highlighted.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a periodic update, covering the period 28 September to 16 December 2012. The Commission, which comprises Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (Chair), Ms. Karen AbuZayd, Ms. Carla del Ponte and Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, has been mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law. The Commission has also been tasked with investigating allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and its mandate was recently expanded to include “investigations of all massacres.”
In the southern governorates of Dara’a, al-Suweida and al-Qunayterah, Government forces remained in control of main localities. This was due to the heavy presence of army units and security services, together with the existence of relatively disorganised and poorly armed anti-Government groups in these areas. In comparison to groups based in the north-west, armed groups in the southern governorates have struggled to establish themselves and are able only to briefly attack isolated checkpoints and individuals. In these areas, the army is still able to set up checkpoints and conduct targeted raids inside restive towns.
Reports from northern and central provinces described a different reality, with anti-Government armed groups exercising control over large swathes of territory. Armed groups in governorates such as Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo have been able to coordinate effectively, both with each other and with unified local military councils. Further, they are equipped with increasingly efficient military assets allowing them to mount a serious challenge to the Government forces’ authority.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|