Syria flag photo: CNBC
Lots has been happening in Syria over the weekend so let’s take a look at some recent coverage.
48 Iranians were kidnapped by an opposition militia in Damascus on Saturday. Iran claims they were religious pilgrims and the Syrian opposition claims they were spies, thugs or Revolutionary Guard. The most glaring aspect of this, in my opinion, is it threatens to suck Iran (further?) into the conflict which I presume was the intent of the abductions.
The rebels claimed responsibility for capturing 48 Iranians in Syria, forcing Tehran to call on Turkey and Qatar — major supporters of the rebels — to help secure their release.
Thus far the opposition has claimed 3 of the Iranians have been killed in an attack in Damascus by the Syrian government and the abductors are threatening to kill even more of the Iranians unless the government stops attacking them. Are the Iranians being used as human shields?
Syrian rebels said three Iranian captives were killed on Monday during an air attack in Damascus province by government forces, and threatened to kill the remaining Iranians in their custody unless the army stopped its attack.
“They were killed when the aircraft attacked. One of the houses they were in collapsed over their heads,” rebel spokesman Moutassam al-Ahmad told Reuters. “We will kill the rest if the army does not stop its assault. They have one hour.”
Fighters from the al-Baraa brigade of the rebel Free Syrian Army kidnapped 48 Iranians on Saturday on suspicion of being military personnel, but Tehran says they are pilgrims.
The 48 Iranians, planning to visit a shrine on the outskirts of Damascus of particular significance to Shi’ite Muslims, were abducted on the road from the airport.
Insurgents fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accuse Iran of sending fighters from its Revolutionary Guard to help Assad’s forces put down the 17-month-old uprising. The Islamic Republic denies the accusations.
“We have documents that they are involved with the Revolutionary Guards,” Ahmad said.
They were all traveling together in a bus. If Iran sent 48 fighters to help Assad one might imagine they wouldn’t send them all together on a bus, rather conspicuous if you ask me. Maybe Iran needs some brushing up on covert action. Unless they were just pilgrims. Either way this is being touted in one report as “The biggest prize of the ambush brigades so far.”
The biggest prize of the ambush brigades so far — 48 abducted Iranians branded as spies by rebels — was put on display in a video that carried a warning that all Iranians in Syria would be “captured or killed” because of Tehran’s strong backing for Assad.
Interestingly, the same AP report asserted a senior member of a parliamentary committee advising Iranians against traveling to Syria is a high-ranking acknowledgment that Syrian rebels have expanded their hold over key roads and other areas once firmly under Assad’s control.
It is not clear if the attack that allegedly killed the 3 abducted Iranians was in retaliation for an attack on the Damascus headquarters of Syria’s state broadcaster earlier today but this report makes opposition ‘control’ sound primarily symbolic.
Meanwhile, a bomb blast hit the Damascus headquarters of Syria’s state broadcaster on Monday as troops backed by fighter jets kept up an offensive against the last rebel bastion in the capital.
The bomb exploded on the third floor of the state television and radio building, state TV said. However, while the rebels may have struck a symbolic blow in their 17-month-old uprising against Assad, Information Minister Omran Zoabi said none of the injuries was serious, and state TV continued broadcasting.
Rebels in districts of Aleppo visited by Reuters journalists seemed battered, overwhelmed and running low on ammunition after days of intense tank shelling and helicopter gunships strafing their positions with heavy machine gun fire.
Emboldened by an audacious bomb attack in Damascus that killed four of Assad’s top security officials last month, the rebels had tried to overrun the Damascus and Aleppo, the country’s commercial hub.
But the lightly armed rebels have been outgunned by the Syrian army’s superior weaponry. They were largely driven out of Damascus and are struggling to hold on to territorial gains made in Aleppo, a city of 2.5 million.
Damascus has criticized Gulf Arab states and Turkey for calling for the rebels to be armed, and state TV has described the rebels as a “Turkish-Gulf militia”, saying dead Turkish and Afghan fighters had been found in Aleppo.
In other news Syria’s recently appointed Prime Minister, Riyad Hijab, has defected to Jordan making him the highest official to depart from the government. Hijab was appointed in June after a parliamentary election that was supposed to be a step towards political reform.
Hijab, who like much of the opposition comes from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, is not part of Assad’s inner circle, but as the most senior serving civilian official to defect his departure dealt a heavy symbolic blow to an establishment rooted in the president’s minority Alawite sect.
His departure is unlikely to have repercussions for Assad’s grip on power.
There seems to be a jockeying of position in the MSM regarding who’s taking the lead. The defection of a lame duck PM, the inconclusive bombing of Syrian state broadcasters headquarters and the abduction of Iranians all sound quite impressive in print, but do they amount to advances on the street? If the Reuters report can be believed and rebel forces are in fact largely driven out of Damascus and struggling to hold on to territorial gains made in Aleppo, symbolic gains mean little.