#Obama opposes French support for #Assad's opposition in #Syria

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The Obama Administration's position on the Syrian conflict has been brought into greater relief by its opposition to the call by French President Hollande for the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government to replace the Assad regime.

After eighteen months of murder by the Syrian government, crowned by the slaughter of more than 600 civilians in Daraya this week, the Obama Administration has said the call for the formation of a government to replace him is premature.

In a statement from the presidential palace yesterday, Hollande criticized his predecessor and other western leaders for foot-dragging on Syria, then he strengthened France's stand against the continuation of the Assad regime, saying:

"France asks the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government - inclusive and representative - that can become the legitimate representative of the new Syria," Hollande said in a speech to France's corps of ambassadors.

"We are including our Arab partners to accelerate this step," he said, without elaborating. "France will recognize the provisional government of Syria once it is formed."

The Syndey Morning Herald characterized the US response to this move as follows:

US lukewarm on call for shadow Syrian government
August 29, 2012
Anne Gearan, Suzan Fraser

ANKARA, Turkey: Scattergun diplomatic efforts aimed at curbing the worsening violence in Syria have grown more complicated, as France urges world recognition of a shadow Syrian government that the United States considers premature.

In making his plea, the French President, Francois Hollande, became the first Western leader to call on Syria's rebel movement to form a provisional government, putting pressure on the US President, Barack Obama, to back the diplomatic gambit or authorise US military action to protect civilians.

Mr Hollande said he hoped an internationally recognised alternative Syrian government would speed the fall of the President, Bashar al-Assad. More ...

Giving the US response to the French proposal, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, seemed to leave open the possibility that the murderous Assad regime still might survive and there would be no need for any provisional or transitional government at all:

What’s important is that this reflect views of the Syrian people and that it be something that is broadly consulted among all of the groups in Syria, that it be broadly representative of the different backgrounds, ethnicities, parts of the country, if and when that time comes, that it reflect the kinds of goals that are in the code of conduct that was put out in Cairo early in July – namely a respect for human rights, a democratic path forward, et cetera.

Requiring a provisional government "that is broadly consulted among all of the groups in Syria, that it be broadly representative of the different backgrounds, ethnicities, parts of the country" sounds very nice and democratic but those are also conditions that will be difficult, if not impossible, to meet as long as Assad is in power and a civil war ravages the country.

That brings us to this very big "if" in her statement.

The Obama Administration was still trying to do a peace deal with Assad even after the uprising against his regime began and it was slow in demanding that Assad step down.

Does it still have hopes that the Assad regime will survive?

1:14 PM PT: Now the Syrian opposition is weighing in on the US position on the French proposal:

Syrian opposition chief slams US remarks on Syria
Posted: 6:32 a.m. today
By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press

BEIRUT — The head of the main Syrian opposition group is criticizing U.S. officials for saying it was premature to speak about a provisional Syrian government.

Abdelbaset Sieda of the Syrian National Council says the opposition is making "serious" preparations and consultations to announce a transitional government but admits it is not imminent.

French President Francoise Hollande called on the Syrian opposition Monday to quickly form a provisional government, saying France would recognize it.

U.S. officials called it premature because the opposition is too fragmented.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Sieda said Tuesday the U.S. comments show the international community "is not ready" to take decisive decisions when it comes to Syria.

From EAWorldView today we have this report on Syria:

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Will a Few Thousand Deaths Change Anything?
Monday, August 27, 2012 at 4:53 | James Miller

Shelling and gunfire in the Khalidiyah district of Homs on Sunday

1938 GMT: Syria. The LCC's deathtoll is even higher than the CFDPC's. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 224 people have been killed nationwide by regime forces:

148 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs (including 42 martyrs in Zamalka, 39 in a new massacre in Daraya, and 25 in Mouadamiyeh) 27 in Daraa (including 11 in Jiza; most of them are women and children), 12 in Idlib; most of them in Ariha, 10 in Aleppo, 8 in Deir Ezzor, 10 in Homs (including a person who was martyred in Tadamun neighborhood, Damascus), and 9 in Hama.

Dissecting the numbers, it's worth noting that Zamalka is on the other side of the capital as Darayya and Moudamyah.

1927 GMT: Syria. The CFDPC has posted this summary of events in Zamalka, an eastern suburb of Damascus, where battles and shelling have been reported since dawn:

Tanks and helicopters of regime forces began to shell the Zamalka suburb of Damascus early morning causing the collapse of entire buildings on their residents.

So far the number of dead is about 30, among them children, while about 150 people were injured (some of them are in critical condition).

The Free Syrian Army defended the people of Zamalka and shot down a military helicopter leading to big losses in the ranks of regime forces; also some members of the Free Syrian army died.

Shelling and clashes led thousands of people to flee from the area.

The CFDPC has also posted a list of the confirmed dead, along with accompanying videos.

1815 GMT: Syria. UPDATED: A super-activist, Zilal, associated with the CFDPC, has sent us additional information about eastern Damascus. According to Zilal, the regime used MIG fighters to attack several key areas east of Damascus.

In this first video we see a MIG reportedly Qadam district, in southwest Damascus (map) above the Qaboun district (map), where the helicopter was shot down by the Free Syrian Army:

This video reportedly shows a MIG fighter dropping a bomb in the eastern Ghouta districts (approximate map). While we can't pinpoint the mosque because the video doesn't state exactly where this took place, one can briefly make out the minaret at the beginning of the video, adding credence that the MIG in the first half of the video actually dropped this bomb:

Another video claims to show fighter jets flying over eastern Ghouta.

Zilal says that this is the first time that the Eastern Ghouta region, the area to the east of Damascus's closest suburbs, has been attacked by MIG fighter jets.

1638 GMT: Syria. The bombs and shells keep falling in Zamalka (map). We've been counting the videos of the shelling, but the Local Coordination Committees have been counting the bodies. So far, there are many:

The number of martyrs has risen to 42 thus far, however, regime forces continue to shell and bomb the town using warplanes, artillery and tanks.

1610 GMT: Syria. Clashes between the FSA and the syrian military continue in Zamalka. This video shows gunfire and smoke near what appears to be a checkpoint on the central highway (map):

1438 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 113 people have been killed by regime forces so far today:

59 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs; including 25 martyrs in Zamalka, 12 in Daraa, 12 in Idlib; most of them in Ariha, 10 in Aleppo, 7 in Deir Ezzor, 7 in Homs, and 6 in Hama.

A note on the source - the LCC is an activist network working inside and outside of Syria. They purport to use rigorous verification techniques, and are often available to provide details when pressed. Their numbers populate a database of those killed in the crisis, the VDC. Their numbers are a mix of insurgents and civilians. No regime casualties are included in their death tolls, and the Syrian media has also stopped reporting regime deaths.

1335 GMT: Yemen. With solutions to a water crisis largely put on the back burner as terrorism, a political crisis, and tribal conflict beset the country, The Guardian reports that Yemen's capital could be the first capital city in the world to run out of water:

Beset with crises, the new president, Abd Rabbu Mansoor Hadi, has put little energy towards resolving the water crisis threatening the majority of Yemenis. Ghassan Madieh, a water specialist for UN children's fund Unicef, said he did not "see any serious attention being given to the issue of water scarcity, or the low coverage in water and sanitation"...

The spectre of a country run dry looms over Yemen's nearly 25 million inhabitants. With its streams and natural aquifers shallower every day, Sana'a risks becoming the first capital in the world to run out of a viable water supply. The water table in the city has dropped far beyond sustainable levels, Shami said, because of an exploding population, lack of water resource management and, most of all, unregulated drilling. Where Sana'a's water table was 30 metres below the surface in the 1970s, he said, it has now dropped to 1,200 metres in some areas.

1310 GMT: Syria. More escalation in the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. According to the latest from the LCC, a network of activists, 25 people have already been killed in Saqba, and the shells are falling at nearly a rate of once a minute (map).

1242 GMT: Syria. Things are intense in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. This video reportedly shows shells falling in Douma today (map):

Slightly to the south, in Irbin (map), clashes between the Free Syrian Army and the military are reported. These shells are reportedly falling not far from an air force intelligence headquarters:

And now an unverified claims (which matches rumors on Twitter) that there have been a number of defections, and the FSA fighters have captured this BMP armored vehicle:

1203 GMT: Syria. Two Turkish journalists, missing in Syria, appear to be in government hands, according to a news broadcast in Turkey:

NTV television on Monday showed the video of Cuneyt Unal, a cameraman who was working for the U.S.-funded al-Hurra network when he and a colleague, Bashar Fahmi, were believed to have been captured while covering fighting in the northern city of Aleppo a week ago.

Turkey's Anadolu news agency says the video was first broadcast on a pro-regime television station in Syria.

On the video, Unal has bruises under his eyes. He says he crossed into Syria with foreign fighters, and one image shows him holding a weapon.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says Unal was coerced into making a statement and that Syria is responsible for his wellbeing.

The two went missing from Aleppo on the same day that Mika Yamamoto, a Japanese journalist, was killed in the city.

In an unrelated incident, American journalist Austin Tice is still missing in Syria.

1150 GMT: Syria. For the record, this is not the first time the FSA has shot down a helicopter. There were two confirmed cases of downed helicopters in the 10 square miles around Ma'arrat al Nouman, Idlib province, back in late June. Also, a jet fighter was shot down in Deir Ez Zor on August 13th.

So far, however, there is no hard evidence that the FSA has used anti-aircraft weapons provided from the outside. These incidents all appear to be the work of anti-aircraft guns that were captured from the Assad regime itself.

1133 GMT: Syria. As the blogger Brown Moses points out (see previous update), the evidence is strong that a helicopter has been shot down in Qaboun (map), an area in north Damascus. We see reports that the fighting that brought down the helicopter started today as regime forces appear to now be focused on the northern and eastern suburbs. What this is likely to mean is that any fighting there, which was already intense enough, will intensify much further as Qaboun, Harasta, Douma, and some of the other nearby suburbs have had a strong presence of FSA fighters, and their sympathizers, for many months.

There's already evidence of an intensification, as eyewitness reports say there is a spike in bombing and shelling in the area. The LCC, for instance, posts this video, reportedly showing cars and buildings on fire in Harasta, just northeast of Qaboun (map):

James Miller takes over today's livee coverage. Thanks to a tireless Scott Lucas for earlier updates.

1047 GMT: Syria. Insurgents are declaringing they shot down a regime helicopter over Damsacus today:

Claimed footage of the wreckage:

Brown Moses summarises the episode and provides more pictures and footage.

1045 GMT: UAE. Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, has dismissed criticism of the arrest of more than 50 dissidents since March as a “condescending monologue”.

In an article in the State-owned The National, Gargash continued:

The UAE’s end goal is not a liberal multiparty system,” wrote Mr Gargash in the opinion piece published on Sunday. This model does not correspond with our culture or historical development. There is insufficient evidence that a multiparty system works in the Arab world....

Recent developments in the Arab world augment this view, and political parties remain polarised, threatening the unity of the state and the cohesiveness of the society.

1035 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report that 34 people have been killed by security forces so far today, including 21 in Damascus and its suburbs.

0955 GMT: Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities have announced they foiled a "terror plot" as they arrested two Saudis and six Yemenis, suspected of links to Al Qa'eda.

The Ministry of Interior said the suspects were working on "recruiting elements to execute criminal attacks targeting security forces, citizens and foreign residents, as well as public installations....Investigations revealed that those elements were at an advanced stage... including preparing explosives and testing them outside Riyadh."

Two other Saudi nationals are wanted for questioning.

0950 GMT: Bahrain. On Sunday we reported that Maryam Alkhawaja, the international representative of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was again being held at Cairo airport and denied entry into Egypt.

In April, Alkhawaja was allowed into the country after a wait of several hours. This time, however, authorities would not relent --- she is now in South Africa.

0940 GMT: Syria. Another "foreign fighter" story, this time in Reuters, but the tale is much different from that of well-trained "jihadists":

Talal Mohammad is a long way from Tennessee, and he's out of his depth.

In an olive grove a few miles from the frontlines of Aleppo, he's at a loss to explain to a battle-hardened bunch of Syrian rebels what exactly this prosperous, U.S.-trained Saudi dentist is doing there --- and what he can offer to their cause.

"Why have you come?" asked one of his new comrades, sharply, as they shared a traditional evening meal, the iftar to break the Ramadan fast, in the twilight of a makeshift training camp.

"Don't get us wrong," the man adds quickly, anxious to show due respect to a guest at this solemn ritual of shared faith in Islam. "We appreciate your solidarity. But if you'd brought us money and weapons, that would have been much better."...

Senior fighters around Aleppo say it is a common story.

"This week alone, I have welcomed to Syria two doctors, a lawyer, a karate trainer and a social worker from Britain," said one who goes by the name Abu Mohammed and who leads a formation known as the Soqour al-Sham, or Falcon of Syria, Brigade.

"We have no shortage of men at all," he added. But some are more trouble than they're worth.

"I realize it's a religious duty to come to Syria for many of our brothers," said Abu Mohammed. "But those who come with no idea how they can help beyond their faith can be a burden."

0430 GMT: Syria. We begin the morning with a snap analysis by James Miller, "The Escalation of Death: What Comes Next?":

The pattern of last week's violence is becoming clearer, and more disturbing. In the areas that have resisted the regime the hardest, the bombs fell, then the shells, then the helicopters attacked, then the tanks and the soldiers entered the towns and cities. Pro-regime infantry and militia killed on a grand scale, targeting all fighting-aged men in places like Moudamyah and Darayya.

With this amount of escalation, people are already talking about the consequences.

Here are my related diaries on Syria:
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BREAKING: As Syria Burns, UN Blows More Smoke
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UPDATED: Russia reported to be preparing to evacuate from Syria
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