The lesson of the minaret: every tyrant will fall and the city remains. History has taught us that the people find a way to pick up the pieces of their city and rebuild. One thousand years from now, these years will be a chapter in history books. The future people of Aleppo will visit this sacred site and will feel the calm and peace once more. The stone will be old again. They will point to the square tower and whisper to their children the tale of this minaret that falls every few centuries when the lesson of tyranny must be taught to a people who had forgotten. Those people of the future are lucky. They will be unaware of the pain of living those years, unaware of the shame of writing this chapter. History is abstract and seamless to them, like it once was for us. It is merely a story they can recite while they trace their fingers over the stone and remember without consequence. I envy them.
Entries in Syria (1370)
Insurgents seize a regime tank near Homs
1625 GMT: Limited Use of Chemical Weapons Part of Assad's Strategy? Pundits are arguing for or against foreign intervention in Syria, and much of their analysis of this week's chemical weapons claims are shaped by that goal. Chemical weapons analysts have focused on the available evidence, and have offered their criticism or support of the claims that Assad used of chemical weapons in that light. Today, however, two analysts focus on the wider strategic situation in Syria, and how chemical weapons claims fit into that picture.
Syria Audio Feature: Is a Lasting Assad Regime Better than the Current Situation? --- Scott Lucas with Monocle 24
I spoke with Monocle 24's The Briefing yesterday about the political and military situation in Syria, framed by the question, "An end game seems as distant as ever --- should questions be asked in the West now about what seems to be a misguided confidence that Assad would eventually go? Will be continued instability be a lot worse than a continuation of the Assad regime?"
My response begins with a reply to the challenge that a lasting Assad regime is the best option:
That would be just as mistaken as people who said he would fall within a few weeks.
To simply say that it would be better for the Assad regime to continue would be almost blind to the reasons why the protests started in March 2011. It would be blind to the fact that, for the largest part, it is the regime which is responsible for the tens of thousands of deaths since then.
2210 GMT: Major Policy Shift Signaled By the US? Many analysts are writing about military intervention in Syria. Some are opposed, some are in favor, many are still on the fence. One article in particular was promoted heavily on Twitter: The Case for Intervening in Syria, published by The Atlantic. What caught our eye, however, is that one of the Twitter accounts pushing the report belongs to the US State Deptartment’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations:
2148 GMT: Rebels Redress Assad Advance in Damascus. At the start of my day, there was news that the Syrian regime was stacking tanks on the outskirts of Jobar, the east-central district of Damascus that is the front lines of the fight for the capital in the east. The area was being heavily shelled and bombed by artillery, rockets, and aircraft, softening up the area for the ground assault.
It's unclear whether the offensive was ultimately successful, but it does not appear that is was. Furthermore, the rebels appear to have inflicted heavy losses on the regime, particularly in the form of tanks.
Could increased involvement by Hezbollah transform the civil war between regime troops and the insurgency into a open Sunni-Shia/Alawite sectarian conflict, at least in the al-Qusair region?
Sectarianism has played a relatively small role in the Syrian civil war to date. Support for the insurgency, like support for Assad, is ethnically diverse. However, Hezbollah's incursions into the border region, and increasing lawlessness along the Lebanese border area, may be major catalysts for greater sectarian violence, at least between Al Qusayr and the border with Lebanon.
2007 GMT: Umayyad Mosque. It is hard to overstate the cultural, symbolic, historical and architectural importance of the Umayyad Mosque, the Great Mosque of Aleppo. Months ago, it was occupied by Assad fighters and used to attack nearby rebel positions. The mosque then fell to Syrian rebels. Today, it has been attacked by Assad forces and the minaret has been destroyed. The Local Coordination Committees have posted this statement:
The Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo is considered to be one of the most famous and important mosques in the Islamic world and is one of the most important world heritage sites. The mosque witnessed almost all eras of history. Regime forces have committed today a new crime against human and cultural heritage by targeting the minaret of the mosque and completely destroying it. This act comes in the context of a systematic policy of the authoritarian regime to destroy all Syrian cultural landmarks.
We, in the Local Coordination Committees condemn this criminal act that shook the conscience of all Syrians and underline the continuing struggle to achieve the goals of our glorious revolution, no matter how far this criminal regime goes in targeting humans and stone.
The use of chemical weapons or their possession by the "wrong" forces, while genuinely considered a threat by US and European governments, has been used to date to justify the build-up of a multi-national base in Jordan, with training and the supply of weapons to insurgents.
The US Secretary of State, though indirectly and carefully, opens up the prospect: will the chemical weapons argument now be used to escalate that support, possibly moving it into the open?
2045 GMT: Fighting In Al Qusayr. This video reportedly shows rebels firing a Zu-23-2 anti-aircraft gun at Assad fighters near Al Qusayr today:
The feeling in Homs is grim. Contacts we've spoken to reiterate that they have resisted simplifying this conflict along sectarian lines, but that the regime has forced their hand by utilizing sectarian militias, including Hezbollah, to not only attack rebels but also to attack Sunni civilians. Other people who have told us they have contacts in Homs are saying similar things.
By morning, we may see the violence in central Syria explode in the most clearly sectarian fashion since the start of the conflict.
On the other hand, most opposition members have resisted sectarianism so far. Alawite, Druze, and Christian groups fight inside and alongside elements of the Free Syrian Army. While we've never been this pessimistic about sectarian violence in Syria, we're not without hope that the fighting will be limited to the groups that are already involved.
2000 GMT: Regime Kills its Own? This promises to be the most controversial video of the day:
1540 GMT: Nuclear Watch
Iranian media report that Iran and the United Nations nuclear watchdog will have further talks over Tehran's disputed nuclear program around May 21 in Vienna, Iranian media reported on Monday.
There was no immediate confirmation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), leaving unclear whether a firm date for the next meeting had already been agreed.
Iran's Mehr and ISNA news agencies initially reported that the meeting would be held on May 21, but ISNA later quoted an unnamed official as saying this was only a "preliminary agreement" and that the date could be moved by one or two days.
1230 GMT: Sanctions Watch
British Foreign Secretary William Hague has indicated that the European Union will not be imposing new sanctions on Tehran.
Speaking before an EU Foreign Ministers' meeting in Luxembourg, Hague said, "We must maintain (current) sanctions pressure, not proposing new ones."
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and US Secretary of State John Kerry at Saturday's Friends of Syria meeting
1935 GMT: Opposition Criticises Lack of International Action
Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian National Opposition Coalition, has confirmed the resignation he announced last month.
A Coalition official said, "Khatib is resigning to denounce the international community's lack of real action on behalf of the Syrian people," after the opposition requested "specific, precise and immediate action to protect Syrian civilians from the use of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons".
Khatib had met US Secretary of State John Kerry before Saturday's Friends of Syria meeting. Kerry announced a doubling of "non-lethal" aid to $120 million from Washington, but it was not enough to satisfy the Coalition.
"The result in Istanbul was less than the Syrian people expected," Hisham Marwa, a senior member of the Coalition, said. "The US said that the use of chemical weapons was a red line for the Assad regime but the regime is using them and nothing has happened. We expected more. Russia sends Assad tonnes of weapons every week."