Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Syria's Assad Remains Defiant

Syria's Bashar al-Assad continues to strike a defiant tone against the ongoing protests and violence that has wracked his country for more than nine months. Thousands have died at the hands of his security forces, and he vows to use an iron hand to stop the violence (aka the protests).

That iron hand includes obtaining weapons, and one such weapons shipment was apparently stopped for violating the EU embargo after the ship dropped anchor near Cyprus. A Russian flagged freighter was stopped in Cyprus and tons of weapons were seized.
The cargo ship, owned by St. Petersburg-based Westberg Ltd., left that Russian port on Dec. 9 for Turkey and Syria, which is 65 miles (105 kilometers) east of Cyprus, the officials said.

Russia and Turkey are not members of the European Union, so such a route would not have violated the embargo the bloc imposed to protest Syria's crackdown on the uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule.

But the Chariot, a St. Vincent and Grenadines-flagged ship, dropped anchor off the southern Cypriot port of Limassol on Tuesday because of high seas, drawing the attention of Cypriot officials.

Customs officials boarded the ship to examine its cargo, but couldn't open and inspect the four containers because of "the confined space" they were stored in, the Cypriot Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Nevertheless, the officials determined they were holding a "dangerous cargo."

State radio in Cyprus went further, saying the vessel was carrying "tens of tons of munitions."

Cypriot authorities then consulted with the ship's Russian owners who promised to change the ship's route, and the vessel was allowed to leave Cyprus on Wednesday, the statement said.

The statement didn't say where the vessel is now headed. But an official with knowledge of the matter said the ship was allowed to leave after saying its final destination will be nearby Turkey. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, given the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue.

Turkey, which had once cultivated close ties with Syria, is now one of the Assad regime's most vociferous critics. Turkey has imposed trade sanctions on Syria and is allowing its opposition groups to meet on its territory. Some 7,000 Syrians have taken refuge in Turkey.
Russia continues to back Syria despite the rising death toll since they see the country as a trading partner and a hedge against US influence in the region. That's why Russia continues to block any serious action against Syria in the United Nations and continues to thwart more serious sanctions or other actions that might stop Assad's bloodletting. It may also be a way of the Russian leadership, particularly Vladamir Putin, to reclaim some of the lost glory of the defunct Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, the Arab League observer mission continues to fall short of its even meager expectations to stop the violence. One of the mission observers quit because of the war crimes he witnessed against the Syrian people at the hands of Assad's security forces.
Anwar Malek told al-Jazeera TV that he had resigned because of what he had witnessed in Syria, including a series of war crimes.

He said the government had "fabricated" most of what the monitors had seen to stop the Arab League taking action.

The monitors are tasked with verifying the implementation of a peace plan.


Mr Malek said he had resigned because what he had seen, and asserted that the observer mission had fallen apart.

"The mission was a farce and the observers have been fooled," he added. "The regime orchestrated it and fabricated most of what we saw to stop the Arab League from taking action against the regime."

He said that security forces had not withdrawn their tanks from the streets - as mandated by the Arab League peace initiative - but had just hidden them and then brought them back out after the observers had left.

Mr Malek also said imprisoned protesters who were shown by state television being freed last month as part of an amnesty were actually people who had been detained at random four or five days earlier.
This is precisely the kind of thing I warned when the mission was announced. Assad would use the mission as cover to continue the crackdown and exploit the mission at every opportunity for propaganda purposes. After all, some of the countries in the Arab League carried out their own crackdowns during the Arab Spring and used the same justifications as Assad does now (extremists, terrorists, outsiders, causing the violence and that their military crackdown is justified).

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