The Arab League is preparing their report on the situation in Syria, which will be discussed at a meeting led by Qatar on January 22nd. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appealed to Bashar Al Assad to stop killing his people. Speaking in Beirut at a conference on the democratization of Arab countries, the U.N. Secretary-General described repression as “a dead end. The winds of change will not cease to blow.” These messages were not only directed at Damascus, but also at French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé. Juppé has criticized “the intolerable silence from the Security Council.” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also attended the conference, representing one of the countries taking a strong stand against Assad.
In the meantime repression continues in Syria, masked by the regime and by government information sources. According to reports by news agency Sana, the country’s cities are filled with pro-government protests praising the president and his season of reforms. One very important recent news report concerned Assad’s decision to grant a general pardon for all those arrested since March 15th 2011 and charged with disturbing the peace at peaceful protests. Published on January 15th, the very vague announcement says, “Amnesty is granted for crimes committed in the context of the events taking place since March 15, 2011.” The amnesty includes those who participated in peaceful anti-government demonstrations in the hope of re-establishing security in the country.
This decision follows a public speech made by Assad on January 10th aimed at once again portraying the opposition as individuals or groups of terrorists, puppets armed by a “foreign plot,” who do not have the country’s best interests at heart. A strategy created day-by-day, thanks also to images of the funerals of military victims, of “loyalist” protest events, and silence surrounding the real number of people killed in the past ten months, especially civilians, as well as numbers of those arrested. Slogans aside, Bashar Al-Assad’s regime is still firmly in power.
The National Syrian Council and the National Coordination Committee, which represent the opposition, remain divided on many issues. The NSC, led by Burhan Ghalioun, a professor at the Sorbonne, sees no possibility of dialogue with the government. A number of its members are in favor of military intervention in Syria. The NCC, led by Hassan Abdel Azim, still believes it may be possible to establish dialogue and is totally against foreign assistance. The two parties did manage to agree on a number of common principles, and last December had signed a joint document to present to the Arab League, but the meeting never took place. The Arab League sent observers to Syria, but the mission has been anything but a success. The Algerian observer Anwar Malek was the first to leave his post and publicly report the crimes committed by the Syrian authorities against the people. “The Arab League’s mission,” said Malek talking to Al Jazeera, “is giving Damascus time to kill and cannot stop the repression that has been going on for ten months.”
Malek explicitly accused the Syrian regime of having intentionally sent the Arab League observers’ convoy on the road from Homs to Damascus, so as to expose them to an armed attack. He then said he had seen dead bodies bearing signs of violence, as well as bombed homes and a prison in which detainees were being starved and tortured. He also reported the authorities’ tactics, such as changing the names of streets as they passed or organizing fake “protests” by soldiers in civilian clothes praising Assad. After this, another observer spoke out, remaining anonymous, telling Reuters he intended to abandon the mission since its objectives were not clear and it was not useful to Syrian citizens.
The Centre for the Documentation of Violence in Syria has published figures concerning the number of people killed in the repression. Data is updated to January 8th 2012 and indicates 6,062 dead, of which 4,923 were civilians and 1,139 were soldiers and police officers. The civilians are said to include 496 minors and 149 women. According to the international organization Avaaz, which also recently published a report on detention centres in Syria, 6,237 people have been killed. The High Commission for Refugees has reported that about 7,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon and 7,600 to Turkey.
The secretary-general of the Arab League, Nabil Al Arabi, has saidthat the League may “discuss” the possibility of sending Arab League troops to Syria. Others, such as the President of the Tunisian Assembly, Moncef Marzouki, have denied that such matters will be on the agenda.
In Europe, France has once again raised the Syrian issue, following the death of the French reporter Gilles Jacquier. Prosecutors in Paris have opened an investigation into the matter. Too many elements do not add up in this attack on a convoy of accredited journalists. The reporters were known to the Syrian government and were, according to France Television, escorted by soldiers until just a few moments before their deaths.
Translated by Francesca Simmons