What to do about Syria divides all
There is only one article here about any of Syria’s neighbours (2) because they are saying little in public; Otherwise G20 countries are being vociferous but reaching no agreement.
1) FT: Rifts over Syria set to overshadow G20;
2) Al Jazeera: Arab League: Only UN can stop Syria crimes;
3) EU Observer: France on Syria: We are not being led by US. divisions inside France and the EU;
4) McClatchy: To some, US case for Syrian gas attack, strike has too many holes, detailed critique of the US case for attack;
5) Infowars: Rebels Admit Responsibility for Chemical Weapons Attack, a one-source story;
6) McClatchy: Intercepted call bolsters Syrian chemical-weapons charge, Germans say;
6) Notes and links Arab League emissary to G20, who’s in G20;
By FT reporters
September 05, 2013
As the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations arrived in St Petersburg on Thursday for a G20 summit that has already been overshadowed by Syria, China said military action against the Assad regime would hurt the world economy and push up oil prices.
“Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price – it will cause a hike in the oil price,” Chinese vice-finance minister Zhu Guangyao told a briefing before the start of the G20 leaders’ talks.
In Beijing Hong Lei, China’s foreign military spokesman, said that any party resorting to chemical warfare should accept responsibility for it, but added that unilateral military action violated international law and would complicate the conflict.
Before the Syria crisis escalated, the G20 gathering was set to focus on concerns about the tapering of monetary policy in the US, global growth and the taxation of multinational corporations. But Syria, while not on the official agenda, is now set to dominate discussion at the economic forum and raise the already fraught diplomatic stakes.
On the eve of the summit, Barack Obama, US president, again forcefully made the case for a strike against Syria, saying the world “had to act” against the regime of Bashar al-Assad to maintain the credibility of a global ban on chemical weapons.
The US president’s stance has stoked tensions with Vladimir Putin, the summit’s host and an ally of Mr Assad, who has accused the US regime of lying about the Syrian rebels and “sanctioning aggression”.
Russia and China have made it clear they will veto any military intervention in the UN Security Council, but Mr Obama is seeking the backing of US Congress in a vote next week.
Russia and Syria have been longtime allies and Moscow has repeatedly blocked UN action against Damascus since the civil war started in March 2011.
Speaking in St Petersburg on Thursday, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said the apparent chemical weapons attack on Gouta, a suburb of Damascus, on August 21 was “a crime against humanity”.
He said that according to information presented by some countries, including EU member states, “the Syrian regime is the only one that possesses chemical weapons and the means for their delivery in sufficient quantities” to have carried out the attack.
However, he underscored the need to address the Syria crisis “through the UN process”.
“There is no military solution to the Syria conflict, there can only be a political solution,” he told a press briefing at the G20 summit.
He also urged a team of UN inspectors who recently returned from examining evidence in the attack to issue a preliminary report as soon as possible.
By Al Jazeera
September 03, 2013
Secretary general insists military action “is out of the question” unless United Nations gives green light.
The head of the Arab League has said military intervention in Syria is not an option – a further blow to the United States’ efforts to act over a chemical weapons attack in Damascus last month.
Following emergency meetings in Cairo on Monday, secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby, said the League held the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad responsible for the August 21 attack, but a “military option is out of the question”.
He said that the United Nations inspectors who had investigated the attack site “do not have the powers to say who committed this… so, all the inspectors will say is that chemical weapons have been used”.
His comments came a day after the League stopped short of calling for military intervention in Syria, instead asking the UN and the international community to take “deterrent” measures under international law.
Elaraby added that he considered that only the UN, “as the official representative of the international community” could “take action to stop those who committed this crime”.
Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and an ally of Assad, has said there is no evidence that the chemical attack was launched by the Assad regime.
Meanwhile, the secretary general of Nato, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said the international community could not ignore the attack.
“We believe that these unspeakable actions which claimed the lives of hundreds of men, women and children cannot be ignored,” Rasmussen told a news conference.
“I think there is an agreement that we need a firm international response in order to avoid that chemical attacks take place in the future. It would send, I would say, a dangerous signal to dictators all over the world if we stand idly by and don’t react,” he added.
The Syrian regime, meanwhile, has asked the UN to prevent “any aggression” against Syria.
The US plans for military action against Syria will be put to a vote in the Congress, which ends its summer recess on September 9, giving Assad time to prepare for any assault and rally international support against the use of force.
Meanwhile, Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s envoy to the UN, said in a letter that the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki moon, should “shoulder his responsibilities for preventing any aggression on Syria and pushing forward reaching a political solution to the crisis in Syria”.
He called on the Security Council to “maintain its role as a safety valve to prevent the absurd use of force out of the frame of international legitimacy”.
Jaafari said the US should “play its role, as a peace sponsor and as a partner to Russia in the preparation for the international conference on Syria and not as a state that uses force against whoever opposes its policies”.
Syria denies using chemical weapons and accuses rebel groups, who have been fighting for more than two years to topple Assad, of using the banned weapons.
At least 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, which started in March 2011 with protests against four decades of Assad family rule.
By Andrew Rettman, EU Observer
September 05, 2013
BRUSSELS – French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has denied that France is being led by the US on military action in Syria.
Speaking at a debate in the French parliament on Wednesday (4 September), the centre-left PM said the French republic is not “tagging along” behind the US.
He noted: “We’re not simply following … We’re ready to take this decision to stop [alleged chemical weapons use]. We can’t do it alone. We’ve wanted an international coalition from the start, not just militarily but politically.”
He said France was the first to recognise the opposition group, the Syrian National Council, as the legitimate representative of Syria.
He added: “Our position is clear. It’s the US President’s right to call Congress. But we’re not following a US decision. It’s our own decision that we can finally put in place, with a need to be clear, firm and fast.”
The USS San Antonio docks in Israel’s Haifa port, September 5th. The Haifa Port authority said the visit was routine and that the warship docked in Haifa to refuel. Captain Randell Dykes said: If you’ve been here, you know what a great country Israel is. “I know our sailors and Marines will have a great time. They certainly deserve it after all the hard work they’ve put in on this deployment.” Ynet news
He also denied claims by the centre-right UMP party that France and the US are isolated in the UN and in Europe.
“France is not acting alone … We are counting on the support of the Europeans and of countries in the region, notably those in the Arab League,” he said.
Ayrault pledged that operations will not involve ground troops and will not be designed to create regime change.
But he noted: “Of course, we want the departure of [Syrian leader] Bashar al-Assad, who has not hesitated to directly threaten France, our country.”
For his part, the UMP leader, Christian Jacob, said his side would not back any operation which does not have UN blessing.
He also called for a vote in the French parliament, on the model of a recent British vote which overturned the UK government’s plans for joint US strikes.
“We reject an isolated action without international legitimacy,” Jacob said.
“You cannot escape a vote,” he added.
The minor parties in the French assembly echoed Jacob’s scepticism.
The centrist UDI called for a UN mandate and cast doubt on the quality of French intelligence that al-Assad launched a large-scale gas attack against civilians last month.
The left-wing FDG and RPG parties said that only a political solution can bring peace, while the far-right Front national said jihadist groups will control Syria if al-Assad falls.
The green EELV faction voiced internal division, however, while the former UMP prime minister, Alain Juppe, came out against his own party on French TV on Thursday morning, saying that waiting for the UN, where Syria’s ally, Russia, has a veto, amounts to “collusion on inaction.”
French President Francois Hollande is to meet with leaders from EU countries in the G20 club – Germany, Italy and the UK – in the margins of a summit in St Petersburg on Thursday to discuss a joint European position.
Germany has said its forces will not take part in operations.
But on Wednesday it continued to build political backing for action, when its intelligence service, the BND, briefed MPs in a confidential meeting in Berlin on evidence that al-Assad did it.
“The BND referred to a phone call they had heard between a Hezbollah official and the Iranian embassy in which he spoke about al-Assad having ordered the attack,” one German deputy told Reuters, referring to a pro-Assad Lebanese group.
Italy has said any strikes must have a UN mandate.
Meanwhile, Swedish leader Fredrik Reinfeldt sat on the fence during a press conference in Stockholm on Wednesday with US leader Barack Obama, who now has Senate approval for use of military force.
“Sweden believes that serious matters concerning international peace and security should be handled by the United Nations. But I also understand the potential consequences of letting a violation like this go unanswered,” Reinfeldt said.
The big confrontation at the G20 event is set to be between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly warned the West against getting involved.
He told press on Tuesday that if the US strikes Syria “we [Russia] shall think how we should act in the future, in particular regarding supplies of … sensitive weapons to certain regions of the world,” alluding to deliveries of Russian anti-air defences to Iran, Israel’s main adversary.
UN convoy of vehicles, carrying the UN team of inspectors, crosses into Lebanon from Syria on Saturday, August 31st. Photo by European Pressphoto Agency.
To some, US case for Syrian gas attack, strike has too many holes
By Hannah Allam and Mark Seibel, McClatchy Washington Bureau
August 30, 2013
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s public case for attacking Syria is riddled with inconsistencies and hinges mainly on circumstantial evidence, undermining U.S. efforts this week to build support at home and abroad for a punitive strike against Bashar Assad’s regime.
The case Secretary of State John Kerry laid out last Friday contained claims that were disputed by the United Nations, inconsistent in some details with British and French intelligence reports or lacking sufficient transparency for international chemical weapons experts to accept at face value.
After the false weapons claims preceding the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the threshold for evidence to support intervention is exceedingly high. And while there’s little dispute that a chemical agent was used in an Aug. 21 attack outside of Damascus – and probably on a smaller scale before that – there are calls from many quarters for independent, scientific evidence to support the U.S. narrative that the Assad regime used sarin gas in an operation that killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children.
Some of the U.S. points in question:
The Obama administration dismissed the value of a U.N. inspection team’s work by saying that the investigators arrived too late for the findings to be credible and wouldn’t provide any information the United State didn’t already have.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq countered that it was “rare” for such an investigation to begin within such a short time and said that “the passage of such few days does not affect the opportunities to collect valuable samples,” according to the U.N.’s website. For example, Haq added, sarin can be detected in biomedical samples for months after its use.
The U.S. claims that sarin was used in the Aug. 21 attack, citing a positive test on first responders’ hair and blood – samples “that were provided to the United States,” Kerry said on television Sunday without elaboration on the collection methods.
Experts say the evidence deteriorates over time, but that it’s simply untrue that there wouldn’t be any value in an investigation five days after an alleged attack. As a New York Times report noted, two human rights groups dispatched a forensics team to northern Iraq in 1992 and found trace evidence of sarin as well as mustard gas – four years after a chemical attack.
The U.S. assertion also was disputed in an intelligence summary the British government made public last week. “There is no immediate time limit over which environmental or physiological samples would have degraded beyond usefulness,” according to the report, which was distributed to Parliament ahead of its vote not to permit Britain to participate in any strike.
Another point of dispute is the death toll from the alleged attacks on Aug. 21. Neither Kerry’s remarks nor the unclassified version of the U.S. intelligence he referenced explained how the U.S. reached a tally of 1,429, including 426 children. The only attribution was “a preliminary government assessment.”
Anthony Cordesman, a former senior defense official who’s now with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, took aim at the death toll discrepancies in an essay published Sunday.
He criticized Kerry as being “sandbagged into using an absurdly over-precise number” of 1,429, and noted that the number didn’t agree with either the British assessment of “at least 350 fatalities” or other Syrian opposition sources, namely the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has confirmed 502 dead, including about 100 children and “tens” of rebel fighters, and has demanded that Kerry provide the names of the victims included in the U.S. tally.
“President Obama was then forced to round off the number at ‘well over 1,000 people’ – creating a mix of contradictions over the most basic facts,” Cordesman wrote. He added that the blunder was reminiscent of “the mistakes the U.S. made in preparing Secretary (Colin) Powell’s speech to the U.N. on Iraq in 2003.”
An unclassified version of a French intelligence report on Syria that was released Monday hardly cleared things up; France confirmed only 281 fatalities, though it more broadly agreed with the United States that the regime had used chemical weapons in the Aug. 21 attack.
Another eyebrow-raising administration claim was that U.S. intelligence had “collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence” that showed the regime preparing for an attack three days before the event. The U.S. assessment says regime personnel were in an area known to be used to “mix chemical weapons, including sarin,” and that regime forces prepared for the Aug. 21 attack by putting on gas masks.
That claim raises two questions: Why didn’t the U.S. warn rebels about the impending attack and save hundreds of lives? And why did the administration keep mum about the suspicious activity when on at least one previous occasion U.S. officials have raised an international fuss when they observed similar actions?
On Dec. 3, 2012, after U.S. officials said they detected Syria mixing ingredients for chemical weapons, President Barack Obama repeated his warning to Assad that the use of such arms would be an unacceptable breach of the red line he’d imposed that summer. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chimed in, and the United Nations withdrew all nonessential staff from Syria.
Last month’s suspicious activity, however, wasn’t raised publicly until after the deadly attack. And Syrian opposition figures say the rebels weren’t warned in advance in order to protect civilians in the area.
“When I read the administration’s memo, it was very compelling, but they knew three days before the attack and never alerted anyone in the area,” said Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian opposition activist who runs the Washington-based Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “Everyone was watching this evidence but didn’t take any action?”
Among chemical weapons experts and other analysts who’ve closely studied the Syrian battlefield, the main reservation about the U.S. claims is that there’s no understanding of the methodology behind the intelligence-gathering. They say that the evidence presented points to the use of some type of chemical agent, but say that there are still questions as to how the evidence was collected, the integrity of the chain of custody of such samples, and which laboratories were involved.
Eliot Higgins, a British chronicler of the Syrian civil war who writes the Brown Moses blog, a widely cited repository of information on the weapons observed on the Syrian battlefield, wrote a detailed post Monday listing photographs and videos that would seem to support U.S. claims that the Assad regime has possession of munitions that could be used to deliver chemical weapons. But he wouldn’t make the leap.
On the blog, Higgins asked: “How do we know these are chemical weapons? That’s the thing, we don’t. As I’ve said all along, these are munitions linked to alleged chemical attacks, not chemical munitions used in chemical attacks. It’s ultimately up to the U.N. to confirm if chemical weapons were used.”
Holes in the case already have allowed Russia to dismiss the U.S. evidence as “inconclusive,” with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying in a speech Monday that Moscow was shown “some sketches, but there was nothing concrete, no geographical coordinates, or details…and no proof the test was done by professionals,” according to the state-backed RT news agency.
“When we ask for further clarification, we receive the following response: ‘you are aware that this is classified information, therefore we cannot show it to you,’” Lavrov said. “So there are still no facts.”
Lavrov’s remarks signaled that Russia, one of the last Assad allies, was nowhere near being convinced enough stop its repeated blocking of U.N. Security Council resolutions targeting the regime.
But there’s also skepticism among U.S.-friendly nations, such as Jordan, which declined to endorse action until it studies the findings of a U.N. chemical weapons investigation, and the United Kingdom, where Parliament voted against intervention even before the U.S. released an intelligence assessment that contradicted one released a day before by British authorities.
It’s unclear how much a factor the evidence was in Parliament’s decisions; there’s also a high degree of wariness of any U.S.-led intervention after the Iraq experience.
The U.S. did get a boost Monday from the commander of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who told a news conference he’d seen “concrete information” that convinced him of the Assad regime’s responsibility for an apparent chemical attack that killed hundreds of people in August.
Rasmussen said it would send a “dangerous signal to dictators” if the world didn’t respond, but he left it up to NATO nations to decide their own responses and didn’t advocate action beyond protecting member state Turkey, which borders Syria.
U.S. allies across the Arab world and Europe have said they prefer delaying any potential military strikes until after the U.N. inspection team releases its findings. The U.N. mandate is to determine whether chemical weapons were used, but not to assign culpability. U.N. officials have said they’re trying to expedite the inspection team’s work while protecting the integrity of the process.
Rebels Admit Responsibility for Chemical Weapons Attack
Militants tell AP reporter they mishandled Saudi-supplied chemical weapons, causing accident
By Paul Joseph Watson, Infowars.com
August 30, 2013
Syrian rebels in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta have admitted to Associated Press correspondent Dale Gavlak that they were responsible for last week’s chemical weapons incident which western powers have blamed on Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, revealing that the casualties were the result of an accident caused by rebels mishandling chemical weapons provided to them by Saudi Arabia.
“From numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families….many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the (deadly) gas attack,” writes Gavlak. (back up version here).
Rebels told Gavlak that they were not properly trained on how to handle the chemical weapons or even told what they were. It appears as though the weapons were initially supposed to be given to the Al-Qaeda offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra.
“We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions,” one militant named ‘J’ told Gavlak.
His claims are echoed by another female fighter named ‘K’, who told Gavlak, “They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them. We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”
Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of an opposition rebel, also told Gavlak, “My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” describing them as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.” The father names the Saudi militant who provided the weapons as Abu Ayesha.
According to Abdel-Moneim, the weapons exploded inside a tunnel, killing 12 rebels.
“More than a dozen rebels interviewed reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government,” writes Gavlak.
If accurate, this story could completely derail the United States’ rush to attack Syria which has been founded on the “undeniable” justification that Assad was behind the chemical weapons attack. Dale Gavlak’s credibility is very impressive. He has been a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press for two decades and has also worked for National Public Radio (NPR) and written articles for BBC News.
The website on which the story originally appeared – Mint Press (which is currently down as a result of huge traffic it is attracting to the article) is a legitimate media organization based in Minnesota. The Minnesota Post did a profile on them last year.
Saudi Arabia’s alleged role in providing rebels, whom they have vehemently backed at every turn, with chemical weapons, is no surprise given the revelations earlier this week that the Saudis threatened Russia with terror attacks at next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi unless they abandoned support for the Syrian President.
“I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” Prince Bandar allegedly told Vladimir Putin, the Telegraph reports.
The Obama administration is set to present its intelligence findings today in an effort prove that Assad’s forces were behind last week’s attack, despite American officials admitting to the New York Times that there is no “smoking gun” that directly links President Assad to the attack.
US intelligence officials also told the Associated Press that the intelligence proving Assad’s culpability is “no slam dunk.”
As we reported earlier this week, intercepted intelligence revealed that the Syrian Defense Ministry was making “panicked” phone calls to Syria’s chemical weapons department demanding answers in the hours after the attack, suggesting that it was not ordered by Assad’s forces.
UPDATE: Associated Press contacted us to confirm that Dale Gavlak is an AP correspondent, but that her story was not published under the banner of the Associated Press. We didn’t claim this was the case, we merely pointed to Gavlak’s credentials to stress that she is a credible source, being not only an AP correspondent, but also having written for PBS, BBC and Salon.com.
Intercepted call bolsters Syrian chemical-weapons charge, Germans say
By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Foreign Staff
September 04, 2013
BERLIN — German intelligence intercepted a phone call between a Hezbollah commander and an unidentified official at an Iranian embassy that provided evidence that the Syrian government was behind the alleged Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attack, a German newsmagazine has reported.
Tuesday’s report was based on a classified briefing that German Foreign Intelligence Chief Gerhard Schindler gave selected German lawmakers Monday, according to the magazine, Der Spiegel.
A senior U.S. official, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because the information is classified, said the intercepted call wasn’t the same communication that American officials had cited to bolster their case that Syrian President Bashar Assad was responsible for the attack.
“We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence,” said a U.S. assessment released last week.
According to Der Spiegel, one of the parties in the intercepted phone call was a “high-ranking member of Hezbollah,” the militant Lebanese movement that’s sent fighters to support the Assad government. That Hezbollah member told the Iranian that “Assad had lost his temper and committed a huge mistake by giving the order for the poison gas use,” according to the magazine’s account.
The U.S. intelligence assessment reached a similar conclusion, finding that the alleged use of chemical weapons may have been in part because of “the regime’s frustration with its inability to secure large portions of Damascus.”
When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was asked Wednesday at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee whether the Obama administration would make public transcripts of any intercepted communication, he demurred, saying that information probably was classified.
According to Der Spiegel, the call was intercepted by the German naval ship Oker, which is known to gather intelligence and to be off the coast of Syria.
The motivation for the chemical weapons attack is one of the unknowns that surround what took place in the Ghouta region of Damascus province. Those who are skeptical of Assad’s responsibility have noted that Syrian government forces had been on the offensive recently and had succeeded in pushing the rebels out of some areas the insurgents had long held.
But the German account and the American one suggest that the inability of Assad’s regime to take control of the eastern Damascus suburbs after months of attempts drove a decision to use chemical weapons.
An unclassified French intelligence summary also suggested that the failure to unseat the rebels lay behind the Aug. 21 attack. It called the use of chemical weapons followed by a ground offensive “a classic tactical scheme” consistent with Syrian military doctrine.
Citing “credible intelligence from several partners,” the French summary said preparations for the attack were detected “in the days preceding Aug. 21.” The United States also has said that preparations were detected.
One point on which the French and American summaries differ is the number of people who died. The French said at least 281 people were killed, while the United States said the death toll was 1,429.
The French summary said that country’s intelligence services had reached the 281 figure by reviewing 47 videos of what took place “district by district” and counting the bodies. It said, however, that the higher number was consistent with counting models for a chemical attack on the affected areas.
U.S. officials haven’t said how they obtained their estimate of the deaths.
According to Der Spiegel, the Germans – like the Americans, the British and the French – have concluded that the Syrian rebels don’t have a significant amount of chemical weapons and aren’t known to possess the means to mount such an attack themselves.
The German account goes further than others that have been released recently in providing details of Assad’s state of mind that might have played a role in the motivation for launching a chemical attack, noting that Assad sees himself embroiled “in a crucial battle for Damascus.”
It also said Assad’s forces had used a highly diluted chemical agent in previous attacks on rebels and that the high death count Aug. 21 might have been the result of “errors made in the mixing of the gas” that made it “much more potent than anticipated.”
That would be consistent with a suggestion from an Israeli official, cited by The New York Times, that the attack was “an operational mistake.”
The French summary said that whatever agent had been used, it was in high concentration. The French said that based on information from one hospital, death was immediate for 50 percent of the people exposed.
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @mattschodcnews
Notes and links
Arab League to G20
UN Arab-League envoy Brahimi is on his way to Saint Petersburg to help Secretary General Ban Ki-moon push at the G20 summit for an international peace conference on Syria first proposed by the United States and Russia in May, the UN spokesperson said.
“While the world is focused on concerns about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria we must push even harder for the International Conference on Syria to take place in Geneva,” the spokesperson quoted Ban as saying.
Members of the G20
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States