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Syria on the web – Obama’s Syria policy, Imad Moustapha’s Syria policy, Damascus in the 80s, and more…

November 30th, 2008 · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

‘Syria on the web’ is the start of a new series of posts showing the best articles on Syria – from the blogs, and the international and local press.

We start with an article by Aaron Miller – a former advisor to President Clinton. He’s urging Barack Obama to follow a ‘Syria first’ policy. Dump Palestine-Israel talks in favour of supporting the Syria-Israel track. Obama has already professed his wish to talk to Bashar. Miller’s words will certainly be heard in the Obama White House.

Start with Syria, Aaron Miller, Washington Post

“Israeli settlement activity, which continues unabated, rounds out a nightmarish picture that ought to scare away any smart [Palestine-Israel] mediator. It would be folly to go for broke, given these conditions. 

The more compelling argument is for a major push on another negotiation: between Israel and Syria. Here, there are two states at the table, rather than one state and a dysfunctional national movement. A quiet border, courtesy of Henry Kissinger’s 1974 disengagement diplomacy, prevails. And there are fewer settlers on the Golan Heights and no megaton issues such as the status of Jerusalem to blow up the talks. Indeed, the issues are straightforward — withdrawal, peace, security and water — and the gaps are clear and ready to be bridged.”

Selling Syria to a Skeptical American Audience – Q&A with Syria’s Ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, US News and World Report

fe_pr_081124syrian_ambassador_horizOn dissidents: “We hope that once there is a new political context, once the U.S. occupation comes to an end, once our region moves forward to a more peaceful agenda, then the whole paradigm in our region will change, including the political status of those who oppose the Syrian government.”

On the border: “Are there al Qaeda operatives in Syria? Probably, but they are our sworn enemies. When we know about them, we will immediately attack them or arrest them. We have done everything possible to try to secure the Syrian-Iraqi border. We told the United States we cannot do this alone. We offered it security arrangements, cooperation, intelligence sharing. The U.S. categorically refused to engage with us, always saying, “It’s your responsibility.” ”

(Photo: USNWR.)

The Cassette Generation, Sami Moubayed, Forward Magazine

“Our Damascus had no mobile phones or Internet; no “tunnel” in the Umayyad Square, just orange and red lightbulbs for decoration, and a colorful variety of Mazdas and Lancers, driving around in circles. We played football in the streets and got a tremendous kick out of the first fast food joint to open in Damascus—Express Restaurant—at the Meridian Hotel.

Our favorite location was a small, worn-out parlor called Uno—our Syrian version of McDonald’s in the 1980s and early 1990s. We frequented a ice-cream shop called Ramez. There were no ‘nightclubs’ in Damascus (back then they were called discotheques)…no Backdoor or Marmar, certainly no In-House, Segafredo, or Costa. The famous hang-out, Sahara Café, was a classy restaurant we would go to on Thursdays with family, and behave because of the ‘serious’ atmosphere.”
Iraqi City calls for US raids on Syria, Damien McElroy, The Daily Telegraph

“The US must launch a widespread offensive against Syria to have any hope of taking control of al-Qaeda’s last bastion in Iraq, it has been claimed.

An intelligence officer in Mosul said leading lieutenants of the late dictator Saddam Hussein and Islamists were directing attacks in Mosul from Syria.

An American raid on a Syrian compound it believed was housing al-Qaeda operatives last month triggered calls for repeated sweeps beyond Iraq’s western borders.”

The Year in Review: Syrian Politics 2008, Obaida Hammad, Syria Today


“The ongoing war of words between Damascus and Riyadh waged in regional media outlets intensified in 2008 and resulted in the banning of the regional Arabic daily Al-Hayat, the last surviving Saudi daily on Syrian newsstands. Perhaps the lowest blow was dealt in September when Saudi Arabia failed to condemn or express sympathy over the massive car bombing which rocked Damascus on September 27, killing 17 people and wounding dozens of others. Claims that the anti-Syrian and Saudi-backed Future Movement in Lebanon provided funding to the group allegedly behind the attack have since surfaced.”

(Photo: Syria Today.)

Searching for the roots of a deep faith, Elisabetta Povoledo, photography by John Wreford, New York Times

“Pilgrimage destinations, even unconventional ones, are recognizing the potential for growth. Syria, not exactly a top-of-mind vacation destination for Western tourists (the American administration “hasn’t always represented us in a good way,” Syria’s tourism minister, Sadallah Agha al-Qala, said in a recent interview), has been making the most of the Pauline year celebrations. “We’re trying to give importance to the jubilee,” said Mr. Agha al-Qala. Both Muslim and Christian Syrians “are proud of the role Damascus played in the history of Christianity.”

A series of events — concerts, conferences — coordinated by the country’s multiple Christian communities and the government of this most secular of Arab states kicked off the Pauline year, which runs until June 29, 2009. “It was a unique experience,” watching Christian and Muslim leaders celebrate together, “speaking the same language and sharing the same emotions,” Mr. Agha al-Qala said. Another weeklong round of events, coordinated with ORP, is scheduled to end on Jan. 25, the date given for Paul’s conversion.”

Our meeting with the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, Dania, My Chaos blogpicture-13

“He was interested in hearing from us as Syrian youth how we think the best way to develop relations between Syria and the UK; he was interested as well in hearing our thoughts about how we see development is going in Syria, the educational system that he said that it is “too French”, and we talked about local NGOs as well.
The last two questions were:
– What would you think the British embassy and the British council can do to improve Britain’s image among Syrians youth?
Most of the answers were far away from politics and included more support to Syrian NGOs and to programs that include exchanges between the two countries.”
(Photo: Dania.)


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 norman // Dec 1, 2008 at 2.16 am

    The west interference in the Mideast always leads to the destruction of Christianity,

    Indigenous Christian Exit From Iraq Continues to Grow
    Posted GMT 11-30-2008 23:45:11
    The family of 60-year-old Basil Mati Koriya Kaktoma and his wife, Ekram Ishak Buni Safar, aged 55, have lived in Syria since July 2006. Refugees such as these are adamant they will never return to their homeland given their experience of threats, physical abuse and, in the case of Kaktoma, a week-long abduction by Muslim gunmen Kaktoma believes targeted him because he is Christian.

    “I’d rather go to hell than go back to Iraq,” Kaktoma said in a recent interview in the family’s cramped apartment in Damascus. “What I saw was so horrible that I can’t even look at a map of my own country.”

    Syrian-based leaders of the Chaldean Catholic Church, to which Kaktoma belongs, acknowledge the painful and paradoxical situation Christian institutions face because of the sectarian nature of violence in Iraq.

    While they want the Church to remain in Iraq, which is a country with one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, the leaders believe the long-term outlook for a church presence in Iraq is precarious.

    In this situation, the Church must also offer succour to the thousands of displaced Christians who now reside in Syria and Lebanon but hope to join family members in countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia.

    “The Christians lost a lot in this situation,” Antoine Audo, the Chaldean Catholic bishop of Aleppo, Syria, said about the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the political and social chaos that followed. “It’s very important to have the continuity of [Christian] history in the region. Our presence is important. We have a unique experience of living with Islam.”

    That unique nature of a Christian presence in Iraq was one reason World Council of Churches General Secretary Samuel Kobia said in October that he hoped Christians in Iraq could, and would, remain in their country. Kobia wrote to them in a 14 October letter, “Your presence in the land is an assurance that Christianity continues to endure; you are a sign of hope to people of faith everywhere.”

    Yet, Christian leaders acknowledge the situation for Christians in Iraq is hard and dispiriting. More than 200 Iraqi Christians have been killed since 2003, and dozens of churches, including the Baghdad church Kaktoma, Safar and their four children once attended, have been bombed. Moreover, anywhere from one-third to a half of the 800 000 Christians who lived in Iraq at the beginning of the U.S. invasion are believed to have fled the country.

    Church leaders often express hope that displaced Christian Iraqis can at least remain in the Middle East so that Iraqi Christian life can continue in the region that gave birth to Christian tradition. Still, they also acknowledge the need to respect the decision of Iraqi families who wish to join relatives elsewhere in the world. “They go where they can go,” Bishop Audo said. “I am doing everything to give a future for our church,” he said. “What will happen, I don’t know.”

    For Kaktoma, a retired oil company employee, any future must be as far away as possible from the site of his eight-day May 2006 abduction. The trauma included an assault, which broke his right leg and permanently discoloured it. Kaktoma’s release was made possible, when relatives in the United States and Canada paid a ransom.

    Speaking for her entire family about their past and future, Safar said: “Iraq is finished.”

    By Chris Herlinger

    Chris Herlinger, a New York-based correspondent for ENI, was among the recipients of Catholic Relief Services’ 2008 Eileen Egan Award. The award from the US-based humanitarian agency included a recent trip to the Middle East.

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