Posts Tagged ‘ Syria ’

Beltway Foreign Policy

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By Roger Cohen for The New York TImes 

“It is not going too far to say that American foreign policy has become completely subservient to tactical domestic political considerations.”

This stern verdict comes from Vali Nasr, who spent two years working for the Obama administration before becoming dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. In a book called “The Dispensable Nation,” to be published in April, Nasr delivers a devastating portrait of a first-term foreign policy that shunned the tough choices of real diplomacy, often descended into pettiness, and was controlled “by a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers.”

Nasr, one of the most respected American authorities on the Middle East, served as senior adviser to Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan until his death in December 2010. From that vantage point, and later as a close observer, Nasr was led to the reluctant conclusion that the principal aim of Obama’s policies “is not to make strategic decisions but to satisfy public opinion.”

In this sense the first-term Obama foreign policy was successful: He was re-elected. Americans wanted extrication from the big wars and a smaller global footprint: Obama, with some back and forth, delivered. But the price was high and opportunities lost.

“The Dispensable Nation” constitutes important reading as John Kerry moves into his new job as secretary of state. It nails the drift away from the art of diplomacy — with its painful give-and-take — toward a U.S. foreign policy driven by the Pentagon, intelligence agencies and short-term political calculus. It holds the president to account for his zigzags from Kabul to Jerusalem.

It demonstrates the emasculation of the State Department: Nasr quotes Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, telling him of Hillary Clinton that, “It is incredible how little support she got from the White House. They want to control everything.” And it paints a persuasive picture of an American decline driven not so much by the inevitable rise of other powers as by “inconsistency” that has “cast doubt on our leadership.”

Nowhere was this inconsistency more evident than in Afghanistan. Obama doubled-down by committing tens of thousands more troops to show he was no wimp, only to set a date for a drawdown to show he was no warmonger. Marines died; few cared.

He appointed Holbrooke as his point man only to ensure that he “never received the authority to do diplomacy.” Obama’s message to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan was: “Ignore my special representative.” The White House campaign against Holbrooke was “a theater of the absurd,” Nasr writes. “Holbrooke was not included in Obama’s videoconferences with Karzai and was cut out of the presidential retinue when Obama went to Afghanistan.”

The White House seemed “more interested in bringing Holbrooke down than getting the policy right.” The pettiness was striking: “The White House kept a dossier on Holbrooke’s misdeeds and Clinton kept a folder on churlish attempts by the White House’s AfPak office to undermine Holbrooke.”

Diplomacy died. Serious negotiation with the Taliban and involving Iran in talks on Afghanistan’s future — bold steps that carried a domestic political price — were shunned. The use of trade as a bridge got scant attention. Nasr concludes on Afghanistan: “We are just washing our hands of it, hoping there will be a decent interval of calm — a reasonable distance between our departure and the catastrophe to follow.”

In Pakistan, too nuclear to ignore, the ultimate “frenemy,” Nasr observed policy veering between frustrated confrontation and half-hearted attempts to change the relationship through engagement. “The crucial reality was that the Taliban helped Pakistan face down India in the contest over Afghanistan,” Nasr writes. America was never able to change that equation. Aid poured in to secure those nukes and win hearts and minds: Drones drained away any gratitude. A proposed “strategic dialogue” went nowhere. “Pakistan is a failure of American policy, a failure of the sort that comes from the president handing foreign policy over to the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies.”

In Iran, Nasr demonstrates Obama’s deep ambivalence about any deal on the nuclear program. “Pressure,” he writes, “has become an end in itself.” The dual track of ever tougher sanctions combined with diplomatic outreach was “not even dual. It relied on one track, and that was pressure.” The reality was that, “Engagement was a cover for a coercive campaign of sabotage, economic pressure and cyberwarfare.”

Opportunities to begin real step-by-step diplomacy involving Iran giving up its low-enriched uranium in exchange for progressive sanctions relief were lost. What was Tehran to think when “the sum total of three major rounds of diplomatic negotiation was that America would give some bits and bobs of old aircraft in exchange for Iran’s nuclear program”?

On Israel-Palestine, as with Iran, Obama began with some fresh ideas only to retreat. He tried to stop Israeli settlement expansion. Then he gave up when the domestic price looked too high. The result has been drift.

“The Dispensable Nation” is a brave book. Its core message is: Diplomacy is tough and carries a price, but the price is higher when it is abandoned.

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With Gaddafi Dead, The Arab Spring Has Finally Sprung

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

In the end, it does not matter whether Muammar Gaddafi was executed due to an order by members of the Libyan Transitional National Council leadership or whether he was killed at the hands of a vigilante mob in the run up to his capture and death. There is no question that initially there was confusion Thursday when unconfirmed reports out of Libya stated that Gaddafi was captured. However within a few hours news came that he had been killed during a battle between the rebels and forces loyal to Gaddafi . Sure enough, within another hour it was confirmed that Gaddafi was killed as mobile phone videos appeared showing a bloodied Gaddafi dazed and confused as rebels jostled all around him to get a piece of the brutal dictator that they had known for more than 42 years.

Exact details are presently murky in regards to his capture and death but it appears that during a battle in Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte on Thursday morning, Gaddafi’s convoy was spotted by NATO drone aircraft and surveillance and was reportedly fired upon by French air strike on a road fighter jets killing a few dozen fighters. Gaddafi escaped with a few of his bodyguards and was found hiding in a sewage pipe with a couple of his bodyguards by a huge mob of rebels. Hours later, the world saw footages of a severely wounded Gaddafi being held up and surrounded by rebels begging for mercy. Reports sate that he was shot and killed during the crossfire between rebels and his loyalists. And yet there is a sense that he was executed either by those that captured him or by order of the ruling Transitional National Council.

Regardless of how he was killed, more important questions need to be asked. What happens next in Libya? How will a government be formed for a country that is effectively starting over from scratch? This after all is a country that had been held hostage by a dictator for nearly half a century and it is going to need lots of international assistance in transitioning into having an effective and competent government, one that is far better that what the people of Libya have lived under for so long. And how will the Arab Spring and this momentum affect the tenuous situation in several other Arab capitals dealing with their own unrest and near civil wars.

Gaddafi’s graphic last few days were not unlike those of Saddam Hussein of Iraq. His last few hours being injured and captured hiding in a large sewage pipe must have been a far cry from the life he had led for so long as one of the longest serving heads of state and richest people in the world. Saddam too was found near his hometown of Tikrit as he was hiding like a common criminal in a spiderhole when he was caught. In the last few moments of their capture, neither men could not have believed that their worst fears had been realized and their long reign was coming to an end. More rulers across the Arab and indeed Muslim world today must be cognizant of the consequences of their actions as rulers.

The revolts of the Arab Spring have now succeeded in changing repressive governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya. Further east still in Syria an even more brutal dictator in Bashar al Assad must know that his time is coming near and his day of reckoning is a day closer when his countrymen stand up to brutality, repression, and mass murder at the hands of those who are supposed to be their leaders.

To be consistent, NATO and Western nations must remain vigilant and oppose the brutality presently happening in Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain and all other nations of the region and world regardless of strategic and mineral importance simply on the basis of principles and what is right. Only exerting pressure or using force against countries that are either strategically important like Egypt for its Suez canal or oil rich nations like Iraq and Libya for their natural resources will only send the wrong message to many other people in the region who are also yearning to be free. How this change in power happens is not as important as the fact that power changes hands in these long repressive regimes. It does not matter how Gaddafi died, what is important is that he is dead and his death could help gain momentum for the Arab Spring that has now clearly sprung far and wide.

U.S. Refrains From Declaring Haqqani Terrorist Group on Pakistan Concerns

By John Walcott and Viola Gienger for Bloomberg News

The Obama administration isn’t ready to declare the Haqqani group in Pakistan a “foreign terrorist organization” even after Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the group attacked the U.S. embassy and American troops in Afghanistan.

“We are continuing to review whether to designate” the Haqqani organization, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday.
Mullen’s declaration in Senate testimony last week that Haqqani operatives acted as a “proxy” for Pakistan’s intelligence service may have further complicated the question.

Taking the first step — adding the Haqqani group to the list of terrorist organizations — would lead to demands that Pakistan be declared a state sponsor of terrorism. That would put at risk Pakistan’s cooperation as the U.S. tries to snuff out al-Qaeda’s core and other militants in the country’s tribal areas.

For now, the U.S. has designated the Haqqani network’s founder and other leaders. It has made clear to Pakistan that clamping down on the group “is job one, that we want to do it together, and that’s the conversation that we’re having now,” Nuland said.
Designating Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism would put it in the company of only four other countries — Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — and might trigger a nationalist backlash in Pakistan. It would require halting U.S. aid to Pakistan, force the U.S. to oppose World Bank loans to Pakistan, and end cooperation between the two countries in fighting terrorism and trying to stabilize Afghanistan.

Pariah State

Naming Pakistan a sponsor of terrorism “would turn it into a pariah state,” Robert Lamb, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a telephone interview. “That would complicate a lot of aspects of the relationship, which is complicated enough already. It’s ugly, but it’s not unsalvageable.”

The administration is under new pressure to designate the Haqqanis a terrorist organization alongside 49 others, including al-Qaeda, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

After Mullen testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the Haqqani group “meets the standards for designation” as a terrorist organization. So far, said congressional officials, Clinton hasn’t responded.

Congressional Pressure

“I think there’s going to be increasing congressional pressure on them to list the Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization,” said Lisa Curtis, a former CIA analyst and now a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation policy group in Washington.
“If we know that the Haqqani network is behind these major attacks on U.S. interests and we fail to confront them, that is a signal of weakness and it simply invites more attacks,” she said.

Nuland and other administration and military officials signaled a reluctance to sanction Pakistan.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said yesterday that the U.S. wants to “maintain a relationship with Pakistan that’s grounded in common interests, to include going after terrorists that threaten both countries.”
“There are differences from time to time,” Little told reporters at the Pentagon. “Those differences have been made public, and we continue to discuss those differences in private. We look forward to working with the Pakistanis to try to resolve them.”

Stretched Thin

Pakistani military officials told reporters in Islamabad on Sept. 25 that they had decided not to take action against the Haqqani group because their forces are stretched too thin.

If tensions escalated, Pakistan might again, as it did in a previous diplomatic confrontation, cut supply lines to U.S., NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan from its port city of Karachi. Alternative land or air routes are more costly and difficult.
The Pakistanis, said two U.S. intelligence officials, also might abandon secret agreements that permit unmanned U.S. drones to collect intelligence and attack targets in designated areas of Pakistan.

The U.S. already is restricted from operating over the Haqqanis’ suspected base in North Waziristan or the border city of Quetta, home to the main Afghan Taliban group. They also might expel some or all of the classified number of U.S. intelligence officers and special operations forces who are training Pakistani troops and helping target drone attacks, the officials said.

ISI Role

Designating the Haqqani network a terrorist organization would do little to stop the group, said Curtis of the Heritage Foundation. The Haqqanis, she said, probably still would be able to garner financial support from their allies in the Persian Gulf region and backing from the Pakistan spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, known as ISI.
A U.S. designation of the Haqqanis isn’t likely to change Pakistani policy either, said Christine Fair, a Pakistan expert at Georgetown University in Washington.

The ISI and the Pakistani military regard the Haqqani network and other militants as allies in their campaign to maintain Pakistani influence in Afghanistan and prevent arch- rival India from getting a toehold on Pakistan’s western border, said Fair and other specialists.
“They believe that the Haqqanis would protect Pakistan’s interest in any future setup in Afghanistan,” Curtis said.
Rejecting the charges that his government uses the Haqqanis as a proxy, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in a Sept. 25 statement that U.S. policy on Afghanistan shows “confusion and policy disarray.”

“We may just let this ride,” said Marvin Weinbaum, a former Afghanistan and Pakistan intelligence analyst at the State Department and director of the Center for Pakistan Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “We know what direction the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is going, and now we have no idea what the bottom looks like.”

Rights Violations: Pakistan Maintains Discreet Silence Over Syria Protest

By Saba Imtiaz for The Express Tribune

As the chorus against the Syrian government grows louder, Pakistan remains silent on the issue of human rights abuses in Syria. According to Amnesty International, over 1,500 people have been killed since March in the protests against Syrian President Bashar alAssad’s regime. Pressure against Syria appeared to grow over the weekend from Arab states, as the Gulf Cooperation Council asked for an immediate end to bloodshed.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah issued a written statement on the situation. “What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia. Syria should think wisely before it is too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms. Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss.” Soon enough, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain had recalled their ambassadors from Damascus for ‘consultations’.

In April, Pakistan joined China and Russia in voting against a resolution by the UN Human Rights Council condemning the violence in Syria. Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN Zamir Akram was quoted as saying, “My country has always believed that ‘naming and shaming’ is an approach which is counterproductive.”

Three months and over a thousand dead bodies later, no public statement has yet to be made on the situation in Syria. The Foreign Office spokesperson did not respond to a query till the filing of this report.
According to former foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Pakistan’s silence is a product of “historical links between the Bhutto and alAssad families”.

President Bashar’s father, the late president Hafez alAssad, was believed to be a close ally of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Murtaza and Shahnawaz Bhutto travelled to Syria in 1979 to seek support for their campaign to save Bhutto and were offered asylum by the elder alAssad. Murtaza spent several years in Syria before returning to Pakistan in 1993. In 1981, a Pakistan International Airlines flight was hijacked and forced to land in Kabul, and then Damascus. The hijacking is widely believed to be the work of the Al Zulfikar Organisation.
Kasuri said that given the high death toll, “the government of Pakistan needs to make its position clear [and say] that it stands with the people of Syria.”

Pakistan’s silence, according to former foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmad, shows lack of a foreign policy. “Foreign policy is a reflection of a country’s internal state of affairs. If the state is in disorder, it has no foreign policy. Forget Syria or any other Arab country – Pakistan has enough problems at home and has no time to focus on international issues. No one is going to pay any attention to what Pakistan says because it has no credibility. No country is looking to Pakistan for support.”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The writer makes some valid points about Pakistan’s foreign policy or lack thereof. Being complicit also in the suppression of the civilians in Bahrain by providing troops as illustrated in this article shows that the country is often found on the wrong side of terrorism, women and religious minorities rights, and democratic and human rights. Not a good equation and no excuse for any of it any way one looks at it.

Arab Spring Hardening Into Summer of Stalemates

As Reported by USA Today

Among the protest banners in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was a hand-drawn map of the Arab Spring with black target symbols covering each country hit by anti-government uprisings since the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt were ousted earlier this year.

A rebel fighter walks in a old and abandoned Catholic Church used by Gadhafi forces as a military camp near Misrata, Libya, on May 25.
But the bull’s-eyes could easily be replaced with question marks as the groundswell for change has splintered into scattered and indecisive conflicts that have left thousands dead and Western policymakers juggling roles from NATO airstrikes in Libya to worried bystanders in Syria and Yemen.
The stalemates could shift into a deeper holding pattern in August during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when the pace of daily life traditionally slows as the Islamic world observes a dawn-to-dusk fast and other customs such as temporary truces.

It’s a huge and traumatic undertaking to shove aside regimes with decades in power — and sway over nearly every decision down to who gets hired as street sweeper. Iran did it with the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the American-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein cleaned the slate for Iraq and ushered in years of near civil war.

But no such wholesale change appears in the pipeline with the present revolts. That has raised concern that even if the leaders fall, the pillars of the regimes could survive, as happened when military rulers took temporary control after Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak stepped down.
“Half revolution doesn’t work,” a headline last week in Egypt’s Al-Ahram Al-Massai newspaper said after demonstrators returned to Tahrir Square to press for swifter political reforms and bolder legal action against officials from Mubarak’s regime who were accused of corruption and killing protesters.

But even a halfway mark appears farther along than most of the rebellions against the Mideast’s old guard. Cores of loyal security forces in Yemen and Syria keep the regimes hanging on despite relentless protests. In Libya, Moammar Gadhafi could face a moment of truth as rebels press closer to the capital Tripoli and NATO warplanes hammer military sites, yet the anti-Gadhafi militias have no clear leader to prevent possible power grabs to control the country’s oil riches if he is ousted.

The country where the Arab Spring began, Tunisia, has been shaken by unrest — including a rise in ultraconservative Islamists — ahead of planned elections in October to elect an assembly that will write a new constitution. Some political groups are urging further delays in the election to give new parties a chance to organize.

Egypt, meanwhile, is questioning when — or if — the ruling military council will surrender power. The caretaker rulers effectively announced a delay of the elections on Tuesday when they said preparations for the vote would start Sept. 30.

“Bring down the military junta,” chanted some of the 30,000 protesters Tuesday in Tahrir Square. Hours later, the military made clear its patience was wearing thin — with Maj. Gen. Mohsen el-Fangari wagging his finger and warning protesters against “harming national interests.”

Mubarak is under arrest and faces trial next month over the deaths of nearly 900 protesters in the uprising that ended his 29-year-rule in February. In a transcript of his interrogation published by two newspapers Thursday, he claimed to have had no control over security forces who attacked demonstrators.

“No one would have paid any attention to me or my orders,” he said when asked why he did not stop the violence. He claimed he gave clear orders that no force be used against the protesters, and blamed top aides for keeping him in the dark about the gravity of the protests that led to his downfall.
Only in tiny Bahrain have authorities apparently tipped the scales clearly in their favor. Security forces — aided by Saudi-led reinforcements — smothered an uprising by the kingdom’s majority Shiites seeking greater rights from the Sunni rulers. A so-called “national dialogue” began this month, but it’s unlikely that the 200-year-old ruling dynasty will give up any significant hold on power and may need a heavy hand to keep Shiite-led protests from reigniting.

“It’s not over, but we are in an ugly situation now,” said Christopher Davidson, a lecturer on Middle East and Gulf affairs at Britain’s Durham University.

That’s why the definition of the Arab Spring is increasingly being stretched. It’s both about the current showdowns and the long-term spillover. The upheavals — supercharged by the instant communications of the Web — have given the region a crash course in the clout of the streets. The view from the top is suddenly less comfortable.

Even monarchs have acted swiftly after relatively small-scale clamor. Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said promised 50,000 new civil servant posts and allocated $2.6 billion for job programs. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has set in motion plans for an elected government in coming years.
In the tightly ruled United Arab Emirates, officials have opened the vaults to fund development programs in poorer regions outside Dubai and Abu Dhabi and plan to expand voting rights in September’s balloting for a federal advisory council. It’s been trumpeted as a “great leap” for democracy in a country that jailed five activists just for posting Internet appeals to form a true parliament.

“No matter what happens, countries gripped or just touched by the Arab Spring will never go back to what they were,” said Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. That leads to the bigger question: How deep can the changes go?
Syrian protesters, for example, know that even if President Bashar Assad falls, the underpinnings such as the rank-and-file military and public works staff cannot be purged as well without sending the country into a tailspin.

Omar Idilbi, a spokesman for the anti-Assad Local Coordination Committees, which track the protests in Syria, said the opposition has no plans to dissolve the army or even the ruling Baath Party if he is overthrown but will seek to weaken the powers of security agencies. “At the beginning of the uprising when we chanted, ‘the people want to bring down the regime,’ we did not mean President Assad, but the security agencies that interfere in everything from a marriage certificate to the opening of a shop,” said Idilbi, who is based in Beirut.

Yemen’s president isn’t even in the country, yet his regime fights on. A blast last month sent Ali Abdullah Saleh to Saudi Arabia for extensive medical treatment, including more than eight operations. But his son, Ahmed, kept the regime’s crucial Republican Guards forces intact.
Washington believes no credible alternative exists for the current regime as an ally to fight Yemen’s al-Qaida affiliate, which has been declared a major threat to U.S. interests. But President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, has urged Saleh to accept a proposal that would transfer power to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

“The current crisis showed that neither side can win,” said Ahmed Obeid bin Dagher, the deputy secretary general of the ruling party. “If there is no national consensus through dialogue, then al-Qaida will be the alternative.” Jordan-based political analyst Labib Khamhawi sees such calls by regime insiders as bids for survival: Protect the system, not necessarily the leader.

“I think it will be very difficult to imagine that the Libyan, Yemeni or Syrian presidents will remain in power,” he said. “The faces will be changed, but the system might continue to exist.” Among the kings and sheiks in the Gulf, however, there’s not even room for those concessions.
The region’s anchor power, Saudi Arabia, which has not seen protests take off, is staking out a role as “sort of the Arab Spring counterrevolution,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at The Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.

“The Arab Spring revolutions may have their moments of self-doubt or seem stalled at times, but they are authentic expressions for change and, to use an overused phrase, on the right side of history,” said Hamid. “What began in Tunisia and Egypt is a long, long way from being finished.”

Casualties Mount as Syrian Protests, Crackdown Intensify

By Edward Yeranian  for The Voice of America

Thousands of Syrians turned out in over a dozen towns and cities Friday to protest the government’s ongoing crackdown on the country’s three month old protest movement. The protests come as government security forces continue operations on northern towns and in villages near the Turkish border. More than a dozen protesters are reported dead.

Witnesses say Syrian security forces fired on crowds of protesters Friday in the country’s third largest city of Homs, as they shouted slogans against the government. Video on Arab satellite channels showed demonstrators taking cover on a sidestreet amid heavy gunfire.

News agencies reported casualties after security forces fired on protesters in the coastal city of Banias. Other shootings took place in the desert town of Deir al-Zor and the southern city of Daraa.

Syrian Army tanks also deployed in several small villages close to the Turkish border Friday, while continuing a siege of Maaret al-Numan, which straddles the main highway between Damascus and Aleppo.

Witnesses told Arab satellite channels that residents of many border towns have fled and that government snipers are posted on roof tops.
In the town of Jisr al-Shaghour, witnesses complained to Arab satellite channels that security forces have arrested and beaten young men who returned after government forces retook the town early this week.

Syrian government TV, however, claimed that the army is treating residents well.

Old women and children complained about harsh living conditions as they waited inside Syria, close to the Turkish border. Nearly 10,000 refugees have entered Turkey in recent days and others remain along the border, afraid to return home.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged President Assad on Thursday to stop his brutal government crackdown:“I again strongly urge President Assad and his authorities – his regime’s authorities – to stop killing people,” said the U.N. chief.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, says that the Syrian protest movement has reached a critical stage, and is unlikely to die down.

“It seems that we have reached the point of no return. There’s nothing that Assad can do that will cause the protest movement to subside,” Khashan said. “The wall of fear has finally been broken and the fears of bloodshed and torture no longer seem to intimidate Syrians and prevent them from protesting.”

Both the United States and world other governments continue to condemn Syria’s crackdown. But it shows no signs of slowing.

Syria Steps Up Crackdown; International Outcry Grows

As Reported by Voice of America

Syria has intensified its bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, as international criticism against the government’s action mounts. Gunfire continued Tuesday in the flashpoint city of Daraa, where an armed assault to end anti-government protests was in its second day.

Human rights activists say at least 34 people have been killed and dozens more arrested since Syrian troops and tanks entered the city at dawn Monday to crush the demonstrations.

Residents were said to be too afraid to venture out in Daraa. Electricity, water and telecommunications to the city remain cut.

Also Tuesday, thousands of riot police deployed near the coastal city of Banias and in two areas on the outskirts of the Syrian capital. Activists say clashes have been especially brutal near the town of Douma. Demonstrators who attempted to enter Damascus from there during the last two weeks were met with bullets.

More than 400 people have been killed since pro-democracy protests erupted last month. The Syrian rights organization Sawasiah said Tuesday the government has arrested at least 500 people during the ensuing crackdown.

Also Tuesday, the international response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown intensified. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations accused the Syrian leader of “disingenuously blaming outsiders” for the protests.

Susan Rice also reiterated that Washington has evidence of active Iranian support for what she called Syria’s “abhorrent and deplorable” crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. She said the “outrageous use of violence to quell protests” must end now.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned “the continuing violence against peaceful demonstrators,” including the use of tanks and live fire that have “killed and injured hundreds of people.” The U.N. chief has called for an independent inquiry into the violence.

But Syria’s U.N. envoy said Damascus is capable of undertaking its own transparent investigation into the deaths of anti-government protesters, rejecting outside assistance.

Bashar Ja’afari also said the U.N. Security Council “should not rely on media reports” when making its decisions. Britain, France, Germany and Portugal asked the council to condemn Syria’s crackdown in a draft statement circulated on Tuesday.

Ja’afari told reporters Syria regrets civilian casualties, but said the unrest has “hidden agendas,” adding that some foreign governments are attempting to destabilize the country.

Earlier Tuesday, ltalian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Syria to “show moderation” and halt the “violent repression” of peaceful demonstrations.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned Mr. Assad and urged him to show restraint. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the European Union is exploring possibilities for action against Syria, including asset freezes and targeted travel bans on the country’s leadership.

While U.S. officials have condemned the violence against Syrian citizens, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his British counterpart, Liam Fox, played down the likelihood of a Libya-style intervention in Syria.

At a joint news conference in Washington Tuesday, Fox said the world’s response to popular revolts across the Middle East and North Africa must reflect the circumstances in each country. Gates made a similar point, saying that although the U.S. applies its values to all countries in the region, its actions will not always be the same.

A U.S. State Department official said Tuesday that, for now, Washington will limit its response to diplomacy and possible sanctions.

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