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Terrorism & Security

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

This image taken from closed circuit television provided by the Bulgarian Interior Ministry, Thursday, July 19, purports to show the unidentified bomber, center, with long hair and wearing a baseball cap, at Burgas Airport in Burgas, Bulgaria on Wednesday, July 18. (Bulgarian Interior Ministry/AP)

Iran denies involvement in Bulgaria bus bombing (+video)

By Staff writer / 07.19.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

A suicide bomber with fake US identification carried out the attack on a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria yesterday, according to Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Israel accused Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, for the attack, which killed seven people and injured dozens. The airport bombing was the deadliest attack on Israelis abroad since 2004, reports Bulgarian news source Novinite.

Israel and Bulgaria are currently working with other countries, including the United States, to draft a condemnation of the attacks for the UN Security Council, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“Iran and Hezbollah’s fingerprints are visible,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Ben-Dor, adding that both entities should be added to EU terror lists. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran and the militant group Hezbollah of conducting “a global terror campaign against Israelis across the world,” including recent attacks in Thailand, Kenya, India, and Cyprus

Iranian state TV rejected accusations of the country’s involvement, calling the accusations “ridiculous” and “sensational,” reports the Associated Press

Some say singling out Iran this early will only work toward straining an already tense relationship between Tehran and Israel. According to The Christian Science Monitor:

Though Israel has pointed to Iran as a prime suspect, it is too early to assign responsibility, says Meir Javedanfar, an Iran analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. Jihadist groups like Al Qaeda, which targeted Israeli tourists in Kenya in 2002, could also be responsible, he noted.

"Netanyahu’s accusation that Iran was behind it will of course escalate the tension," says Mr. Javedanfar. "If Iran is found to be behind it, this will make a tension situation even more tense."

The suspected bomber was identified on airport surveillance footage for close to an hour before yesterday’s attack. The man, carrying a fake Michigan driver’s license, placed his backpack in the luggage storage compartment beneath the bus prior to boarding, reports the Associated Press.

“He looked like anyone else – a normal person with Bermuda shorts and a backpack,” Mr. Tsvetanov told reporters in front of the Burgas airport, located on the Black Sea just 250 miles from the capital, Sofia.

Bulgaria is a popular tourist destination for Israelis, and this was not the first attempted attack there. In January, a reported bomb threat on a bus carrying Israeli tourists to a nearby ski resort put security on high alert, reports the Monitor.

DNA samples from the bomber were collected at the scene and special forces are now trying to identify the suspect, Tsvetanov said. According to the Guardian, Bulgarian security services received no warnings of an attack.

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A UN observers vehicle arrives at the site where a suicide attack hit the National Security building in Damascus, Syria site in Damascus, Syria, July 5. The UN vote to extend its mission comes on the heels of a suicide bombing at a government building that killed Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and Deputy Army chief Assef Shawkat, who is reportedly President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law. (Bassem Tellawi/AP)

As Syrian conflict intensifies, UN prepares to extend its mission

By Staff writer / 07.18.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria are plodding along, with the United Nations Security Council expected to vote today on a resolution to extend the UN observer mission in Syria. Meanwhile, the conflict has passed yet another milestone: its first high-level assassination. 

The vote comes on the heels of a suicide bombing at a government building that killed Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and Deputy Army chief Assef Shawkat, who is reportedly President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law. It is the first major assassination of the 17-month conflict, and a possible turning point for the opposition in attacking major installations of the Assad government. 

The UN's observer mission expires in two days, and the Security Council has long been divided over whether or not the new agreement should include sanctions against the Syrian government. Russia, a longtime ally of the Assad regime, says it will not support the enactment of Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which allows for the use of sanctions and military intervention. Russian diplomats acknowledge, however, there is always the possibility of last-minute negotiations, reports the Associated Press. China has backed Russia in blocking previous resolutions proposed by the US and European Security Council members.

As fighting in Damascus blazed on for the third straight day yesterday – the heaviest fighting in the capital since the conflict began more than a year ago­ – diplomatic meetings in New York, Beijing, and Geneva focused on urging Russia and China to support the Western-backed resolution. The draft resolution on the table would allow Mr. Assad 10 days to withdraw troops and heavy weaponry currently deployed across Syria. If the Syrian government fails to do so, the Security Council would submit a new resolution pushing for sanctions, according to the BBC.

As Russia digs in its heels on Syria, hope for a unified international response to the violence is waning. On July 15, the International Committee of the Red Cross labeled the Syrian conflict a civil war for the first time. With world powers failing to come to an agreement on how to move forward on the Syria conflict, the opposition group, the Syrian National Council [SNC], says “we have other options,” according to the Monitor.

“What we are saying here is that if there is no possibility of counting on what is the legitimate mandate of the United Nations Security Council, then we have other options,” says Bassma Kodmani, head of foreign relations for the Syrian National Council (SNC) executive office. “If the door is closed in the face of the Syrian people, then we need to explore other scenarios.”

The SNC supports a Security Council resolution under Chapter Seven, and called this week’s vote a “very last chance to breathe life into the [Special Envoy Kofi] Annan peace plan.” More than 4,000 people have died in the four months since Mr. Annan’s plan, which calls for a cease-fire and political transition in Syria, was launched.

Many in the international community are frustrated with what they see as a lack of action in Syria and worried about this inaction putting further stress on an already fragile region. A Wall Street Journal editorial argues that the Obama administration has long contended that military intervention would push Syria into a civil war and kill thousands, but “the US hasn’t intervened and all this has happened.”  The violence has claimed at least 17,000 lives since it began in March 2011.

The Obama Administration touts its "smart diplomacy," but there must a Russian colloquialism for sucker. The US has turned a kleptocracy with oil and aging nukes into a diplomatic power broker in the Middle East with a veto over American action. The US should at least call the Russian bluff and pull the UN mission out. Its mandate was to monitor a cease-fire, but there isn't one to monitor.

The cost of US inaction carries a fast-rising price. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two of our closer Arab partners, are arming the rebels and eager to see Assad go. They'd rather defer to American leadership but may be forced to act more robustly on their own. The same goes for Turkey, which must deal with a refugee flood. Israel worries about the loose WMD and may act to secure it. The longer we fail to step in, the harder it becomes to shape the outcome in Syria. 

In an Op-Ed published in the China Daily titled “International Diplomacy’s 11th hour,” Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, adds that “the logic of war, in Syria, is becoming evidently more powerful than the logic of peace. The Syrian opposition talks about a revolution to topple the regime, while President Assad is maneuvering to stay in power, whatever the cost.”

As the civil war burgeons, reconciliation is becoming more and more difficult to imagine. Mr. Trenin warns that if the five world powers voting on the Security Council resolution this week are unable to find common ground, not only are there stark implications for Syria, “but the prospects for future conflict management in the world, from Iran to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, will become much bleaker.”

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Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Jubar, near Damascus, on Monday, July 16. (Courtesy of Shaam News Network/Reuters)

Syria's top defector says Assad not afraid to use chemical weapons

By Correspondent / 07.17.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

As fighting continued for a third day in the capital of Damascus, the highest-level politician to defect from the Syrian regime warned today that President Bashar al-Assad would not hesitate to use chemical weapons if cornered.

During an interview with the BBC in Qatar, former Syrian Ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Fares was asked about Mr. Assad's willingness to use chemical weapons against the Syrian people.  "There is some information, unconfirmed information of course, that chemical weapons have been used partially in Homs," Mr. Fares said through a translator.  "However, I have absolute conviction that if the circle of the people of Syria becomes tighter on the regime, the regime will not hesitate to use chemical weapons."

The BBC's Frank Gardner, who interviewed Fares, notes in a separate article that the ex-ambassador only offered his convictions as evidence of his chemical weapons claims. "I have built my opinion based on my knowledge of the regime's mentality and the government's mentality," Fares told Mr. Gardner.

Syria is thought to have the largest chemical arsenal in the Arab world, and the civil war has stoked international concern that the weapons could be seized by rebel or terrorist forces, or damaged and dispersed by the fighting, The Christian Science Monitor reports. 

Hard data on Syria's chemical and biological warfare capabilities is scarce, but the country is believed to have one of the largest chemical agents stockpiles in the world, including VX and Sarin nerve agents. It also has an impressive number of surface-to-surface missiles, such as Scud-Ds which can be fitted with chemical warheads, and modern Russian anti-aircraft missile batteries, including portable shoulder-fired systems.

"This is unknown territory," says Charles Blair, senior fellow for State and Non-State Threats at theWashington-based Federation of American Scientists. "We have never been through the potential collapse via a very bloody ethnic civil war of a country that is likely armed with a very large stockpile of chemical weapons.”

On July 13, Assad's forces began moving chemical weapons out of storage facilities, according to US sources. Israeli officials believe this was part of an effort to secure the weapons, the Guardian reports.

"[The arsenal] is dispersed and under the control of a dedicated army unit that has a high degree of loyalty to the regime and is commanded by senior Alawites [Assad's sect]," said a senior official in Jerusalem. "It has not been involved in the nitty-gritty of fighting. It has been impacted by it but has not been used to fight the people. There are signs that Syria has understood the problem."

SES Türkiye writes that experts are divided on whether Assad would be willing to use chemical weapons.  Kemal Kaya, a defense analyst at the Central Asia and Caucasus Institute, told the media outlet that Assad would likely refrain from their use for fear of "devastating retaliation" by NATO and Turkey.  But retired Turkish Col. Atilla Sandikli noted that the fact that Syrian forces shot down a Turkish fighter last month suggests that Assad is not worried about the international community.

The concern about chemical weapons comes amid the more extended fighting in the capital city of Damascus.  The Associated Press reports that Damascus quieted somewhat this morning after overnight battles, including the deployment of combat helicopters into the city.  Reuters reports that regime forces have surrounded rebel areas, but have been unable to rout the opposition.

One fighter told Reuters the rebels were continuing their fight because they had no way to retreat to safer areas. "If they could leave, they would," he said.

Opposition activists said clashes close to the seat of government showed that rebels were chipping away at state power in a capital once seen as Assad's impenetrable stronghold.

"When you turn your guns against the heart of Damascus, on Midan, you have lost the city," said Damascus-based activist Imad Moaz. "The rebels in the street have the support of families across Damascus."

Former Ambassador Nawaf, in his interview with the BBC, also underscored the importance of the fighting in Damascus.  "Of course, this has very big significance," he said.  "The regime tried with all its powers to keep the capital out of this conflict and out of the reaches of the revolution. However, the expansion of the revolution and its power and its control in Syria is increasing day by day."

There were also reports yesterday that the fighting in Syria briefly spilled over into Lebanon. The Daily Star writes that, according to security sources, a group of Syrian soldiers crossed the Syrian-Lebanese border last night and engaged in battle with an unidentified group in East Lebanon for about 20 minutes. One Syrian soldier was reported to have been found dead in the area.

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A Syrian opposition flag is seen at al-Tadamun area in Damascus Sunday. (Shaam News Network/Reuters/Handout)

Syria war deepens: Damascus sees worst fighting yet (+video)

By Correspondent / 07.16.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Heavy fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces raged for a second day in Damascus in what activists called the worst fighting since the Syrian conflict began 17 months ago, suggesting the crisis has reached a new stage.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and local activists within Damascus told the Associated Press that the capital was the scene of gunfire and explosions Monday morning – marking the first time fighting took place in daylight hours.  Activist Mustafa Osso also told the AP that combat briefly shut down the highway between the city and Damascus International Airport: an unprecedented development, according to Mr. Osso.

"It seems there is a new strategy to bring the fighting into the center of the capital," Osso said, referring to the rebels who fight under the banner of the Free Syrian Army. "The capital used to be safe. This will trouble the regime."

Activists in Damascus also reported a major deployment of armored vehicles to the city's central district of Midan on Monday, which they called the largest deployment of armor during the uprising so far, according to Reuters.

"The rebels are trying to hold the army off in al-Zahra al-Jadeeda [neighborhood]. There is fighting there and the sound of bombardment and rocket-propelled grenades is echoing from there," Radeef, an opposition activist, told Reuters by phone from Midan. "Armored vehicles are now deployed in the rest of Midan and army snipers have taken positions on rooftops."

Syrian army defector Maj. Gen. Adnan Salo told Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that rebels now control 60 percent of the country, and said limited military intervention from NATO would topple President Bashar al-Assad's regime, reports Haaretz.

"All we need from NATO are two air attacks on the presidential palace to topple the regime and we will be able to control all the Syrian cities," Gen. Salo told the newspaper.

The BBC adds that mortar fire was reportedly heard on the southern edge of the city and a government military convoy was attacked by rebels in the Kfar Sousa district of the city to the west. 

The uptick in violence in Damascus comes just a day after the International Committee of the Red Cross declared the situation in Syria to be a civil war, thereby applying international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions, to the conflict. The ICRC's declaration opens the door to prosecutions for war crimes by any combatants who target civilians or abuse detained military captives.

Previously, the ICRC had restricted its assessment of the scope of the conflict to the hotspots of Idlib, Homs, and Hama, but the organization has determined the violence has spread beyond those areas.

The declaration follows reports last Thursday of a massacre in the village of Tremseh, where initial reports said that Syrian military used heavy weapons on civilians, killing more than 150 people, writes Middle East Online. Both the use of heavy weapons and the targeting of civilians would be in violation of promises that the Syrian government made to special UN envoy Kofi Annan, who said Friday that he was "shocked and appalled" by the reports, according to Reuters. But the Syrian government denied that it had targeted civilians or used heavy weapons, but had rather attacked and killed armed rebels. 

Reuters notes that Sander van Hoorn, a Dutch journalist who reached Tremseh, said he found evidence of artillery shelling in the village, contradicting that portion of the government's claims.  But he added that he had yet to find signs of a massacre in Tremseh.

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In this July 3 photo, a surface-to-surface missile is launched during an Iranian Revolutionary Guards maneuver in an undisclosed location in Iran. (Hamed Jafarnejad/Fars News Agency/AP)

British spy chief says Iran is two years from nuclear bomb

By Correspondent / 07.13.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

In a rare public remark, the head of Britain’s spy agency said that British agents had stopped Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons as early as 2008. But despite the spy agency's efforts, the Islamic Republic is two years from getting an atomic arsenal, MI6 chief Sir John Sawers said.

If this happens, Israel and the United States are likely to take, or seriously consider, military action against Iran, he added.

“The Iranians are determinedly going down a path to master all aspects of nuclear weapons; all the technologies they need,” Sir John said, according to The Telegraph. “It’s equally clear that Israel and the United States would face huge dangers if Iran were to become a nuclear weapon state.… I think it will be very tough for any prime minister of Israel or president of the United States to accept a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Sir John – who was "once the ranking British diplomat on the Iranian nuclear issue," according to The New York Times – made the remarks at a recent gathering of 100 senior British civil servants in London. It was his second public address since taking the helm of MI6 in 2009, reports Agence France-Presse.

The Telegraph published his remarks just a day after US officials announced a new set of tighter sanctions on Iran, a move that is likely to escalate tensions even further between Iran and the West.

Inside Iran, which has long accused Israel and the West of covert interference meant to impede its nuclear program, Sir John's remarks were met as a grim confirmation of their suspicions. There also appears to be concern about Sir John's prediction that the US and Israel will launch a military strike against Iran. An article by Iran’s state-owned Press TV called his remarks a “tacit signal for his US and Israeli masters to launch a military strike against Iran.”

Iran has long said its nuclear program is for a civilian nuclear energy program, not weapons development. International opinions on Iran’s intentions remain divided, reports The New York Times. Citing a 2007 assessment, American intelligence agencies say that Iran abandoned its weapons program in 2003. Israel and Britain, however, have used the same report to conclude that Iran is working toward a nuclear bomb.

Sir John’s remarks also refocused attention on the four Iranian nuclear scientists who have been assassinated since 2010, with the most recent murder taking place this past January. Iran has long contended that Israel, Britain, and the US were behind the killings. Israel has declined to comment, and the US and Britain have denied any involvement, reports the Jerusalem Post.

Yesterday the US raised new sanctions against Iran meant to further pressure the Islamic Republic to stop developing its nuclear program. According to the US Department of the Treasury, the new sanctions mainly target Iranian “front” companies and banks.

“Iran today is under intense, multilateral sanctions pressure, and we will continue to ratchet up the pressure so long as Iran refuses to address the international community’s well-founded concerns about its nuclear program,” said David Cohen, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a press release by the Treasury.

“Today’s actions are our next step on that path, taking direct aim at disrupting Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs as well as its deceptive efforts to use front companies to sell and move its oil.”

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, July 12. (Mohammad Ismail/Reuters)

Days after woman executed, Karzai asks Taliban to enter politics

By Staff writer / 07.12.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

President Karzai is encouraging the Taliban to drop their weapons and run for political office, even as the group is busy denying Afghan police claims of Taliban involvement in the recent public execution of a woman for adultery. 

The execution, at close range in front of a cheering crowd, was condemned widely after a cellphone recording of the murder spread this week. Authorities in Kabul blamed the execution – which was attended by at least 150 men – on the Taliban. So-called public “honor killings” were common during the Islamist group’s rule of the country between 1996 and 2001, according to Agence France-Presse.

Advocates for women's rights in Afghanistan have expressed concerns that gains for women will be traded off in the power struggles to come as most foreign forces exit by 2014. Such concerns will only be heightened by Mr. Karzai's political outreach to the Taliban, just days after his government blamed members of the group for the public execution.  

"[Mullah Mohammad Omar] along with his friends can come and create his political party, do politics, become a candidate himself for the elections. If people voted for him, good for him, he can take the leadership in his hand," Karzai said.

The Taliban denies any role in the recent execution, and reportedly said if they had carried out the public murder, they would have done so by following "proper" sharia, or Islamic law, reports Reuters. "The involvement of the ... mujahideen as alleged by some officials of the Kabul government is absolutely untrue and baseless," a statement on the Taliban's website said.

The news of the execution broke as donors at a Tokyo conference on Afghanistan pledged close to $16 billion in development aid and resources to the country over the next four years, reports Spiegel Online.

Despite all the money and attention spent on Afghanistan, the country remains one of the world’s worst countries for women’s rights, according to the United Nations Development Program. That said, there's been some progress from the days of Taliban rule -- progress that many want to defend. 

“Afghan women have won back basic rights in education, voting, and work since the Taliban were ousted from power but fears are mounting both at home and abroad that such freedoms could be traded away as Kabul seeks peace talks with the group,” Reuters reports.

At least 100 Afghan women took to the streets in Kabul yesterday to protest, motivated by the execution, calling on the government to do more to protect women’s rights, according to Afghan newspaper Khaama Press. The protesters were also sending a “clear message” to the international community, reports the Daily Mail, as many banners were written in English. “International community: Where is the protection and justice for Afghan women?” one read.

“[...W]omen are like the canary in the coal mine: What happens to them is an indicator of a larger political direction for the society,” Zainab Salbi wrote in a CNN oped. She is the founder of Washington-based Women for Women International, a humanitarian organization aimed at helping women survivors of war. “To abandon the protection of women's rights to seek political agreement with a force of repression is to risk a return not only to insecurity in Afghanistan, but I'd dare say to the world.”

Ms. Salbi continues:

When the international community entered Afghanistan in 2001 and started introducing laws to protect women's rights, albeit in very basic ways, the Taliban retreated as its political and military power was weakened. In the past two years, however, and particularly since the international community started talking about withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban began boldly resuming its own rules in provinces where they have recently regained [sway].... And this has been reflected in one act of violence toward women after another.

Through such public acts -- sometimes recorded, as this one was -- the Taliban is demonstrating its complete disregard of the Afghan government and the national rule of law.

But others argue the execution in Parwan Province was just “one scene of a larger tragedy” that goes beyond the realm of women’s rights to include the safety and security of all civilian noncombatants. William Maley, director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at Australian National University, says “The abuse of women ... is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the brutalities of the Taliban are concerned.” These acts of terrorism also target ethnic and cultural divides, Mr. Maley writes in a Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece.

Afghan advocates claim attitudes toward women’s rights have shifted subtly in Afghanistan over recent years, in part due to the numerous women’s groups that have been created since the Taliban fell from power, reports the Daily Mail.

Though there is a lot of focus on the exit of international troops, some say more should have been done to protect women up to this point. "It's clear the government doesn't care about these matters, if they did, there would have been justice for women all these past years," Nilofar Haidary, a member of the group Young Women For Change, which helped organize the protest, told Reuters.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (l.) welcomes a delegation headed by a leader of the Syrian National Council (SNC), Abdulbaset Sieda (r.) in Moscow, Wednesday, July 11. (Misha Japaridze/AP)

Russia drafts new UN resolution on Syria, meets Syria opposition

By Staff writer / 07.11.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

A meeting between Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and opposition group leaders from the Syrian National Council took place in Moscow today to discuss a new UN resolution drafted by Russia, underscoring the importance of Russia's role in helping to ameliorate the Syrian crisis.

Russia, along with China, has been a firm opponent of international efforts to push Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad out of power. The two powers have twice vetoed UN Security Council resolutions condemning the Assad regime, despite 17 months of conflict between Syrian authorities and the opposition that has claimed close to 17,000 lives. Russia has long stated it won’t support military intervention in the country.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said yesterday that Russia isn’t “clinging” to Mr. Assad, but that Syria should be left to decide his fate, according to Bloomberg News. "We try to move the Syrian opposition figures toward realistic and constructive positions that can help end the bloodshed," Mr. Bogdanov said, according to Ahram Online.

IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria

Russia’s new draft resolution calls for a three-month extension of the UN mission in Syria, but does not call for sanctions. The US and European members of the Security Council are not likely to be satisfied by this proposal: They have long called for the enactment of Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which allows for the use of sanctions and military intervention (though US officials say they only want to implement on sanctions).

The Security Council has remained starkly divided throughout the course of the Syrian conflict. The UN mission's 90-day mandate ends on July 20, by which point the Security Council must reach a conclusion as to its future before then, according to the Guardian.

Though Russia is not expected to publicly abandon its support for Assad, the Syrian National Council traveled to Moscow in an effort to convince Russia to reconsider its support for the Syrian leader. Russia “is one of the fundamental countries for Syria and plays a big role for us,” said Basma Kodmani, a member of the SNC leadership, according to Russian media outlet RIA Novosti. Ms. Kodmani said the SNC hopes Russia can help “to turn the page of the old regime and transform to the new democratic order,” reports RIA.

“We are discussing a political mechanism for the solution of the Syrian crisis that was proposed by the Arab League and this mechanism should be adopted by the UN Security Council,” [Kodmani] told a news conference in Moscow, adding that SNC is against “the talks with the ruling authorities,” but favors “talks for the implementation of this mechanism under the UN supervision.”

Kodmani said it is necessary to immediately pull out all troops from urban centers in Syria and implement a cease-fire, according to Bloomberg. “We think it’s going to be difficult to have a bilateral process,” she said in Moscow, indicating the need for the continued presence of the United Nations as a third-party facilitator.

But not everyone believes UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan is the right person to continue shepherding negotiations.

Yesterday, Mr. Annan met with leaders in Iran, a longtime Syria ally. He urged Tehran to “be part of the solution,” according to the Associated Press. Annan has criticized Western powers for focusing on Russia as the main obstacle to reaching a peaceful solution in Syria, despite the role that other countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia have played in providing arms and funding, according to an interview with French newspaper Le Monde. But a Wall Street Journal editorial casts a cynical eye on Annan's mission.

Mr. Annan won the [Nobel Peace] prize having already praised Saddam Hussein, in 1998, as a man of "courage, wisdom, flexibility," with whom he could "do business." Now he's in Tehran finding new despots to praise in his role as the U.N.'s Special Envoy on Syria.

...

[...T]he role Iran is currently playing in Syria involves sending snipers and tactical advisers from the terrorist Quds Force to assist Bashar Assad in murdering opponents of his regime. Other assistance is believed to include cash transfers to pay Assad's army, unarmed drones to monitor protestors from the air, electronic monitoring tools to track the opposition online, as well as rifles, ammunition and other military equipment.

We guess it's possible that behind closed doors Mr. Annan is demanding that his Iranian hosts start behaving differently. Somehow we doubt it.

Today’s meeting in Russia follows on the heels of Moscow’s deployment of 11 warships to the eastern Mediterranean. Some of the boats docked in Syria, an act that not only represents Russia’s desire to stay in the center of the decisionmaking process on the Syrian conflict, but also represents the country’s largest display of military might in the region since the Syrian conflict began, according to The New York Times. Syria houses Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union.

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The Egyptian parliament building in Cairo, Tuesday, July 10. Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament convened Tuesday in defiance of a ruling by the country's highest court and swiftly voted to seek a legal opinion on the decision that invalidated the chamber over apparent election irregularities. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

Not so defiant: Egypt's parliament meets for 5 minutes

By Correspondent / 07.10.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Egypt's parliament reconvened today in defiance of the order for its dissolution, though it quickly adjourned in a move that could mitigate the potential discord between recently inaugurated President Mohammed Morsi and the military.

Al Jazeera reports that the parliamentary session lasted only five minutes, beginning after a brief speech from Speaker Saad al-Katatni of the Muslim Brotherhood, who said that the legislative body had gathered only "to review the court rulings, the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court." Last month the court declared the parliament invalid, prompting Egypt's interim military leaders to dissolve the legislature. 

"I want to stress, we are not contradicting the ruling, but looking at a mechanism for the implementation of the ruling of the respected court. There is no other agenda today," he added.

Mr. Katatni then proposed that parliament seek help from an appeals court in implementing the Supreme Court ruling. Parliament approved Katatni's proposal and adjourned. Ahram Online reports that parliament's decision to defer to the courts is being seen as a "possible compromise between the Muslim Brotherhood and Military Council, thus staving off what looked to be a serious constitutional and political crisis."

Parliament will not meet again until the appeals court gives its verdict, according to Ahram Online. 

The brief, perfunctory nature of the session appears to at least temporarily put the brakes on the collision course that the military and President Morsi had been on. Morsi's order revoking the dissolution of the parliament directly challenged the military's authority in "a bold and significant step," Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Islamist movements at Durham University, told the Monitor. "...This decree reflects Morsi's sense of self-assertiveness and confidence,” he said. “The question is to what extent Morsi can defy the military and challenge their power.”

Morsi's order to reconvene the parliament prompted the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to hold emergency meetings over the past two days to determine how to respond. And the Supreme Court declared yesterday that its June 14 ruling was final and binding. In addition, Ahram Online reports that yesterday the Judges' Club, an unofficial body of Egyptian jurists, threatened Morsi with legal action should he not revoke his order within 36 hours.

But even in convening parliament, the president and his Muslim Brotherhood allies appear to be paying lip service to the Supreme Court's ruling.  Acting presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said today that Morsi's reinstatement of parliament was not in conflict with the order, but was necessary to determine how to comply, according to the Egypt State Information Service. 

Monique El-Faizy, a project leader at the World Policy Institute, told CNN that she thought a full-blown conflict between Morsi and the military was unlikely, and that both sides would step carefully. "I think it's the delicate balancing act that we're going to see for a while," said Ms. El-Faizy. "This is all new. Everybody's finding their way."

Reuters reports that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called upon the Egyptian president and the military to come to a negotiated agreement to avoid losing what progress has been made in Egypt.

"We strongly urge dialogue and concerted effort on the part of all to try to deal with the problems that are understandable but have to be resolved in order to avoid any kind of difficulties that could derail the transition that is going on," Clinton told a news conference. ...

She called for "intense dialogue" among all participants "to ensure that there is a clear path for them to be following and that the Egyptian people get what they protested for and what they voted for, which is a fully elected government".

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This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows United Nations-Arab League special envoy to Syria Kofi Anan (l.) meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Syria, Monday, July 9. International envoy Annan announced today that he and Bashar al-Assad reached an agreement on a new approach to ending the violence in Syria. (SANA/AP)

Annan and Bashar al-Assad agree on 'new approach' to Syrian conflict (+video)

By Staff writer / 07.09.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Kofi Annan, the United Nations special envoy to Syria, announced today that he and Bashar al-Assad reached an agreement on a new approach to ending the violence in Syria.

But support for a negotiated solution with the regime to the Syrian crisis seems to be waning, even among those world powers who steadfastly oppose outside intervention. This could leave Mr. Annan with only the regime and its supporters behind his diplomatic efforts, warned an editorial in the Lebanon-based Daily Star today.

Annan has not yet disclosed details about about the plan, saying only that he would be taking the plan to the opposition next, Reuters reports.

The new agreement comes on the heels of Annan's acknowledgement this weekend to French newspaper Le Monde that his previous plan had failed. “Evidently, we haven’t succeeded,” said Annan, according to Bloomberg. 

“Annan was admitting the obvious,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday in Tokyo. It “should be a wake-up call to everyone. The future to me should be abundantly clear to those who support the Assad regime: their days are numbered.”

But acquiescence from the opposition may be difficult to obtain – the Syrian National Council, the main opposition umbrella group, criticized Mr. Annan for even meeting with Mr. Assad. An SNC statement said that Syrians "cannot justify these steps," referring to Annan's decision to meet with Assad but not attend a recent opposition conference in Paris, despite a death toll of almost 6,000 since Annan's failed peace plan went into effect in April, The Telegraph reports. 

And while the regime's backing of Annan's efforts give it viability on that side, it could hurt Annan's efforts to get others to sign on to the plan. Assad praised the envoy's efforts and heaped blame on others for its failure in an interview with a German television station last week, according to Reuters. 

“We know that [Annan] is coming up against countless obstacles but his plan should not be allowed to fail, it is a very good plan,” Assad said. “The biggest obstacle is that many countries do not even want this plan to succeed so they offer political support and continue to provide the terrorists in Syria with arms and money."

In the Le Monde interview, Annan also criticized Western powers for heaping criticism on Moscow for their obstruction of international action while making little mention of either Iran or Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, all of whom are suspected of fueling the conflict with arms and money, according to an earlier Reuters report.

Russia has influence, but I don’t think that events will be determined by Russia alone. What strikes me is that there is so much talk about Russia and much less about Iran, and little is said about other countries that are sending money and weapons,” Mr. Annan said. “All these countries say they want a peaceful solution, but they undertake individual and collective actions that undermine the very meaning of [UN] Security Council resolutions,” he added.

Yesterday US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that the Syrian rebel forces are steadily gaining strength and could soon be capable of staging a "catastrophic assault" on the regime. She urged a negotiated resolution to avert such an outcome.

“The sooner there can be an end to the violence and a beginning of a political transition process, not only will fewer people die, but there is a chance to save the Syrian state from a catastrophic assault that would be very dangerous not only to Syria but to the region,” Ms. Clinton told a Tokyo news conference.

She appeared to be referring to the possibility of Syrian rebels launching such an assault on state institutions rather than to any outside intervention.

“There is no doubt that the opposition is getting more effective in their defence of themselves and in going on the offence against the Syrian military and the Syrian government’s militias. So, the future ... should be abundantly clear to those who support the Assad regime,” Ms. Clinton added.

“The sand is running out of the hour glass.”

In the editorial published today, The Daily Star wrote that continued efforts to negotiate with Assad are, at this point, making the UN an "accomplice" to the Assad regime and described his return to Damascus to meet with Assad, despite an admission that his previous plan had failed, as adding "insult to injury."

Reaching a conclusion the rest of the world had seemingly already arrived at, Annan this weekend admitted that, “Evidently, we have not succeeded.”

But rather than follow that admission up with an announcement that the mission will cease operations, surely the next logical step, Annan actually returns to the scene of the crime, to continue flogging this dead horse.

Whether due to miscalculations, personal political ambitions, or a mixture of both, the mission has now become an accomplice in the enduring regime-sponsored destruction of Syria and its people. And the sooner the UN withdraws the mission, the better, for this act might finally prompt the international community to sit up and create alternative, effective methods to end the massacres, something US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted at Sunday when she remarked that Annan’s acknowledgement “should be a wake-up call for everyone.”

Appeals to the regime, and to President Bashar [al-]Assad himself, whom Annan was due to meet Sunday evening, are no longer enough. A regime which kills its own people, destroys its cities, ruins its economy, makes refugees of its citizens and which can count its remaining international friends on one hand, is not a regime which will make compromises and agree to concede power. 

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A Syrian girl lifts the center of a giant revolutionary flag during a protest against Bashar al-Assad, in front the Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan, Thursday, July 5. (Mohammad Hannon/AP)

A senior Syrian general defects

By Correspondent / 07.06.12

In what could be the biggest defection from Bashar al-Assad's regime since the start of the Syrian uprising, a senior general and friend of the president has fled the country and is making his way to Paris, according to multiple reports.

The BBC reports that Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas, a commander in Syria's elite Republican guard, escaped his home in Damascus, where he was under a form of house arrest, and fled to Turkey in the past few days. General Tlas reportedly split with the regime out of frustration with its deadly crackdown on the opposition. The BBC writes that it is unclear what Tlas's intentions are, but notes that Paris is currently hosting a conference of more than 100 countries that are attempting to resolve the violence in Syria.

Tlas's defection has been confirmed by sources both inside and outside Assad's regime. The pro-government website Syriasteps cited a Syrian official acknowledging Tlas's departure, reports the Daily Telegraph, though the official dismissed Tlas's escape as "not mean[ing] anything."  And two other officials, one a Syrian rebel, the other an American, both confirmed Tlas's defection, reports Al Jazeera.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity from Washington, said, "General Tlas is a big name and his apparent decision to ditch Assad hurts, even though it probably didn't come as a surprise".

"Tlas lately seems to have been on the outs, but he's got charisma and some smarts. If he joins the insurgents, that could be significant," the official said.

Joshua Landis of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma wrote on his blog, Syria Comment, that his eyewitness sources say Tlas's home in Damascus was being ransacked on Thursday.

Tlas's defection is particularly noteworthy because of his place in the highest echelons of the Syrian government. Tlas is a friend of President Assad's, and commander of a brigade of Syria's Republican Guard, an elite force headed by the president's brother, Maher al-Assad. Tlas's father, Mustafa, served as Syria's defense minister from 1972 to 2004. 

The BBC writes that Tlas's father, now retired, is currently reported to be in Paris.

And The Daily Star of Lebanon notes that unlike most of Assad's regime, who are members of the minority Alawite sect, the Tlas family is part of Syria's Sunni majority, and that Tlas's defection "may reflect an erosion of support for the president among wealthy Sunnis."

Jeff White, defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, described the defection, if confirmed, as “significant.”

“He is/was, a commander of an important key regime protection unit, and closely associated with the regime,” White told The Daily Star via email.

“[It] could be a signal that the Sunni officers sticking with the regime so far are beginning to reconsider their options. [It] will be a concern to the regime of course, and could set off a witch-hunt with further damage to the cohesion of the army.”

The Guardian's Martin Chulov said that Tlas was not "a direct member of the inner sanctum, but he was certainly taken into the confidence of the inner sanctum," and that despite the Syrian government's dismissal of Tlas's defection, "it does matter."

He was one of the most trusted members of the Sunni community within the government. [Tlass] came from Rastan which has been particularly heavily hit. He had been known to be disaffected for some months and there had been rumours that he was under virtual house arrest.

[The defection] was the talk of the town this morning. We were out and about with various rebels in southern Turkey. They all knew about it and it had emboldened them. They thought that it would potentially be a lightening rod for other senior officers still inside Syria.

The Guardian notes that another general also defected from Syria in the past three days, according to a Turkish government official. Although not named, the general is from an engineering division, the official said.

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