Mar
08

Syria: oil minister defects – live updates

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• Abdo Hussameldin becomes most senior civilian to switch
• China’s envoy calls for immediate end to violence
• UN’s Valerie Amos continues visit after inspecting Baba Amr

8.42am: Rime Allaf, Syria expert at the foreign policy thinktank Chatham House, is not getting carried away by the defection.

A deputy minister is not a senior #Syria regime figure; not so significant to be real defection, just a resignation with little effect.

— Rime Allaf (@rallaf) March 8, 2012

But Burham Ghalioun, leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, is reported to have welcomed the move, according to journalist Oliver Holmes.

Head of the Syrian opposition Burhan Ghalioun told me he is pleased to hear about the defection of the deputy oil minister and wants more.

— Oliver Holmes (@olireports) March 8, 2012

8.13am: (all times GMT) Welcome to Middle East Live. Does the defection of a deputy oil minister signal that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is beginning to crumble from within? Or is this just more wishful thinking from the sidelines?

On Monday the International Crisis Group accused western governments of “endlessly to be waiting for something to happen … for defections to swell (they will, but only if officers and officials sense the end is in sight)”.

Do Syrian officials now think the end is in sight?

Here’s a roundup of the latest developments:

Syria

Syrian deputy oil minister Abdo Hussameldin has become the first high ranking civilian official to abandon President Bashar al-Assad since the uprising against his rule erupted a year ago. In YouTube video he says:

I Abdo Hussameldin, deputy oil and mineral wealth minister in Syria, announce my defection from the regime, resignation from my position and withdrawal from the Baath Party. I join the revolution of this dignified people. I say to this regime: you have inflicted on those who you claim are your people a whole year of sorrow and sadness, denying them basic life and humanity and driving Syria to the edge of the abyss.

Hussameldin’s defection comes after a series of senior military figures have switched to the opposition, most recently who general declared support for the Free Syrian Army on Tuesday in protest at the bombing of Rastan. And yesterday an armed group who claim to come from the ruling Alawite sect have declared their defection to the opposition.

The video was filmed in Idlib.

China’s envoy to Syria told the Assad’s government to stop violence immediately and help the UN and Red Cross send aid to trouble spots, Reuters reports. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Liu Weimin, also told reporters that the envoy, Li Huaxin, had also promoted Beijing’s backing for a mediation process between the Syrian government and opposition groups.

The UN’s humanitarian chief Valerie Amos heard the sound of gunfire during her 45-minute inspection of the Baba Amr district of Homs. Amanda Pitt, a spokeswoman for Lady Amos’s office, said: “She [Amos] said that security was obviously an issue and they heard gunfire while they were there. The parts of Baba Amr that they saw, she said they were pretty devastated.”

President Obama has asked the Pentagon to set out military options on Syria, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Martin Dempsey, confirmed to the Senate, the New York Times reports. But both General Dempsey and defence scretary Leon Panetta played out the prospect of military interventions stressing that diplomatic and economic pressure was the best solution to crisis in Syria.

The Syrian regime’s grip on the country’s second city Aleppo is weakening, according to the Telegraph. Echoing a report published by Syria watcher Joshua Landis, it said:

In the poorer districts of Marjeh, Fardouz, Saltine, Saif el Dawla, locals furtively scrawl anti-government messages on the walls of dilapidated buildings. Protests that lasted seconds now swell to crowds of hundreds on Fridays and at night time when the security forces are less alert said activists.

Syria is more likely to be liberated by a peace movement than by a rump defectors’ army, argues Middle East analyst Juan Cole.

The most successful movements so far have been the persistent, peaceful demonstrations by civilian forces, and I think the revolution has more chance of success in Syria if it stays peace-oriented. Only a peaceful movement could allay the fears of the Christians, Alawis and moderate Sunnis, about what kind of regime would come to power after the fall of the Ba’ath.

Cole also argues that the Free Syrian Army fighters made a mistake in trying to form a base in Baba Amr.

But the real lesson of that horrid episode was that the revolutionaries in Syria erred in attempting to hold urban territory. The defectors from the military in the Free Syrian Army don’t appear to have taken any armor with them when they departed the Baath barracks. They are therefore small guerrilla bands with light weaponry. It was a big mistake for them to hunker down in a particular city quarter and to stand and fight there against tanks and artillery. The only advantage guerrilla bands have is in hit and run tactics, and that requires a hideout not known or accessible to the government, from which raids can be made before the guerrillas fade away again. Those needs, which underpin any guerrilla war, may not be capable of being met in Syria.

Libya

The Libyan leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has vowed to use force to stop the country breaking up after leaders in an eastern region declared autonomy. “We are not prepared to divide Libya,” he said, blaming infiltrators and pro-Gaddafi elements for backing the autonomy plan. “We are ready to deter them, even with force.”

Matthew Weaver

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from Matthew Weaver

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