U.S. administration pushes for Syria strike as clashes continue in historic Christian town

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a military strike by turning over "every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week." However, he continued that Assad won’t do it and "it can’t be done." Speaking in London, Kerry warned that, "the risk ...

Alastair Grant - WPA Pool/Getty Images
Alastair Grant - WPA Pool/Getty Images
Alastair Grant - WPA Pool/Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a military strike by turning over "every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week." However, he continued that Assad won't do it and "it can't be done." Speaking in London, Kerry warned that, "the risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting." He said the Syrian government's involvement in a chemical weapons attack on August 21 was indisputable, stating that only three people in Syria have control over chemical weapons including Assad, one of his brothers, and a senior general. Kerry and President Barack Obama are stepping up efforts this week to win approval for a U.S. strike on Syria. U.S. lawmakers are returning Monday and will debate action on Syria with a vote expected Wednesday in the Senate. In an interview with Charlie Rose to be broadcast Monday, Assad denied the government was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians. Obama is scheduled to address the U.S. public on Tuesday to make an appeal for a military strike. Meanwhile, the Syrian government has launched an offensive on the historic Christian town of Maaloula, north of Damascus. The town, renowned as the oldest Christian community in the world, has largely remained outside of the Syrian conflict until a rebel offensive Wednesday. Control of the town has exchanged hands between government and rebel forces three times in the past six days, with fierce clashes over the weekend.

Headlines

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has halted the withdrawal of its fighters from Turkey, blaming the government for failing to take steps agreed upon in peace talks, but said it will maintain the cease-fire. The U.S. State Department has ordered non-emergency personnel to leave Lebanon over "current tensions in the region" and approved voluntary evacuation from southern Turkey. Rival protests took place outside Tunisia's Constituent Assembly Sunday after tens of thousands of demonstrators reportedly marched to the capital Saturday calling for the resignation of the Islamist-led government. The daughter of Libya's former intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, has been released after being abducted last week by a security brigade linked to the interior ministry, which claimed it held her for her own safety. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a military strike by turning over "every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week." However, he continued that Assad won’t do it and "it can’t be done." Speaking in London, Kerry warned that, "the risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting." He said the Syrian government’s involvement in a chemical weapons attack on August 21 was indisputable, stating that only three people in Syria have control over chemical weapons including Assad, one of his brothers, and a senior general. Kerry and President Barack Obama are stepping up efforts this week to win approval for a U.S. strike on Syria. U.S. lawmakers are returning Monday and will debate action on Syria with a vote expected Wednesday in the Senate. In an interview with Charlie Rose to be broadcast Monday, Assad denied the government was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians. Obama is scheduled to address the U.S. public on Tuesday to make an appeal for a military strike. Meanwhile, the Syrian government has launched an offensive on the historic Christian town of Maaloula, north of Damascus. The town, renowned as the oldest Christian community in the world, has largely remained outside of the Syrian conflict until a rebel offensive Wednesday. Control of the town has exchanged hands between government and rebel forces three times in the past six days, with fierce clashes over the weekend.

Headlines

  • The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has halted the withdrawal of its fighters from Turkey, blaming the government for failing to take steps agreed upon in peace talks, but said it will maintain the cease-fire.
  • The U.S. State Department has ordered non-emergency personnel to leave Lebanon over "current tensions in the region" and approved voluntary evacuation from southern Turkey.
  • Rival protests took place outside Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly Sunday after tens of thousands of demonstrators reportedly marched to the capital Saturday calling for the resignation of the Islamist-led government.
  • The daughter of Libya’s former intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, has been released after being abducted last week by a security brigade linked to the interior ministry, which claimed it held her for her own safety. 

Arguments and Analysis

Egypt: The Misunderstood Agony‘ (Yasmine El Rashidi, New York Review of Books)

"The country couldn’t have continued for three more years under Morsi’s rule, but neither can it continue with the alarming rage and polarization that has been unleashed. On my street this week, I watched as a shop owner pointed a pistol at a man serving tea at a street-side café. ‘Terrorists like you have no place here,’ he screamed. The man’s beard was his crime.

When many of us went down into the streets on January 25, 2011, the fight was against Mubarak’s corrupt and brutish police state. People from all walks of life were committed to particular ideals of democracy and to the hope for serious change. Today, the sight of police and army vehicles brings a sigh of relief, as do reports of arrests of top Brotherhood leaders. Most people I’ve spoken to seem unmoved by the re-instated emergency law. The caretaker government has said it is necessary to ensure that its plans for a new constitution and elections go forward. Indeed, the government passed an amended draft constitution to the president this week to review. For many, including those grieving for lives lost, the thought of a state backed by the military and protected by the police offers at least temporary reassurance, even if they know of the brutalities those forces can commit, and even as they see further arrests of dissidents being made.

Although I have heard well-informed people insist that Egyptians will no longer accept a state that monopolizes power or abuses them, at this moment, the primitive calculation is one of relative safety — which is far from being assured. Faced with the choice between armed militants and armed men in uniform, Egyptians, by a large margin, are choosing the latter. And yet it was these same forces of state that were responsible for the discontent that led to the uprising against Mubarak; many of those forces have remained intact since his reign. The real coup in Egypt was the one of February 11, 2011, when Mubarak left office, and one wonders when the real revolution might come."

Sectarian identities in Syria: pushed to the brink?‘ (Genevieve Theodorakis, Open Democracy)

"There is little doubt that the civil war has hardened sectarian identities, but what will a US-led military strike entail for an increasingly divided Syria? Fears of an American attack will likely only fuel the aggression of the Assad regime and raise the stakes of those who support it, and those who are against it. Many observers have expressed concerns over the reactions of Assad’s supporters, particularly Alawites, who increasingly feel that their livelihood and their very survival are tied to the fate of the regime. Any serious blow to the Assad regime may very well heighten the sense of insecurity felt by those associated with the government, whether by allegiance or sect, by pushing them into a corner and away from negotiations with what is increasingly seen as a difficult, fractured and often violent smorgasbord of opposition militias. Indeed, one such group, Jund al-Sham, has made ‘the extermination’ of Alawites a priority, blaming the sect for ‘Syria’s suffering’.

In the context of an increasingly sectarian conflict, any plans for an American-led strike cannot exclude considerations of the impact that such an attack will have on the divisions within Syria. In particular, efforts to include Iran in plans of action in Syria could very well help to limit a potential sectarian-based blow out on the ground.

A lesson of caution could be taken from Iraq, where the ignition of sectarian conflict following the 2003 American intervention continues to plague national and regional stability. Against the backdrop of an imminent US attack on Syria, a series of car bomb attacks killed at least 60 people in primarily Shia neighbourhoods of Baghdad and are believed to be the work of Sunni militants. Failure to consider the potency of sectarian identities in Syria may produce the opposite effect intended for a strike, pushing parties further away from negotiations, and closer to the brink."

–Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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