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Posts Tagged ‘Bashar al-Assad’

Norway condemns terrorist attacks in Lebanon

Posted by African Press International on August 24, 2013

The terrorist attacks in Tripoli this week and in Beirut last week have killed dozens of people and wounded several hundred more. “Norway condemns the terrorist attacks that have taken place in Lebanon over the past weeks. Our thoughts go to those who have been affected and their families,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide.

The civil war in Syria has placed great strain on Lebanon and other countries in the region, in the form of large numbers of refugees, rising sectarian tensions and an increased risk of violent conflict.

“I am deeply concerned by the increase in violence in Lebanon. It will be a tragedy if the conflict in Syria takes hold in Lebanon too. Lebanon has a recent history of sectarian violence. It is now crucial that all parties refrain from acts that could heighten tensions in Lebanese society,” Mr Eide said.

 

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Sectarian violence triggers Sunni-Alawi segregation

Posted by African Press International on June 27, 2013

Before the conflict, many Syrian towns and villages were home to a mix of religious sects. This is beginning to change

HIGHLIGHTS

  • People moving away from mixed areas
  • Alawis fear reprisals
  • Foreign fighters contribute to sectarian polarization
  • Segregation could have lasting impact for years to come

DUBAI,  – A few months ago, when rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) pushed further into the suburbs of Damascus, Modar* started noticing rapid changes in his home city.

“We used to have mixed neighbourhoods, but not any more,” he told IRIN.

Modar, a student, lives in Yarmouk, a Sunni-majority district, home to Syria’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, which the FSA first entered this spring and has since come to control.

“There were some Alawis here, but they are gone now,” said Modar. “They left for the coast or to specific areas in Damascus like Mezze 86 or Ish al Warwar.” Both are districts almost exclusively inhabited by Alawis on the hillside in the western outskirts near the presidential palace.

The violence in Syria has triggered an increasing internal migration in the areas affected by the conflict, mirroring broader divisions in society, residents and activists in different cities said.

“Where there is fighting, there is segregation,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of the widely read blog Syria Comment. “Particularly in Damascus, the Alawis have no doubt moved into the Alawi neighbourhoods.”

Sectarian tensions have been on the rise since the beginning of the conflict as the Sunni majority forms the backbone of an opposition trying to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the Alawi minority. The sect, a branch of Shiite Islam originating from the mountainous area near the coastline, also fills the ranks of the regime’s security apparatus.

Analysts warn that it is difficult to ascertain the extent to which war crimes and human rights violations, including forced displacement, are driven by sectarianism. Many of the motivations remain simply political or military. But the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria has noted increasingly sectarian overtones to the conflict. And a string of sectarian massacres has accelerated the segregation, driving Sunnis and Alawis apart.

In early May, regime forces were accused of two mass killings which left more than 200 people dead in Baniyas, a Sunni-majority town bordering predominantly Alawi areas in western Syria, and in the nearby Sunni village of Bayda. The attacks followed a pattern of previous killings, fuelling suspicions that the regime is trying to drive Sunnis out of the area in preparation for a breakaway Alawi state.

The opposition has also been accused of sectarian violence. In early June, rebels allegedly killed at least 30 people in a raid on the Shiite village Hatla in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, scorching houses and decrying Shiite “dogs” and “apostates”.

Both sides have positioned bases within their respective supportive communities, the Commission said in its latest report released this month. Both sides have also been accused of forcibly displacing members of the opposite sect from areas they control.

More than two years into the conflict, at least 4.25 million people are internally displaced within the country. Their motivations for fleeing – which range from general violence to lack of basic services – are often hard to track.

Modar, the student, said some Alawi residents left Yarmouk because they felt generally unsafe due to the nearby fighting.

“Others were threatened after the FSA moved in. Somebody knocked on their door or left a note saying: You are not welcome any more.”

In Damascus, some Christians and Druze, belonging to an offshoot of Shia Islam that incorporates mystical and other beliefs, have also been encouraged by friends and family to move to Suweida, where they would be safer among their “co-religionists” (though some have refused, on principle).

But not all migration follows sectarian fault lines.

“There is an interesting counter-movement,” Landis said. Many Sunnis have fled to Alawi-dominated cities that have been less affected by the violence, like Lattakia or even Qadmous, deep in the Alawi mountains, introducing a new heterogeneity in some parts of the Alawi heartland.

“The picture is in some ways contradictory,” he said. “There is ethnic cleansing in some places, while in others, there is more mixing than before. People are terrified of each other, but they are still coexisting.”

For the moment, Landis said, Alawis are still renting apartments to displaced Sunnis living in predominantly Alawi areas along the coast.

But the Sunnis’ presence could become precarious if Alawis feel threatened. For example, “if Islamist militias penetrate into this area, things could change fast for the [displaced families] because the [Alawis] will see them as a danger,” he said.

Fear of “Genocide”

According to residents and activists from both communities, fear of retribution is rising among Alawis, who make up around 12 percent of the population. The regime has been relying heavily on the support of militia death squads known as Shabiha which are mainly recruited from the Alawi sect. In December UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng warned of a growing risk that civilian communities, including Alawite and other minorities perceived to be associated with the government, could be subject to large-scale reprisal attacks.

“There is a fear of genocide,” said Rami*, an Alawi student from the coastal town Baniyas, now living in Damascus, and one of the few Alawis supporting the opposition. As a result, the community keeps retreating further, he said, even leaving their strongholds in the capital. “Thousands of families left Mezze 86 and went back to the coast. My relatives left, too.”

Residents in Zarzour, a predominantly Sunni village with a small Shia population in Idlib Governorate, told Human Rights Watch that their Shia neighbours had fled because they feared retaliation by opposition forces because, in their opinion, the local Shias had been supportive of government forces.

In the Ghab plain in Western Syria, an area dotted with Sunni and Alawi villages stretching between the city of Hama and the coast, FSA units and regime troops have been fighting for control. The region has witnessed displacement on both sides, said Majid*, a local Sunni activist. “Sunnis are leaving because they are scared. All regime supporters are armed now, and they fight along with the army.”

The Alawi community has been increasingly militarized, according to media reports, as the regime has stepped up the recruitment of fighters from the minority sect.

“When clashes break out near their villages, the men stay behind,” said Majid, “but they usually send away their families to safer areas further west.”

The rising number of sectarian tit-for-tat killings and kidnappings has also been spurring the flight of residents from heterogeneous regions.

“People are now separated from each other,” said Majid. “We are unfortunately on the road to sectarian war.”

Elizabeth O’Bagy, a political analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington who has repeatedly travelled to Syria, says the scale of sectarian displacement generally reflects the level of fighting in each individual area. The most prominent places, she said, are pockets of Aleppo and the Ghab area in Hama Governorate, “where sectarian displacement is happening systematically… People are purposely moving away from mixed areas, isolating themselves within their own community.”

Standstill

In Homs, which has been subjected to a devastating army siege since last year and is one of the areas most affected by the conflict, the interaction between Sunnis and Alawis has come to a complete standstill, residents said.

“We used to go shopping in their districts,” said a local Sunni activist who goes by the nickname Abu Emad. “I used to have Alawi girlfriends.”

Before the conflict started, there were four mixed suburbs, he said, all of which are now under government control and heavily guarded by Shabiha. Now, most Sunnis have left these areas, either because they were expelled by force, or because they were too scared to stay, he and others said.

“A mixed city like Homs has virtually lost its capacity to normalize relations between different communities,” said Peter Harling, Middle East analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG). “The social fabric of the city has been broken, and it will be very difficult to reconcile the various groups.”

Aid workers and analysts warn that this type of segregation could affect the region for years to come.

“Frankly speaking, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to coexist with the Alawis again,” Abu Emad said. “I personally don’t want them to live in Syria any more.”

Overlapping motives

However, Harling and others caution against overstating the extent of sectarian-motivated displacement, as motives often overlap, with safety and accessibility generally playing a more important role than religious affiliation.

“The areas that have produced most refugees, the ones that have encountered the most extensive violence, are predominantly Sunni,” he said. “And the majority of people go to areas which are most safe and convenient.”


The composition of the Iraqi capital Baghdad in 2003, before the US invasion, and in 2007, after nearly two years of sectarian violence

Still, the increasingly sectarian nature of displacement in Syria has raised the spectre of the 2006-7 violence in Iraq, where sectarian strife resulted in what some called “ethnic cleansing”, as Sunni and Shiite militias killed thousands of members of the rival community and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes – leaving a demographic legacy until this day.

Regional dimension

Syria has not reached that level yet, but more than 90,000 people have died and the conflict has taken on regional dimensions, reinforcing a broader Sunni-Shiite power struggle that is increasingly drawing in the neighbouring countries.

While Sunni fighters from all over the Middle East, often with an Islamist background, have been flocking to Syria to join the rebels, members of the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah are now openly fighting alongside regime forces.

“The presence of foreign fighters on both sides contributes to the sectarian polarization,” said O’Bagy. “Unfortunately I do see the risk of Syria going down the path of Iraq. Every time I go to Syria, the sectarian hatred has gotten worse.”

In Baniyas, home to twin massacres in May, fear and distrust is mounting on both sides of the sectarian divide. Previously a lively city where the communities coexisted peacefully, Baniyas is now split into a northern half mainly inhabited by Alawis, and a southern half where Sunnis are concentrating, Alawi and Sunni sources said.

Sunni residents and activists say they feel vulnerable in the coastal town, especially after the massacres. The city is heavily guarded by security forces and Shabiha, while the rebels have almost no presence.

“We are afraid of them. They will probably kill us in the future,” said Rania*, a Sunni resident of Baniyas who recently moved from the city to a neighbouring country.

Mustafa Muhannad*, a local Sunni activist, estimates that 10-20 Sunni families have fled Baniyas since the massacres for fear of further sectarian violence. At the same time, he has seen Alawis stream into the city, both displaced families from other regions as well as fighters coming as reinforcement.

“They are achieving what they want,” he said, in reference to the government, “the displacement of all Sunnis from the city.”

Still, according to Rami, the Alawi student, a few thousand displaced Sunni Muslims have moved into the Alawi districts of Baniyas, his home town.

“The relationship between the locals and the displaced is not good,” he said. “There is a lot of distrust, but so far there has not been any open aggression.”

But even in their heartland on the coast, most members of his sect feel threatened, says Bassel, an Alawi resident.

“Many people consider emigrating to Europe or Lebanon because they are scared of what might happen to them after the regime falls.”

*not a real name

gk/ha/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Lebanese farmers at risk due to Syrian crisis

Posted by African Press International on June 15, 2013

On the outskirts of El Qaa village

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Border fighting leads farmers to abandon fields
  • Traditional migration patterns disrupted
  • Influx of Syrian animals poses disease risk
  • FAO urges more funding for agriculture

EL QAA, 13 June 2013 (IRIN) – The livelihoods of dozens of farmers just outside this small village, in a remote area of Lebanon’s Beka’a Valley near the Syrian border, hang in the balance.

Local farmers say many in the no-man’s land between the Syrian and Lebanese frontier posts, known as Mashari El Qaa, have abandoned their farms in recent months, in some cases leaving their equipment and running when they see Syrian rebels approaching. Others have stopped planting because of landmines or reduced their visits to their fields.

“We don’t go there every day like before,” said Joseph, a local farmer. “We go once or twice a week, and we harvest or plant whatever we can. We’re harvesting a bit but we have a lot of losses. We don’t [have] the time to harvest properly. We do it in a rush.”

The border between Syria and Lebanon, blurry to begin with, has become increasingly so in recent months, as both Syrian rebels and regime soldiers cross into Lebanese territory to fight.

Up to 60 percent of the border area’s population depends on agriculture and raising livestock, which have come under growing strain as cross-border fighting has increased between forces supporting and opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the conflict next door.
Anais

Syrian anti-government rebels have used Lebanese farms to launch rockets into Shia villages in Hermel District 17km from El Qaa, allegedly aiming at villages controlled by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has been fighting in support of al-Assad’s forces inside Syria. Syrian government forces have also chased rebels into Lebanese territory.

Dwindling marketplace

Those farmers who do manage to harvest despite the insecurity struggle to sell their products, as they are competing with cheaper products smuggled in from Syria.

“The situation is bad in Syria,” said Pierre Saad, another farmer in El Qaa, “so they smuggle and sell their fruits here, where they are still going get a better price than in Syria. It’s heavy competition for us. The local people… just go for the cheapest product.”

That’s partly why in Firzil, one of the biggest fruit and vegetable markets in Lebanon’s fertile Beka’a Valley, most of the trucks leaving the market are three-quarters full.

“Last week, I sold the basil for 2,000 Lebanese lira [US$1.33] per kg,” merchant Mohssein Taleb said during a visit in May, displaying his unsold fruit and vegetables. “This week, I sell it for 800 LL per kg. And before, I was even selling it for 3,000 LL per kg.”

Part of the problem, he said, was an absence of big buyers for export.

According to Lebanese customs, bilateral agricultural exports from Lebanon to Syria decreased by 37 percent between 2011 and 2012, from 234,725 to 148,414 tons. In dollar figures, however, the drop was much more modest, from $95,279 to $93,578, or a drop of 1.8 percent.

Before the conflict began, 20 percent of Lebanese products were exported to Syria, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In addition, Syria is the only land trade route to Iraq, Turkey and the Gulf, by far the largest market in the region.

But the border crossing in Mashari El Qaa is now closed. For much of April and May, all transit of agricultural goods between Syrian and Lebanon was blocked, according to FAO. Some crossings reopened late last month, but moving goods to and through Syria remains extremely risky.

Many agricultural goods are now exported through the ports of Beirut and Tripoli. But not all merchants can afford exports via ship or plane. 

Barely living

A recent assessment by FAO of the impact of the Syrian crisis on food security and agricultural livelihoods in neighbouring countries found that it has become extremely difficult for Lebanese farmers to sustain their livelihoods.

“One coping mechanism that we have noticed is selling animals, and thereby livelihood opportunities”

“We’re not starving, but we will end up planting only for ourselves since we can’t export or sell easily on the local market,” said Saad.

Those most affected along the border are the poorest and most vulnerable to begin with; larger-scale farmers do not take the risk of settling in the more insecure border area, said Lisbeth Albinus, humanitarian policy officer at FAO in Lebanon.

Many of these small-scale farms survived from smuggling things like tobacco, fuel, food, or even electronics to Syria – something that has become more complicated due to the conflict.

FAO worries this combination of factors could leave farmers much more vulnerable in the long-term.

“One coping mechanism that we have noticed is selling animals, and thereby livelihood opportunities,” Albinus said.

In a 7 June press release, FAO warned that without further support, more farmers would ultimately have to abandon their land and sell their livestock.

Cross-border movement

The conflict has also interrupted migration trends.

According to the FAO assessment, some 30,000 poor smallholder Lebanese who had been farming in Syria for generations have now had to return to Lebanon.

The Lebanese returnees are in “panic”, the assessment found, selling their dairy cattle at one third of the market price due to high animal feed costs, lack of winter grazing land and a need to finance immediate household living costs.

Many Syrian farmers have also relocated to the Lebanese side of the border, first seeking refuge in Mashari El Qaa and now, for some, being displaced once again.

Some came empty-handed, “have lost everything and live in very difficult conditions”, FAO’s Albinus said.

Others brought animals with them, and have rented abandoned farms for their animals to graze.

According to FAO, hundreds of cows, as well as 12,000 Syrian mountain and Shami goats have crossed into northern Lebanon, bringing the added threats of overgrazing, land degradation and potential desertification.

At Firzil vegetable market, many merchants go home with their trucks nearly full

Adding more stress to the land, shepherds who used to spend summer on the Lebanese side and winter on the Syrian side, where it is dryer, have not been able to travel to Syria for the last two years.

The price of cattle, FAO said, has dropped by 60 percent.

Potential diseases

Before the Syrian crisis, agricultural inputs, such as vaccinations, farm machinery, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, animal feed and medicines were heavily subsidized in Syria. But veterinary services in Syria have weakened because of the conflict; animals coming from the Syrian market are not subject to any control, and some are not vaccinated, FAO said.

“One of our main concerns is the diseases that non-vaccinated animals could bring,” Albinus said.

Without proper checks, the increasing amount of smuggled agricultural commodities from Syria also significantly increases the risk of animal and plant diseases, including Foot and Mouth Disease and PPR, a viral disease also known as goat plague, the two most common transboundary animal diseases in the region, as well as the spread of plant pests.

The last outbreak of a transboundary animal disease in Lebanon occurred before the Syrian crisis in March 2010. Since then, the Ministry of Agriculture has been able to contain the threat. But “there is a sincere worry… that we will have another outbreak of these or other transboundary diseases in Lebanon,” Albinus said.

There is, however, a silver lining. Lebanon, which normally imports 60 percent of its dairy, could benefit from newly arrived Syrian shepherds in boosting local milk production. With the right support, “Lebanese and Syrian farmers working together could make a better livelihood, despite the Syrian crisis, Albinus said.

Funding

Farmers in Mashari El Qaa say government officials have visited them to assess their losses, “but until now, we haven’t received any concrete help,” Saad said.

Due to funding constraints, FAO has only been able to target the most vulnerable farmers in Lebanon, including the poorest smallholders, female-headed households and homes with disabled family members.

FAO has called for urgent financial support to establish farmers’ cooperatives and more milk collection centres; to implement a vaccination campaign to prevent the spread of animal diseases; and to establish food safety controls at the border.

As part of a regional UN-coordinated appeal for $4.4 billion launched on 7 June to help people in need inside Syria and in the affected neighbouring countries, FAO is requesting $8.5 million for proposed projects in Lebanon.

ar/ha/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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The Syrians still fighting – civil war rages on

Posted by African Press International on November 6, 2012

The Syrian fighters under the banner – Free Syrian Army consisting of deserters from the regular army, activists and some foreign fighters are still fighting for control of some towns in the country.

President Assads loyal army personnel on the other hand do not want to lose the war fearing what will happen to them if the Free Syrian Army fighters take over the country.

The United Nation has tried to negotiate the end of the fighting without success. The Arab League did the same and failed. The war has taken many lives – a war that has lasted for over ne and a half years.

The international community is unwilling to step in like they did in Libya where they armed the fighters who wanted Gaddafi’s blood. The Libyan fighters managed to win the war ony when NATO imposed a no-fly zone over Libya.

The Syrian fighters have asked NATO to do the same for them but Russia has refused to support the move.

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