Saturday 23 June 2012

Escalation in Syrian conflict

For the first time information is coming out in mainstream western media about the arming of the opposition by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and the co-ordinating role of the CIA.

Meanwhile there is an escalation of tensions.

Saudi Arabia plans to fund Syria rebel army
Exclusive: Command centre in Turkey organising weapon supply to opposition

22 June, 2012

Saudi officials are preparing to pay the salaries of the Free Syria Army as a means of encouraging mass defections from the military and increasing pressure on the Assad regime, the Guardian has learned.

The move, which has been discussed between Riyadh and senior officials in the US and Arab world, is believed to be gaining momentum as a recent flush of weapons sent to rebel forces by Saudi Arabia and Qatar starts to make an impact on battlefields in Syria.

Officials in the Saudi capital embraced the idea when it was put to them by Arab officials in May, according to sources in three Arab states, around the same time that weapons started to flow across the southern Turkish border into the hands of Free Syria Army leaders.

Turkey has also allowed the establishment of a command centre in Istanbul which is co-ordinating supply lines in consultation with FSA leaders inside Syria. The centre is believed to be staffed by up to 22 people, most of them Syrian nationals.

The Guardian witnessed the transfer of weapons in early June near the Turkish frontier. Five men dressed in the style of Gulf Arabs arrived in a police station in the border village of Altima in Syria and finalised a transfer from the Turkish town of Reyhanli of around 50 boxes of rifles and ammunition, as well as a large shipment of medicines.

The men were treated with deference by local FSA leaders and were carrying large bundles of cash. They also received two prisoners held by rebels, who were allegedly members of the pro-regime militia, the Shabiha.

The influx of weapons has reinvigorated the insurrection in northern Syria, which less than six weeks ago was on the verge of being crushed.

The move to pay the guerrilla forces' salaries is seen as a chance to capitalise on the sense of renewed confidence, as well as provide a strong incentive for soldiers and officers to defect. The value of the Syrian pound has fallen sharply in value since the anti-regime revolt started 16 months ago, leading to a dramatic fall in purchasing power.

The plan centres on paying the FSA in either US dollars or euros, meaning their salaries would be restored to their pre-revolution levels, or possibly increased.

The US senator Joe Lieberman, who is actively supporting the Syrian opposition, discussed the issue of FSA salaries during a recent trip to Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

His spokesman, Whitney Phillips, said: "Senator Lieberman has called for the US to provide robust and comprehensive support to the armed Syrian opposition, in co-ordination with our partners in the Middle East and Europe. He has specifically called for the US to work with our partners to provide the armed Syrian opposition with weapons, training, tactical intelligence, secure communications and other forms of support to change the military balance of power inside Syria.

"Senator Lieberman also supports the idea of ensuring that the armed opposition fighters receive regular and sufficient pay, although he does not believe it is necessary for the United States to provide this funding itself directly."

US defence secretary Leon Panetta said this week Washington was not playing a direct role in gun-running into northern Syria. "We made a decision not to provide lethal assistance at this point. I know others have made their own decisions."

Earlier this week the New York Times reported the CIA was operating in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which opposition fighters would get weapons.

Diplomatic sources have told the Guardian two US intelligence officers were in Syria's third city of Homs between December and early February, trying to establish command and control within rebel ranks.

Interviews with officials in three states reveal the influx of weapons – which includes kalashnikovs, rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles – started in mid-May, when Saudi Arabia and Qatar finally moved on pledges they had made in February and March to arm rebel forces.

The officials, who insisted on anonymity, said the final agreement to move weapons from storage points inside Turkey into rebel hands was hard won, with Ankara first insisting on diplomatic cover from the Arab states and the US.

Turkey is understood to view the weapons supply lines as integral to the protection of its southern border, which is coming under increasing pressure as regime forces edge closer in an attempt to stop the gun-running and attack FSA units.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were all allies of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad until several months into the uprising, which now poses a serious threat to his family's 42-year rule over the country.

All three states have become increasingly hostile as the revolt has continued, with Saudi Arabia in February describing the suggestion to arm rebel groups as an "excellent idea" and Qatar having offered exile to Assad and his family.

For the first few months of this year the three states were waiting for the US to take a proactive role in intervening in Syria, something Washington has so far not seriously considered.

With a presidential election later this year, and weighed down by the troubled legacy of Iraq, Barack Obama has shown no enthusiasm for a major foreign policy play. Polling in the US has consistently shown that voters have little appetite for intervention in Syria, while officials from Washington to London and Brussels have warned of grave risks to the region which may follow the fall of Damascus.

Assad continues to cast his regime's battle for survival as an existential threat from radical Sunni Islamists, who he says are backed by foreign states.

The Free Syria Army says its members are almost exclusively Syrian nationalists who disavow the world view of jihadists who flocked to neighbouring Iraq from 2004-07. It acknowledges that some foreign Arab fighters have travelled to Syria to join its ranks, particularly in Homs and in Douma near Damascus, but claims they do not play a decisive role.

Intelligence officials say a power vacuum would provide an attractive environment for militants who espouse a global jihad world view. "The next three to six months are crucial in Syria," one official said. "The ingredients are right for them [jihadists] to turn up and start acting decisively. That would not be a good outcome."

Syrian military says it downed Turkish fighter jet
The Syrian military has said it shot down a Turkish plane "flying in airspace over Syrian waters", according to state-run news agency Sana.

22 June, 2012

"[The jet] was dealt with in accordance with the laws that govern such situations," a military spokesman said.

Turkey had earlier said it believed that one of its F-4 fighter jets had been shot down by Syrian forces.

A search for the two crew members is under way, involving Turkish and Syrian coast guard ships.

The F-4 Phantom disappeared over the Mediterranean, south-west of Turkey's Hatay province, near the Syrian coast.

The Turkish military said it lost radio contact with the F-4 while it was flying over Hatay, about 90 minutes after it took off from Erhac airbase in the province of Malatya, to the north-west.

A Syrian military spokesman told Sana that an "unidentified target" had broached Syrian airspace from a westerly direction at 11:40 local time (08:40 GMT) on Friday.

The target was flying at high speed and at low altitude, the spokesman said.

Anti-aircraft defences had hit the plane with artillery, bringing it down in the sea off the coast of Latakia province, 10km (six miles) from the village of Um al-Tuyour, he added.

"It later became clear the target was a Turkish military plane which had entered our airspace," he continued.
'Decisive response'

Earlier on Friday evening, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a two-hour emergency meeting with his interior, defence and foreign ministers and the Chief of the General Staff, Gen Necdet Ozel.

Mr Erdogan's office said that Turkey would respond decisively once all the circumstances were established.

Given the breakdown in relations between the two countries over the Syrian conflict, this incident has the potential to provoke a serious crisis, the BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul reports.

Much will depend on whether or not the Turkish pilots have survived, our correspondent says.

If not, public anger might push the government into some kind of punitive action against Syria, he adds.

Relations between Nato-member Turkey and Syria, once close allies, have deteriorated sharply since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled the violence across the border into Turkey.

Inside Syria, the violence continued on Thursday with state media reporting that "armed terrorist groups" had abducted and massacred 25 villagers in Aleppo province.

Activists said that rebels had shot dead 26 government supporters who were believed to be militiamen.

In Aleppo city, activists said a number of people died when security forces opened fire on a demonstration after Friday prayers.

Meanwhile, international envoy Kofi Annan has said it is time for the world to exert greater pressure to help bring the violence in Syria to an end.

Mr Annan called for Iran to be involved in attempts to end the violence, a proposal put forward by Russia but rejected by the US.

In a separate development, the BBC has learned that UK government officials have decided to prevent the head of the Syrian Olympic Committee, Gen Mowaffak Joumaa, from travelling to London for the Games.

The visa ban is believed to be linked to his relationship to President Bashar al-Assad's government.

Russia vows to deliver Syrian arms
A DEFIANT Moscow has announced that a cargo ship would deliver weapons to Syria under the Russian national flag despite being forced to abandon its voyage when Britain withdrew insurance cover.

22 June, 2012

The MV Alaed turned around in the North Sea, about 80 kilometres from the Scottish coast, after its London-based insurer withdrew third-party liability cover. The British authorities forced this move, suspecting that the ship was taking arms to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed yesterday that the ship was carrying three Mi-25 attack helicopters, sold to Syria 20 years ago but upgraded under a contract with Syria's armed forces. The vessel, bound for the port of Murmansk, will be reflagged under Russian colours and then sent to Syria to complete the delivery. ''[The helicopters] are the property of the Syrian side and must be returned to the Syrian Arab Republic after repairs,'' said a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Moscow.

For article GO HERE

From yesterday....

Syrian pilot defects to Jordan in fighter jet
Jordan granted political asylum to a Syrian pilot hours after he landed his jet at a military air base in the kingdom, in the first such air force defection in the 15-month revolt.

21 June, 2012

"The council of ministers has decided to grant the pilot, Colonel Hassan Merei al-Hamade, political asylum, on his request,'' Information Minister Samih Maaytah told AFP.

A Jordan Armed Forces statement said the Syrian air force Russian-made MiG-21 landed at 0745 GMT (7.45pm NZ time).

"The jet landed safely at a Jordanian military air base, and the pilot has asked for political asylum,'' it added.

A government official told AFP that the pilot "made an emergency landing at the King Hussein air base in Mafraq,'' in northern Jordan near the border with Syria.

For article GO HERE

Here is analysis from Press TV.
It appears they have been right all along.

Syria Scenario.

A recent report from the mainstream daily newspaper New York Times has gone into detail as to how the CIA is facilitating arms and other assistance to armed groups in Syria, and it's doing it on Turkish soil, near the borders with Syria. Damascus has always been very vocal that Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia were assisting, funding and arming armed groups operating on the Syrian soil.

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