Reports of a massacre of some 200 civilians in sectarian violence in the streets of a village called Traymseh are just coming in. It is too early to speculate on those culpable but we will try and confirm details later today.
This report is on the perspective of the Syrian Government. What we are giving here in today’s report is the Syrian Government’s view (or rather, to be precise, elements of the Syrian government).
What President Bashar al Assad is saying
- In a fascinating development, Assad has accepted demands for a transitional government including elements of the opposition as controversially promoted by the recent UN meeting in Switzerland. Unfortunately he sees himself retaining the post of President, which rather undermines the whole concept. He has suggested a name for transitional premier to Kofi Anan.
Following a meeting in Damascus on 9th July between President Assad and Kofi Annan, the Syrian President belatedly began an attempt to reform. He agreed there was a need bring an end to the widespread violence. Kofi Annan remarked that Assad had made some suggestions as to how this could be achieved. The plan taken on by the Assad government pledges to contain violence in the worst affected areas first, before expanding the effort to ‘end the violence across the country.’ Assad has suggested that in this way the violence can be terminated step by step, and has agreed to have Annan discuss the plan with the armed Syrian opposition.
Talks with the UN envoy appear to have been successful according to Kofi Annan, who said the Assad government has accepted the idea of a transitional government, an idea which had been discussed at the Geneva conference on the 30th of June. Despite this, Assad is continuing to insist that he will accept no plan that involves him stepping down. Assad put forward a potential candidate’s name for the political transition to Kofi Annan.
Assad insisted that his willingness to be involved in the meetings with Kofi Annan indicate how eager he is to find a solution to the crisis in Syria. Assad echoed Kofi Annan when he confirmed that Iran would have a part to play in the solution for Syria.
What Jihad Makdissi is saying:
Jihad Makdissi, the foreign ministry spokesperson, tweeted on the recent meetings between Kofi Annan and President Assad on the 9th July. His comments can be followed on the @Makdissi tag
‘Constructive and good meeting took place between Pres Assad & Annan . Followed now by a meeting with minister Moualim #UN #Syria’
‘Implementation of 6 points plan was core issue of discussion and how to move forward in achieving it #Syria #UN’
‘Geneva CONF was mutually seen as an important step to push the political process forward & to create an environment of dialogue #UN #Syria’
‘Humanitarian aspect of the Plan was examined and ways to achieve calm in a detailed way by All Sides #UN #Syria’
‘In both meetings we reassured Annan of Syria's commitment 2 implement the 6 points Plan & hoped other side is mutually committed #UN #Syria’
What Walid al Muallem is saying:
The Foreign Minister continued last week’s pattern, one of largely remaining silent, though he attended the meeting between United Nations-Arab League special envoy Kofi Anan and Syrian President Bashar al Assad on the 9th July. After this meeting, Walid al Muallem confirmed that the government was “adopting reforms across the country”.
What the Government is doing
Though civilian casualty levels are generally slightly reduced in the past week, reports were coming in of atrocious sectarian violence in a small village yesterday details of which have yet to be confirmed. We will try and bring readers accurate information in this evening’s report though it will be hard to ascertain the truth. The village, whose name is transcribed as “Tremseh” or “Traymseh”, is near to Homs and has been much fought over. Some suggest as many as 200 have been killed.
Increasingly bold attack measures are being sanctioned by the Syrian government. Areas of Damascus were attacked this week, the first time an area of the capital has been bombed in the 16 months since the uprising started. Further shelling has continued in Homs, in a desperate attempt by the Syrian government to keep control. Meanwhile the numbers of refugees flooding into neighbouring countries continue to cause concern.
This week there have been two defections from the government to the opposition in Syria, the most high profile being the Syrian Ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, who is the first senior diplomat to change sides. He may have started a trend with rumours today that the Syrian Ambassador to Belarus is also about to defect.
Mr Fares has been very public about his decision. Fares called on more Syrian soldiers to follow his lead: ‘I urge all honest members of this party [the Ba’ath party] to follow my path because the regime has turned it [the party] to an instrument to kill people and their aspiration to freedom.’
Talking in front of the pre-Ba’ath party Syrian flag he said; ‘I declare that I have joined, from this moment, the ranks of the revolution of the Syrian people," he said in a video statement posted on Facebook. "I ask … the members of the military to join the revolution and to defend the country and the citizens … turn your guns towards the criminals from this regime.’
Fares did not go into detail about his reasons for defecting but repeatedly mentioned the killing of civilians by government forces. SNC member Mohammed Sermini said that ‘this is just the beginning of a series of defections on the diplomatic level. We are in touch with several ambassadors.’ These events could, Sermini suggests, trigger an unravelling of the Syrian government, each subsequent defection acting as a sword in its side, further weakening its resolve. Syria’s Foreign Ministry has responded to Fares’ decision by belatedly firing the Ambassador to Iraq. They stated that Mr Fares has been ‘relieved of his duties’ and should face ‘legal and disciplinary accountability.’
The other high profile incident of the week is that of the supposed defection of Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, a friend of Bashar al-Assad who has fled Damascus with his family but has remained silent. For a government that increasingly appears to be pinning hopes of survival on military force, the loss of top commanders is more than just an embarrassment. It is clear that cracks are beginning to emerge. However, it remains very curious that despite the best efforts of the Western diplomatic corps, the Syrian opposition, and the massed ranks of the press, Manaf Tlass has gone to ground in Paris and has yet to say a single word in public.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ‘we are witnessing higher defections from higher-ranking officers because we have reached the stage of the absence of solutions. In addition, morale is getting weaker and weaker among the military.’ It seems there are currently no accurate figures on the extent of defections from Syria’s armed forces. There are no reports at all of defections among Alawite and / or Christian officers or soldiers. However, the loss of growing numbers of Sunni Arab conscripts in the ranks emphasises the ever more sectarian nature of the conflict.