Parties


Syrian opposition

The Syrian opposition met several times in conferences held mostly in Turkey and formed a National Council.

The Federation of Tenseekiet Syrian Revolution helped in the formation of a Transitional National Assembly on 23 August in Istanbul "to serve as the political stage of the Revolution of the Syrian people". The creation of the Syrian National Council was celebrated by the Syrian protestors since the Friday protest following its establishment was dubbed "The Syrian National Council Represents Me". The Syrian National Council gained the recognition of a few countries, including "sole legitimate interlocutor" by the United States.

 

Local co-ordination committees of Syria

The networks of anti-government protest organizers formed decentralized "Local Coordination Committees" which drew together the young, unorganized protesters. The Committees are used to document protests and spread anti-government messages throughout Syria. Though they have only a few hundred members, the Local Coordination Committees rose to prominence as the core of the protest movement on the ground, separate from the organized political opposition. The Committees are also noted for trying to reach out to minority groups and diversify the demonstrations.

 

Free Syrian Army and other armed opposition groups

In late July 2011, a web video featuring a group of uniformed men claiming to be defected Syrian Army officers proclaimed the formation of a Free Syrian Army (FSA). In the video, the men called upon Syrian soldiers and officers to defect to their ranks, and said the purpose of the Free Syrian Army was to defend protesters from violence by the state. Many Syrian soldiers subsequently deserted to join the FSA. The actual number of soldiers who defected to the FSA is uncertain, with estimates ranging from 1,000 to over 25,000 as of December 2011. Nir Rosen, who spent time with the FSA in Syria, claims the majority of its members are civilians rather than defectors, who had taken up arms long before the formation of the FSA was announced. He also stated they have no central leadership.

As deserting soldiers abandoned their armored vehicles and brought only light weaponry and munitions, FSA adopted guerilla-style tactics against security forces inside cities. Its primary target has been the shabiha militias. Most FSA attacks focused on buses bringing in security reinforcements, which were often attacked either with bombs or through hit-and-run attacks. To encourage defection, the FSA began attacking army patrols, shooting the commanders and trying to convince the soldiers to switch sides. FSA units have also acted as defense forces by guarding neighborhoods rife with opposition, guarding streets while protests take place, and attacking shabiha members. However, the FSA engaged in street battles with security forces in Deir ez-Zor, Al-Rastan, and Al-Bukamal. Fighting in these cities raged for days, with no clear victor. In Hama, Homs, Al-Rastan, Deir ez-Zor, and Daraa, the Syrian military used airstrikes against them, leading to calls from the FSA for the imposition of a no-fly zone.[181] The Free Syrian Army numbers about 15,000 men according to a statement its leader Riad al-Asaad made on Al Jazeera, and he added that these were almost exclusively reserve troops that defected from the Syrian army, and thus were no match against the government's highly trained active-duty troops.

On 15 November, the FSA attacked an air force intelligence complex in the Damascus suburb of Harasta with shoulder-fired missiles and heavy machine guns. A gunfight ensued, and helicopters were deployed to the area.

The Syrian government claims that some elements among the armed opposition are Salafists. More than 3,000 members of the Syrian security forces have been killed, which the Syrian government states is due to "armed gangs" being among the protesters, yet the opposition blames the deaths on the government. Syrians have been crossing the border to Lebanon to buy weapons on the black market since the beginning of the protests. Clan leaders in Syria claim that the armed uprising is of a tribal, revenge-based nature, not Islamist. On 6 June, the government said more than 120 security personnel were killed by "armed gangs"; 20 in an ambush, and 82 in an attack on a security post. The main centers of unrest – Daraa near Jordan, where the uprising began, Talkalakh, Homs, Talbiseh, and Al-Rastan near Lebanon, and Jisr ash-Shugur near Turkey – have been described as being predominately Sunni Muslim towns and cities close to the country's borders where smuggling has been common for generations, and thus have more access to smuggled weapons.

In September, the Syrian government claimed to have killed a total of 700 insurgents.

 

Kurdish stance

Kurds have participated in the 2011–2012 Syrian uprising in smaller numbers than their Syrian Arab counterparts. This has been explained as being due to the Turkish endorsement of the opposition, and Kurd underrepresentation in the Syrian National Council. "The regime tried to neutralize Kurds," said Hassan Saleh, leader of the Kurdish Yekiti Party. "In the Kurdish areas, people are not being repressed like the Arab areas. But activists are being arrested." According to Ariel Zirulnick of the Christian Science Monitor, the Assad government "has successfully convinced many of Syria’s Kurds and Christians that without the iron grip of a leader sympathetic to the threats posed to minorities, they might meet the same fate" as minorities in Lebanon and Iraq.

In 2012, several cities with large Kurdish populations, such as Qamishli and Al-Hasakah, began witnessing protests of several thousand people against the Syrian government, which responded with tanks and fired upon the protesters.

Senior Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Cemil Bayik stated that if Turkey were to intervene against Assad, the PKK would fight on the Syrian side. The PKK's Syrian branch is alleged to be involved in the targeting of Kurds participating in the uprising.

By 10 March 2012, 40 of the 10,553 casualties reported during the Syrian uprising had occurred in the primarily Kurdish Al-Hasakah Governorate, although the Governorate is only home to approximately 6.7% of Syria's population.

 

Shabiha 

Shabiha have been described as "a notorious Alawite paramilitary, who are accused of acting as unofficial enforcers for Assad’s regime"; "gunmen loyal to Assad"; "semi-criminal gangs comprised of thugs close to the regime.” Some "shabiha" operating in Aleppo have been reported to be Sunni, however.

According to a Syrian citizen, shabiha is a term that was used to refer to gangs involved in smuggling during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon: "They used to travel in ghost cars without plates; that’s how they got the name Shabbiha. They would smuggle cars from Lebanon to Syria. The police turned a blind eye, and in return Shabbiha would act as a shadow militia in case of need". Witnesses and refugees from the northwestern region say that the shabeeha have reemerged during the uprising, and in June were being used by the Syrian government to carry out "a scorched earthed campaign, burning crops, ransacking houses and shooting randomly". In April, Wissam Tarif, director of the human rights group Insan, said the shabiha were operating in Homs, and an anonymous witness said they were to blame for some of the 21 deaths there over the course of two days.

On 11 January 2012, a pro-Assad gathering hosted by Bashar al-Assad in Damascus chanted "Shabiha forever, for the sake of your eyes, Assad".

 

Sectarianism

At the uprising's outset, some protesters reportedly chanted "Christians to Beirut; Alawites to the coffin". However, there have been no videos that confirm such chants, and the opposition accused the government of agitating sectarianism. Time Magazine reported that, according a former Homs resident who says he came to Lebanon to convince Alawites to turn against the government, government workers were offered extracurricular stipends of up to $500 per month to fan sectarian fears through a graffiti campaign. “The Christians to Beirut, the Alawites to the grave” was a common graffiti smear. He furthermore claimed that other government workers were told to shout sectarian slogans at anti-government rallies. One commander from the Free Syrian Army indicated that this is a religious Islamic struggle against a secular government. He claimed that: "For the first time, we are able to proclaim the word of God throughout this land." Although he also stated that they were fighting for all of Syria's religions and sects: Christian, Muslim, Alawite, Sunni, Druze, Shia. Alawites who have taken refugee in Lebanon have told journalists that they were offered money by the Syrian government to spread sectarianism through chants and graffiti.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the primarily Sunni protesters "have a lot of work to do internally" in order to gain the broad public support needed to form a genuinely national movement, and "it is not yet accepted by many groups within Syria that their life will be better without Assad than with Assad. There are a lot of minority groups that are very concerned." The opposition does include some prominent Alawites and Christians and the neoconservative US-based Stonegate Institute claimed in early 2012 that Syrian Christians have been persecuted by the government during the uprising and threatened into declaring their support for Assad.

There have been unconfirmed reports that the Christians of Homs were expelled from their houses by a brigade of the Free Syrian Army. Local sources told Agenzia Fides that Islamist opposition groups committed massacres against the Christians and Alawites of Qusayr. The Jesuit community living in Homs have denied these claims, saying that Christians left on their own accord to escape the uprising's natural violence.

 

Foreign involvement

The Syrian conflict has been interpreted as part of a proxy war between Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, who support the Sunni-led opposition, and Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon, who support the Alawite-led government in Syria. Israeli reactions have been mixed, with some believing regime change in Syria would weaken their enemy Iran, and others believing a post-Assad Syria might be more dangerous for the Jewish State. Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy has suggested that Israel should exploit the Shia-Sunni conflict.

 

Support for the opposition

In mid-April 2011, WikiLeaks revealed that the United States had secretly funded as much as $6 million to a London-based opposition group Movement for Justice and Development since 2006 to operate the Barada TV satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria. In May, the Syrian government claimed it arrested some and killed other members of terrorist cells with foreign ties it cited as having killed military and police personnel. Khamenei and other Iranian leaders have accused the US and Israel of creating the uprising.

Turkey provided refuge for Syrian dissidents. Syrian opposition activists convened in Istanbul in May to discuss regime change, and Turkey hosts the head of the Free Syria Army, Colonel Riad al-Asaad. Turkey has become increasingly hostile to the Assad government's policies, has encouraged reconciliation among dissident factions and has become concerned about refugees on its borders with Syria.

On 1 November, NATO said it had no intention of taking military action in Syria, after it closed its seven-month campaign in Libya.

Some countries have cut ties with the Assad government including: the Gulf States, Libya, Tunisia, Britain, Spain, Turkey, the United States and Belgium. Canada has closed its visa office but maintains an embassy in Damascus.

Sunni Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Hizb ut-Tahrir have voiced their support for the Syrian opposition. Hamas prime minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniya, expressed his support for "the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform", but Hamas leader Salah al-Bardaweel added that this does not mean severance of ties with the Assad government. American officials believe that Al-Qaeda in Iraq has joined the opposition and has conducted bomb attacks against government forces. Leader of Al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri stated: "Wounded Syria is still bleeding day after day, and the butcher [Bashar Assad] isn't deterred and doesn't stop," and "However, the resistance of our people in Syria is escalating and growing despite all the pains, sacrifices and blood." When asked if the United States would arm the opposition, Hillary Clinton expressed fears that such weapons could fall into the hands of Al-Qaeda or Hamas, organizations she believes now support the opposition.

On 5 March, U.S. Senator and former Republican Presidential candidate John McCain said that America should bomb the Assad government, support the Syrian opposition, and defend civilians from government attacks.

On 8 March 2012 Abdo Hussameddin Syria's deputy oil minister announced that he was resigning from his government post to join the opposition in their revolt against the government. Hussameddin is the highest political figure to have left President Bashar al-Assad’s government since the uprising began last year.

On 23 April 2012, one of the leaders of the Islamist group Fatah al-Islam, Abdel Ghani Jawhar, was killed during the Battle of Al-Qusayr, after he blew himself up while making a bomb. According to the group, he had traveled to Syria with a group of 30 Lebanese fighters to participate in the fighting.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been accused of sending armed militants to Syria to fight alongside the rebels. On 25 April 2012, independent Syrian newspaper Al-Watan reported that Syrian border guards had repelled an attempted incursion by a unit of these mercenaries, who had been trying to enter Syria from Iraq.

On 28 April 2012, the Lebanese navy halted a ship sailing from Libya carrying a large consignment of Libyan weapons believed to be destined for Syrian rebels.

During a 7 May visit to the Kilis refugee camp in south Turkey, the country's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Syrian refugees that victory for the rebels was not far off and that president Bashar al-Assad was "losing blood" by the day.

On 8 May, Syria's U.N. envoy Bashar Ja'afari displayed video of what he said were confessions of 26 Arabs caught in Syria who had come from Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere via Turkey and Lebanon "to perpetrate terrorist acts". Ja'afari stated another 15 foreign fighters had been killed and he urged Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to stop "their sponsorship of the armed rebellion".

 

Support for the Syrian government

In January 2012, Human Rights Watch criticised Russia for "repeating the mistakes of Western governments" in its "misguided" support of Assad. Russia has shown constant and vocal support for the Assad government, which is now considered to be the nation's last remaining ally in the Middle East, including vetoing a UN security council motion, in tandem with China. Jerusalem Post correspondent Oren Kessler reported that China's veto was enacted in the interests of preserving the nation's ties with Russia. Russia has shipped arms during the uprising to Assads government for use against rebels. Israel has been unconvincingly accused of support for Assad.

Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, spoke out in favor of the Syrian government in regard to the uprising – “In Syria, the hand of America and Israel is evident” and “Wherever a movement is Islamic, populist and anti-American, we support it”. The Guardian reported that the Iranian government is assisting the Syrian government with riot control equipment, intelligence monitoring techniques, oil supply, and snipers. One magazine article claimed that Iran has sent the Syrian government $9 billion to help it withstand the sanctions imposed upon it.

According to US journalist Geneive Abdo, the Iranian government provided the Syrian government with technology to monitor e-mail, cell phones and social media. Iran developed these capabilities in the wake of the 2009 protests and spent millions of dollars establishing a “cyber army” to track down dissidents online. Iran’s monitoring technology is believed to be among the most sophisticated in the world – second, perhaps, only to China.

U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice also accused Iran of secretly aiding Assad in his efforts to quell the protests. According to Israeli Army Radio, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official stated that local protesters claimed to have heard security forces members speaking Persian. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood accused Hezbollah and Iran of providing equipment and training to the Assad government in order to suppress protesters. Comptroller Riad al-Shafqa stated that "Hezbollah and Iran providing the Assad regime with equipment and training to suppress the Syrian people, and we have information that confirms that in the Operation Room in Syria there are experts from the Iranian Republican Guard leading operations against the Syrian people.” Iran denied any involvement in suppressing the protests.

On 18 February, two Iranian ships were reported to pass the Suez canal aiming for Syria. The two navy ships later arrived at a Syrian port, which several sources described as a "display of power". The same month it was reported that, like Russia, Hugo Chavez' government in Venezuela had been shipping tens of millions of dollars of diesel to Syria, which can be used to fuel army tanks. The following month, as it readied a third shipment, Venezuela confirmed that it would continue sending diesel to the country. A Greece-based trading company, Naftomar, is reputedly the last firm arranging deliveries of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), but, unlike the fuel sent from Venezuela and Russia, LPG is a peaceful material that plays a vital role in countries like Syria that have limited infrastructure for piping gas. International sanctions do not apply to LPG for humanitarian reasons for these reasons. "We advise anyone that is cooperating with the regime right now to stop supporting it. Traders or otherwise, we advise them to take a firm stance against Bashar al-Assad," said Melhem Al-Droubi from the opposition Syrian National Council. A Russian shipment still went through in April, though Russian and Iranian fuel shipments are not illegal, as they are not signed up to Western sanctions.

On 19 March, a Russian military unit was reported to have landed in Syria via the port in Tartous, according to Russian news reports. This decision was a development that a United Nations Security Council source told ABC News was "a bomb" certain to have serious repercussions. The Russian embassy to the U.S. and to the U.N. had no comment, and the defense minister of Russia claimed only Russian military and technical advisors were in the country. The presence of Russian troops in Syria could be a "pretty obvious" show of support to the government, according to Russian security expert Mark Galeotti.

In March 2012, anonymous U.S. intelligence officials claimed a spike in Iran­ian-supplied arms and other aid for the Syrian government: "They've supplied equipment, weapons and technical assistance — even monitoring tools — to help suppress unrest," one official said. Iranian security officials also allegedly traveled to Damascus to help deliver this assistance. A second senior U.S. official said members of Iran's main intelligence service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, are assisting Syrian counterparts in charge of the crackdown. More anonymous sources were cited by the UN in May 2012, as it claimed arms were moving both ways between Lebanon and Syria, and alleged weapons brought in from Lebanon were being used to arm the opposition.

According to a top official of the Iranian revolutionary guard corps, Hezbollah operatives took part in fighting on the ground against the opposition in Damascus and in the Battle of Zabadani. Weapons shipments both ways between Lebanon and Syria were documented in a May 2012 UN report.

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