The Associated Press reports: Within hours of President Barack Obama’s re-election the deadlocked Syrian conflict moved into a new phase Wednesday, with Britain’s prime minister urging the U.S. to join him in working directly with Syrian rebels and Turkey saying Washington has discussed protecting a safe zone inside Syria with Patriot missiles.
The changes would mark a profound shift in Western efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, and indicate that leaders have been waiting for the result of the U.S. presidential election before embarking on a new strategy to end the civil war that has killed more than 36,000 people.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting a camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan, said the U.S., Britain and other allies should do more to “shape the opposition” into a coherent force and open channels of communication directly with rebel military commanders. Previously, Britain and the U.S. have acknowledged contacts only with exile groups and political opposition figures inside Syria.
Meanwhile, a Turkish official said Turkey and allies, including the United States, have discussed the possibility of using Patriot missiles to protect a safe zone inside Syria.
The foreign ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of ministry prohibitions on contacts with the news media, said planning for the safe zone had been put on hold pending the U.S. election. He said any missile deployment might happen under a “NATO umbrella,” though NATO has insisted it will not intervene without a clear United Nations mandate.
“There is an opportunity for Britain, for America, for Saudi Arabia, Jordan and like-minded allies to come together and try to help shape the opposition, outside Syria and inside Syria,” Cameron said. “And try to help them achieve their goal, which is our goal of a Syria without Assad.”
In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said talks with rebel military leaders would not involve advice on military tactics or support for their operations. Hague also insisted that Britain would not consider offering weapons to Assad’s opponents. [Continue reading…]
The Los Angeles Times reports: They are this ancient city’s bedraggled warriors: plowmen and laborers, mechanics and carpenters who came from the countryside this summer to “liberate” this formerly freewheeling town attuned to the rhythms of commerce.
Now they’re stuck here.
Bogged down by a relentless urban combat they’re ill-equipped to fight, the rebels daily endure both government bombardment and thinly veiled hostility from the resentful residents of a mercantile hub turned dystopia.
These rebels who entered Aleppo from semirural, tradition-bound suburbs and agricultural areas found no spontaneous outpouring of support, no waves of sleeper cells yearning to join the revolution. Many shopkeepers in the historic Old City seem to avoid eye contact with the scruffy legions strutting along the cobblestoned streets of this former Silk Road terminus.
A reporter escorted by rebels on a recent visit couldn’t escape the sensation of accompanying an occupying force.
The widely divergent backgrounds of fighters and Aleppo residents underscore a continuing tension that probably contributed to the stalling of the rebel advance.
It has been more than three months since the rebel brigades slipped into mostly sympathetic, largely working-class Sunni Muslim districts along the city’s northern, eastern and southern edges. But the advance mostly halted at the borders of more mixed and prosperous areas where the government still enjoys support.
Today, Aleppo remains divided along a roughly four-mile front line separating government and rebel-controlled zones.
Neither side has been able to push forward much in what appears to be an enduring stalemate, even as casualties mount and the destruction proceeds inexorably, creating vistas of pancaked apartment blocks and rubble-strewn lots in one of the world’s oldest continuously occupied cities.
Some rebel commanders openly regret the decision made in mid-July to attack the city directly. Filled with false confidence after chasing government troops from nearby districts, rebels eschewed a more classic guerrilla strategy of gradual advance via strikes on police stations, military posts and other security targets.
“We gave the regime an excuse to attack civilians,” laments Ahmed Obeid, who heads the Amr ibn al-As Division, one of perhaps 10 major rebel groupings fighting here. “We are not military men. We have made mistakes.” [Continue reading…]