CHINA ON SYRIA
China has suggested it host a visit by members of the opposition, as Beijing steps up its diplomacy to help resolve the crisis in Syria.
China's foreign ministry met with Assad's envoy, Bouthaina Shaaban in China on 16 August. During the meeting Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told the Syrian envoy that the Syrian government and the opposition groups should enter into a dialogue and push forward the political transition process led by the Syrian people. Yang "hopes that the Syrian government and the opposition will cooperate with the international community's mediation efforts".
Ministry spokesman Qin Gang reiterated China's call for the implementation of Kofi Annan's peace plan, and for "an immediate ceasefire and for the violence to stop; for the effective protection of civilians and to defuse the crisis through political dialogue."
China has joined Russia in expressing considerable disquiet over recent US threats to intervene should Syria deploy chemical weapons.
LEBANON – THE SPILL OVER FROM SYRIA
This week violence has spread from Syria into Lebanon’s second largest city Tripoli as more than 100 were wounded in street battles between Sunnis and Alawites. The fighting happened along the sectarian fault line between the Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh and the Alawite area of Jebel Mohsen. Fighters used automatic weapons as well as rocket propelled grenades. Some believe however, that this confrontation will remain confined to Tripoli and not spread through Lebanon as a whole.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is a Sunni, appealed to both sides to end the fighting, “We have repeatedly warned against being drawn into this blaze that has spread around Lebanon.” He told the residents of Tripoli “not to allow anyone to transform you into ammunition for someone else's war.”
This follows a spate of kidnappings as sectarian tensions have increased in Lebanon. A Lebanese Shia clan (The Mokdads) kidnapped dozens of Sunni Muslims in retaliation for the abduction of a clan member by rebels inside Syria. The rebels had accused the man, Hassan al-Mokdad, of being a member of Hezbollah, who had entered the country to fight for the Assad government. Hezbollah has denied any connection with the clan member or the kidnappings.
Michel Samaha, a former information minister in the Lebanese government, was arrested earlier in the month and following interrogation has said that he had been “asked to carry out attacks in Lebanon by a Syrian security official”, further splitting Lebanon into those who support the rebels in Syria and those who do not.
THE UNITED NATIONS
On Wednesday the United Nations humanitarian chief made a demand that the international community increase its funding to help Syrians in urgent need of basic services such as shelter, food, health care, water and sanitation. In her statement in New York, Valerie Amos claimed the living conditions in Syria have steadily worsened due to the difficulty faced in getting much needed aid into the country and also, worryingly, a lack of sufficient funding from the outside world. Amos said that both those who have fled the violence and the people who are helping them are in desperate need and that logistical hurdles are preventing aid from reaching them. She observed that the UN appeal for $180 million dollars for humanitarian aid in Syria has only been met halfway. She called on international donors to increase funding stressing that the current level of support is far from sufficient to tackle such a rapidly spiralling problem.
UN Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Robert Watkins, also expressed his fears this week regarding the recent security incidents in Lebanon, which have included kidnappings and armed clashes. He made the comments following a meeting in Beirut with the Minister of Interior, Marwan Charbel. Watkins spoke of the ‘moral responsibility’ that Lebanon has to protect innocent people, including the many Syrians who have sought refuge there.
Following a Security Council decision, UN officials are preparing the ground in Damascus for the establishment of a liaison office. The UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) was set up by the Security Council on 21 April through adoption of resolution 2043. On 20 July 2012, the Security Council refused to extend the Mission beyond a final 30 days. Having now reached the end of the four-month UN observer mission, the world is waiting for news from the secretariat about the next steps it is planning to take regarding the resolution of the Syrian issue.
Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Faisal Meqdad, expressed his hopes that the new UN international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will open a speedy and successful international dialogue in cooperation with the Syrian government, introducing new ideas to solve the current crisis. These positive comments follow the cloud of negativity that hung over Mr Brahimi earlier this week after he described the conflict as a civil war and refused to make a statement regarding his position on the call for President Bashar Al Assad’s resignation. Brahimi ignored criticism by the Syrian government and opposition forces, telling the BBC that he was not yet in a position to make bold proposals or statements of any kind, and saying that he was ‘committed to finding a solution.’
Syria has been accused by the international community of not fully cooperating with the previous UN mission and there is much speculation as to whether they will be more supportive this time.
RUSSIA ON SYRIA
In a climate in which Russia regards much of the Western press as having double standards, Russia claims to be the victim of a “propaganda war" and that some media had disseminated "blatant disinformation". The statement was made by Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova when on 14 August 2012, Saudi daily al-Watan reported that Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who is also President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for Middle East affairs, said in a telephone interview that Assad had agreed to step down.
It was also suggested that Bogdanov had said Assad's brother Maher al-Assad lost his legs during a bombing in Damascus that killed senior security officials and he was "struggling for survival".
The newspaper did not say when the interview took place and the only direct quotes it attributed to Bogdanov were on the subject of Russia's position on the crisis.
However the Russian Foreign Ministry slammed the report of the Saudi Arabian newspaper: "We would like to point out that this report does not correspond with reality, and the Russian special envoy gave no such interview."
Russia accused the West of reneging on an agreement to establish a transitional government in Syria and of prolonging the bloodshed by encouraging the rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said an agreement made by world powers and the then-peace envoy Kofi Annan in Geneva on June 30 was still valid and urged the West to do more to put it into practice: "We remain convinced that what was achieved in Geneva should not be sabotaged. We will be demanding in the next few days a clear answer from our partners on whether they confirm what they signed in Geneva."
Moscow and Washington are still divided over Syria. The US insists that U.N. observers should not remain in Syria any longer, however it is willing to consider an alternative U.N. presence in the country. Whereas Russia favors the continued presence of United Nations observers in Syria, warning a U.N. exit from the country would have "serious negative consequences". This was reiterated In a meeting between U.S. under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov.
Moreover, Russia expressed its concern that the United States and European countries are helping fuel violence in Syria. Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov's comments: "There is growing evidence, including in the media, that Syrian opposition is massively supplied with Western-made weapons through third countries."
Gennady Gatilov also said that "the exit of the United Nations from Syria in the current situation will have serious negative consequences not only for the country, but for the whole region," Nevertheless, the United Nations Security Council decided to end the U.N. monitoring mission in Syria after 19 August 2012.
Speaking in Helsinki following a meeting with his Finnish counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "We find it appropriate to defend the U.N. Charter that states the use of force can be only be decided by the Security Council." Lavrov added that the outcome of the Syrian conflict would affect the way future conflicts were resolved.
More recently, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that his country rejects the imposition of any no-fly zone on Syria: "This will be a violation of sovereignty if it included Syrian territory."
UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey announced on 17 August 2012 that the former Algerian foreign minister and longtime UN official would succeed Annan as joint UN-Arab League envoy. However, Russia believes mediation by Lakhdar Brahimi will be in vain unless the powers wielding influence on both sides in the Syrian conflict arrange for an internationally-guaranteed ceasefire in Syria. Foreign Minister Lavrov also said that “the proposed ceasefire should be followed by a political dialogue between the government and the opposition.” “A civil war in Syria would be fraught with a region-wide conflagration,” Mr Lavrov warned.
Meanwhile, on the night 16 to 17 August 2012, demonstrators shouting anti-Syrian government slogans, attacked the Russian Embassy in London. Three windows were broken.
Russian diplomats expressed regret over the conduct of London police who they said had arrived at the scene but had “failed to take proper measures to neutralize the unsanctioned demonstration which was underway and detain the attackers.”
The attack was not the first against the Russian embassy in London. Earlier this year, supporters of the Syrian opposition splattered paint on the embassy fence, the embassy said, adding that such attacks were violating the principle of diplomatic immunity.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to Russia, Tim Barrow, to protest over the incident on 17 August 2012. Russia claims: “It is notable that the British authorities do not interfere with the noisy demonstrations at night in the residential area of the city, although this was contrary to local regulation in the sphere of the maintenance of public order.”
IRAN ON SYRIA
Lakhdar Brahimi, the new UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, has said he will include Iran in his bid to bring stability to Syria. "Iran is an important country in the region and definitely I'll be very happy to talk to them," he said on Sunday.
Ahmadinejad’s visit to Saudi Arabia for a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) saw Iran attempt to improve its relations with other Muslim nations, specifically over the Syrian issue. "There has been a clear change in the Iranian position towards Syria," one diplomat at the Mecca summit said. Ahmadinejad avoided mention of the Syrian conflict in his speech on Tuesday night as did Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in his opening speech, indicating an accommodation between the region's superpowers, who appeared on television footage to be chatting warmly during their meeting. Iran, which had previously voiced its discontent at moves to remove Syria from the OIC, met the decision with a "soft reaction." In another conciliatory move, Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi proposed the formation of a committee grouping his country with key players Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to try to find a settlement to the Syrian conflict. Morsi will visit Iran on the 30th August to attend meetings of the Non-Aligned Movement. This will be the first visit by an Egyptian head of state to Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has specified its conditions for the release of the Iranians it arrested earlier this month. In an interview with VOA's Persian News Network, Deputy FSA Commander Colonel Malik al-Kurdi said the hostages would be freed if the Iranian government respected the human rights of "its own people" and tried to help end the bloodshed in Syria. "This is a simple demand which comes from the Syrian people who are suppressed and are being martyred every week," said al-Kurdi.
Meanwhile, Mohsen Rezaei, former Chief Commander of the Revolutionary Guard and a candidate for President in the previous Iranian elections, has given a rare insight into Iranian strategy over Syria. “Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan constitute a golden belt in the Middle East. The United States seeks to use all means to become the decision-maker in this golden belt,” he said. He continued, “Should Syria remain independent, and not fall to the hands of the Americans and the Western occupiers, there will be an Islamic awakening in the region which will turn toward Islam. But should these countries fall into the hands of the Americans, the Islamic awakening will turn into an American movement.” The Iranians no longer have a personal commitment to Bashar Al-Assad, rather their primary aim is to make sure the US do not increase their influence in the region.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has accused Iran of training militia in Syria. "It is obvious that Iran has been playing a larger role in Syria in many ways," Mr Panetta said at a press conference. There is now evidence that Iran's Revolutionary Guards are "trying to develop, trying to train a militia within Syria to be able to fight on behalf of the regime," Mr Panetta said. Other reports name the militia concerned as “Jaysh Al-Sha’b”.