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North Africa Northeast Africa Horn of Africa In Focus: The Syrian Port of Tartus 1 4 5 6
22 January 2013
This document provides an overview of developments in the Mediterranean Basin and other regions of interest from 15 – 21 January 2013, with hyper-links to source material highlighted in blue and underlined in the text. For more information on the topics below or other issues pertaining to the region, please contact the members of the Med Basin Team, or visit our website at www.cimicweb.org.
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The Algerian army surrounded a natural gas complex in Ain Amenas on 16 January after Islamic militants captured the facility and took dozens of workers within the complex hostage, reports Associated Press (AP). The militant group, calling themselves the “Masked Brigade”, a newly formed splinter group of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), under the leadership of Moktar Belmoktar. The militants announced that they were holding 411 foreign hostages, and that, to ensure the safe release of the hostages, France should end its military intervention in Mali. Hundreds of Algerians also working in the gas facility were gradually released. Oumar Ould Hamaha, a close associate of Belmoktar, said “[i]t‟s the United Nations that gave the green light to this intervention and all Western countries are now going to pay a price. We are now globalizing our conflict”. Sajjan Gohel, international security director for the Asia-Pacific Foundation, warned that there could be many more such terrorist attacks in the future.
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The initial numbers reported in various news sources are inconsistent with the number of casualties reported later by the Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and the individual confirmations by the governments of killed hostages.
The four day-long standoff between the Algerian forces and the militants ended on 20 January, after security forces recaptured the gas facility, reports BBC. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said that a total of 37 foreigners and an Algerian hostage were killed during the attacks. Moreover, 29 terrorists were killed and three were captured alive. Despite the terrorists‟ announcement that the attack was in retaliation for the French intervention in Mali, Prime Minister Sellal said it had been planned for more than two months. The international victims were from France, Japan, Malaysia, Norway, Philippines, Romania, the UK and the US. The Telegraph reported that the weapons used by the terrorists were obtained from Libyan stockpiles.
Iran‟s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit Cairo during the first week of February at the official invitation of President Mohamed Morsi, reports Press TV. While in Egypt, President Ahmadinejad will meet directly with President Morsi to discuss pressing regional and international issues and will also attend the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit. Khalid al-Said Ibrahim Amari, spokesman for President Morsi, stated that the Egyptian government would be willing to host a summit between Iran and P5+1 (Russia, China, France, Britain, the US and Germany) if all parties were interested in resuming negotiations regarding Iran‟s nuclear energy program. Egypt backs the right of Iran to pursue nuclear energy and advocates for the resolution of the issue through negotiations. Egyptian authorities reported the single largest seizure of explosives destined for Gaza on 20 January, reports Haaretz. One tonne of explosives was discovered on a truck at a checkpoint between mainland Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. Authorities believe the weapons originated from Libya, and were being smuggled into Gaza by militants in Sinai. Local media sources report that over the past three months, police have seized a total of five tonnes of explosives, as well as disassembled rockets and automatic weapons. The World Bank has forecast the Egyptian economy to grow by 2.6 per cent in 2013, reports Ahram Online. The figure is substantially lower than the government‟s prediction of 3.5 to 4 per cent for the year. The World Bank further forecasts improved growth for the country in the next two years, with 3.8 per cent growth in 2013/2014 and 4.7 per cent in 2014/15. In other economic news, on 17 January, Ahram Online reported that European Council President Herman Van Rompuy has made the EU‟s USD 6.5 billion loan to Egypt contingent on approval of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan agreement. Van Rompuy stated, “Once the IMF deal is sealed with Egypt, the EU will be supporting Egypt‟s economy with loans and grants worth a total of USD 6.5 billion”.
The Libyan Minister of Defence Mohammed Mahmoud al Barghati was attacked by gunmen on 19 January, reports Magharebia. The Head of the Libyan National Guard Khaled al Sherif said “[a]s the minister prepared to leave the airport by car, his bodyguards traded fire with angry soldiers and ex-rebels, but the minister was not hurt”. The Defence Minister was attending a meeting with high-ranking military officials to strengthen the armed forces. Barghati accused his former deputy, Siddiq Al-Ghaith, whom the Minister recently sacked, for the assassination attempt, reports Libya Herald, denying the claims of his former deputy that the shooting was a “tribal matter”. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said on 19 January that Libya will not allow threats to the security of its neighbours to originate in his country, reports Reuters. Since the fall of former leader Moammar Gaddafi, Libya‟s vast southern deserts have become a weapons smuggling route. The Prime Minister also denied media reports that terrorists are using al Waigh military base near the Niger border “to launch attacks on neighbouring countries”. Prime Minister Zeidan further said that Libya rejects the military intervention in Mali and called for dialogue, reports the Tripoli Post. He emphasised that Libya will not be used as a base to carry out attacks into Mali and denied rumours that France is using the southern town of Lawiig as a military base. Libya‟s oil and gas production, which was greatly reduced due to the civil unrest in the country in 2011, has recovered to near precivil war levels, reports Forbes. The Libyan government appealed to the foreign firms to return to the country and resume production, as the sector constitutes the main source of revenue for Libya. However, as the country approaches the pre-war level of 1.6 million barrels per day, it is clear that insufficient and outdated infrastructure will negatively impact the production capacity. Moreover, activist groups realise that they can exploit the country‟s dependency on the oil and gas sectors, targeting energy facilities to attract the government‟s attention. Since the election of the new government, energy production facilities in Libya have faced several strikes and demonstrations. Acknowledging the country‟s dependency on the sector, the Prime Minister Zeidan said: “[w]e will not allow any (armed) force to confront the people and threaten national security. I warn families, tribes and regions that we will take decisive measures”.
22 January 2013
The Moroccan judicial police (BNPJ) and the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance discovered and disabled a terrorist network that recruits and trains young Moroccans to fight for al Qaeda-affiliated groups, reports Magharebia. The group was the fifth cell discovered by the authorities since last fall, increasing concerns about a “proliferation of terrorist networks”. Investigations showed that, since April 2012, the group provided military and suicide bomber training to over forty recruits. As the Malian conflict intensifies, Moroccan authorities are becoming increasingly concerned about the influence terrorist groups in the region may have in Morocco. Although Morocco has no shared border with Mali, al Qaeda‟s efforts to establish linkages with distant jihadist groups brings the conflict close to Morocco. Another recruitment cell was disabled in late December 2012 in Fez. The Ministry of Interior reported that the group‟s goal was to “enrol and recruit young Moroccans who have embraced jihadist ideas, in order to send them to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) camps”. The Ministry also said that AQIM and the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad (MUJAO) are “attractive to Moroccan youth imbued with the philosophy of al-Qaeda”. On the other hand, according to political scientist Sami Khairi and analyst Mohamed Chaouni, the security services and the security policies are efficient and strong enough to address the threat. Morocco‟s inflation rose from 1.6 per cent in November 2012 to 2.6 per cent in December due to rising food prices, reports Reuters. Food prices rose to 4.5 per cent from 2011, while transport and education costs increased 5 per cent and 6.1 per cent respectively. Annual inflation for the year of 2012 was 1.3 per cent, compared to 0.9 per cent in 2011. Moreover, because of the Eurozone crisis, Morocco‟s trade deficit hit a record high of 197.2 billion dirhams (USD 23.6 billion) with a 7.9 per cent increase, informs Zawya. Although a rise in exports was observed, a much larger rise in imports accounted for the deficit.
A group of terrorists was arrested and a large weapons cache was seized in Medenine, Tunisia, on 17 January, reports Reuters. Tunisian security forces have been on alert since the hostage crisis broke out last week in Algeria. The Ministry of Interior said the cache included Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Meanwhile, two armed men from Libya were arrested in Tunisia after they attacked a Tunisian security post at Jedelouine on 17 January, reports Libya Herald. According to a security source, the gunmen crossed the border in a 4x4 vehicle and wore military uniforms, leading the Tunisian authorities to initially believe that they were defence forces. However, the two men opened fire, causing security forces to respond and capture the attackers. Salafists who, in June 2012, attacked an art exhibit in Tunisia deemed offensive to Islam were sentenced to one-month in prison by a Tunisian court, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP). Sixteen people were found guilty of violating the state of emergency, but acquitted of more serious charges such as rebellion, assaulting public officials and attacks on public order by organised gangs. The defendants‟ lawyer, Salaheddine Barakati, said that some of his clients were planning to file complaints against the state for holding them in preventative detention until November, although they were released after a hunger strike, during which two people died. The French military intervention in Mali has ramifications for countries in the region, including Tunisia, reports al Monitor. Many of the terrorists who attacked the Algeria gas facility reportedly escaped into Tunisia. Gathered information suggests that two 4x4 vehicles carrying gunmen entered the country on 17 January. A high level government and security officials meeting was held that same day, indicating the gravity of the security situation. Regarding the intervention in Mali, several Tunisian officials offered conflicting proposals f or the position of Tunisia in the events: Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem said as a personal opinion that they are against a military intervention in Mali by anyone except the African forces. However, following a meeting with the French Ambassador Francois Gouyette, he said the French intervention was “exceptional and justified” and acknowledged the fact that the French intervention was requested by the Bamako government. On the other hand, presidential spokesman Adnan Manser said that Tunisia does not support any intervention in Mali by the French or any other foreign force.
22 January 2013
South Sudan – Sudan Cross Border Issues
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South Sudan began a withdrawal of its army from the Sudan-South Sudan border on 17 January, and expects that Sudanese troops will be fully withdrawn by 04 February, according to Reuters. The government of South Sudan said in a statement that it expects Sudanese troops to begin a similar withdrawal; however, there was no immediate comment from Khartoum. Meanwhile, President Omar Hassan al Bashir of Sudan and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan will meet for a second time this month, on 24 January, reports Reuters. The two leaders, who met at the beginning of January in Addis Ababa, have agreed to continue talks in an effort to diffuse tensions over oil, territory and other issues. Security officials from both countries were recently in Ethiopia to discuss the implementation of a buffer zone along the disputed border; however, the New York Times reported on 19 January that the two countries were unable to reach agreement on critical oil and border security issues or the specifications of the fourteen-mile demilitarised zone. The negotiations were also undermined when the South Sudanese military spokesman, Colonel Philip Aguer, countered statements made by Juba that in fact, no such withdrawal of South Sudanese troops from the border areas had been ordered. The establishment of a demilitarised zone is considered a critical first step before the restoration of oil flow between the two nations, which was shut down in mid2012. South Sudan has refused to export oil until comprehensive border security arrangements are implemented, which reportedly includes the deployment of over 800 Ethiopian soldiers along the border to monitor the agreement.
On 19 January, South Sudan sought international community intervention in the deadlocked negotiations with Sudan, reports Sudan Tribune. Discussions between security officials in Addis Ababa have stalled over a number of issues, and South Sudanese Minister for Justice and acting lead negotiator John Luk Jok blamed the most recent breakdown on the Sudan‟s demands for disarmament of the rebel group Sudan People‟s Liberation Army-North (SPLM-N). Jok stated “We have not been able to move forward. Sudan continues to make illogical and unjustified demands. They are demanding disengagement of the SPLM-North with the SPLA and to conduct disarmament of their own rebels by another sovereign state. They want the Republic of South Sudan to move into Sudanese territory and disarm their rebels which is not logical.” While reiterating the commitment of South Sudan to settle the disputes through peaceful dialogue, Jok claimed that his government had done everything in its power to end the dispute and that now “it is time for the African leaders and the international community to intervene and play critical role and responsibilities to halting dispute as soon as possible. The international community should intervene very, very urgently”.
The Sudanese government and the anti-government rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) met in Doha, Qatar to begin peace talks on 21 January, reports Sudan Tribune. Both parties have signalled their readiness to bring peace to the Darfur region, where conflict has disrupted daily life for over ten years. The JEM deputy leader and head of the negotiation team, Arko Suleiman, repeated that the group are “peace lovers and keen to end the 10-year conflict in Darfur”. Suleiman stated that the talks would focus on Darfur, but stressed that achieving comprehensive peace in the region would bring peace to the entire country. The leader of JEM, Mohamed Bashr Ahmed, in a 2012 interview with the Sudan Tribune, blamed Khartoum for failing to carry out activities to prepare the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees to their villages. Ahmed stated the JEM needed concrete commitments by the government to guarantee the return of IDPs, the payment of compensation and the overall improvement of the security situation to ensure the protection of civilians. Following heavy fighting and mass displacement, the United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reported on 20 January the delivery of over 44,000 kilograms of humanitarian aid by land and air, to over 70,000 displaced civilians in North Darfur. Non-food items including plastic sheets, sleeping mats, blankets and water purification equipment, supplied by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations Children‟s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), became necessary after clashes broke out between rival tribes over local gold mines in the Jabel Amir area. UNAMID have also facilitated the safe passage of humanitarian workers in the area, and are providing mediation support to diffuse tensions in Jabel Amir. Tribal fighting has also erupted in Central Darfur, where, according to Radio Dabanga, twelve people, mainly tribe members directly involved in the fighting were killed on 17 January. Mass displacement was reported amongst local residents, who have been migrating to Chad in search of safety.
22 January 2013
Horn of Africa
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Ten men were found guilty of planning terror attacks with Islamist militants in Somalia and were handed sentences of three to twenty years on 15 January in an Ethiopian court. The group includes a Kenyan man, Hassan Jarso, who claimed that he joined al Shabaab in 2009 and fought in Somalia against African Union (AU) troops before being sent to Ethiopia “to serve as al Qaida‟s contact person in the country”. Also sentenced were three Ethiopians for securing supplies to attack political and economic targets in Ethiopia, recruiting members and preaching extremism in mosques. A further six members of the terror cell were sentenced in absentia. The AU will select a new chairperson on 27 January, with expectations that Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will be elected, reports Voice of America (VOA). The AU leadership rotates annually among the five regions of the continent with the President of Benin, Yayi Boni, currently serving as the chair. While only holding the office of prime minister for four months, Desalegn has previous governance experience as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and since taking office in September 2012, has actively engaged in regional politics, particularly hosting on-going peace talks between South Sudan and Sudan. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 2012 was a record high year for African refugees and migrants travelling from the Horn of Africa to Yemen, with about 107,500 persons making the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden. Of those, more than eighty per cent were Ethiopian nationals, seeking employment in the Gulf States.
Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kenyan politician charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, formally launched his presidential bid on 14 January, informs the Washington Post. Kenyatta was indicted by the ICC for his alleged involvement in inciting post-election violence in 2007, during which more than 1,100 were killed. Despite his upcoming trial in The Hague, Kenyatta will run for president, and has selected William Ruto, also indicted by the ICC, as his running mate for the 04 March election. In related news, the US-based Carter Center has announced it will deploy fourteen international long-term election observers to Kenya ahead of the March 2013 election. The Center has opened a field office in Nairobi that will observe both political and legal developments that may impact the election; in particular the observers will monitor the activities of the election commission, political parties, and civil society organisations. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called upon the Kenyan government not to force 55,000 registered urban refugees living in Nairobi to relocate to already overcrowded refugee camps in the north-western region of the country. The Kenyan government announced its plan to relocate the refugees in December 2012, citing security concerns after several grenade attacks in 2012. Officials hope the refugees, mainly Somali nationals, will return to their places of origin. However, HRW believes that the forcing the refugees into the camps, would impede their ability to earn a living and will diminish their access to adequate food, clothing, housing, health care and education. Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher and advocate for HRW, said “Kenya is using the recent grenade attacks to stigmatize all refugees as potential terrorists and to force tens of thousands of them into appalling living conditions in already severely overcrowded camps. The plan to forcibly transfer tens of thousands of people from the cities to camps is unlawful and will cause extreme hardship”.
AU troops accidently fired upon a religious school in a village 75 miles west of the capital of Mogadishu on 17 January, killing five children and two adults, informs the Wall Street Journal. It has been reported that the AU soldiers had been attacked earlier by Islamic militants, and were in search of their attackers when the incident took place. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) said that they will investigate the incident. The United Nations Secretary-General‟s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, expressed concern over the killings, and urged the AU to reinforce efforts to reduce child casualties in operations and to respect international humanitarian law. Al Shabaab stated on 16 January that they had executed their French hostage, Denis Allex, informs BBC. The Islamic militants claimed that the execution of the intelligence agent was, in part, retaliation for the failed attempt by the French government to free him on 12 January. The French government explained that it launched the rescue mission after numerous attempts negotiate Allex‟s release had failed. Casualties of the mission reportedly included seventeen militants and several civilians. The group also claimed that France‟s military intervention in Mali influenced their decision to kill Mr. Allex. For the first time since 1991, the US government formally recognised the government of Somalia, reports United Press International (UPI). The President of Somalia, Hassan Sheik, met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on 18 January. The Somali government, which still continues to battle al Shabaab militants, has made significant progress in stabilising the country over the past several months. Clinton, referring to the US recognition of the Somali government, the first functioning government in more than two decades, said “There is still a long way to go and many challenges to confront, but we have seen a new foundation for that better future being laid.” 22 January 2013 Page 5
In Focus: The Syrian Port of Tartus by Robin Michelle Barnett
Humanitarian Crisis In its largest appeal ever, the United Nations (UN) requested USD 1.5 billion in December 2012 to help the millions of Syrians suffering from what it called a “dramatically deteriorating humanitarian situation”. Four million people in the country require urgent humanitarian aid, including an estimated two million displaced from their homes by sectarian violence. UN figures show the number of registered Syrian refugees has leapt from 500,000 to nearly 600,000 in the past month. Deliveries of food are delayed by insecurity, and ships must now use the Lebanese port of Beirut instead of the Syrian Port of Tartus. “There are really no more safe areas where people can flee”, stated the UN Regional Coordinator for Syria, adding “The magnitude of this humanitarian crisis is undisputable”. The World Food Program (WFP) used the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) in the past however these efforts were being hampered by a “lack of capacity” as well as escalating violence between the government and rebels, stated WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin. As a result of the insecurity, the WFP has temporarily pulled its staff out of its offices in the Syrian cities of Homs, Aleppo, Tartus and Kurdish-run Qamishli. To add further complication, the lack of security has prevented WFP from delivering aid to Syria via the port of Tartus, a “key conduit”. However, on 16 January the WFP announced that the Syrian government would ease restrictions and allow WFP to expand its area of operations and work with 110 designated non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to distribute dire food assistance throughout the war-torn country. WFP has selected 44 NGOs of the 110 permitted to work as implementing partners and carry out food distribution, , thus enabling the WFP operation to feed upwards of one million people. At this time it is not known whether WFP and its 44 partners will be allowed to distribute food through the strategic Port of Tartus or whether the port will be restricted to Russian and Syrian military operations. Russia and its Vested Interest Russia has maintained its naval base at Tartus since 1971. The base serves as a naval supply and maintenance facility and a winter hub for its Black Sea fleet. At the end of the Cold War, Russia retained its leasing rights to the Syrian Port of Tartus by waiving nearly EUR 8 billion in Syrian debt to the Soviet Union. Since then, Russia has expanded its facilities to enable the docking of nuclear warships. The facility remains restricted to a small barracks (50 personnel onshore plus 190 accommodated on floating platforms), pier, fuel tanks and small support buildings. The Syrian Port of Tartus is the only Russian naval base in the Mediterranean and the only base existing outside of the Soviet Union; the Soviet-era naval base at Vietnam‟s Cam Ranh Bay and “a spy base in Lourdes in Cuba” were both closed in the early 2000s during President Vladimir Putin‟s first term. The port plays an important role in the resupply and refuelling of Russian naval vessels, enabling an extended stay in the Mediterranean thus avoiding the long voyage back to the Black Sea Fleet‟s home base from leased facilities in Ukraine.1 According to the Russian Navy, the naval base in Syria significantly boosts Russia‟s operational capability in the region, as warships based from Tartus are capable of reaching the Red Sea through the Suez Canal and the Atlantic through the Strait of Gibraltar in a matter of days, reports the Moscow-based RIA Novosti news agency. “Tartus is the only site where Russian ships can dock for refuelling and repairs and allow their crews to rest a little”, said Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems. “Strictly speaking, the Tartus station is not a naval base. We [Russia] only have a floating repair dock there. The port is not equipped to be a base, but potential changes are possible. If we maintain our presence there, modernization will be needed.” While Tartus is acknowledged as a “small and limited facility” lacking permanent repair capabilities, the base does enable Russia to conduct repair and replenishment since the Russian fleet, unlike the US Navy, is unable to resupply at sea. Ruslan Aliev, the head of information at the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) in Moscow, likewise asserted that Tartus is not a definitive naval base; however, it does enable force protection of Russian naval capabilities into the Mediterranean, potentially influencing Europe and Middle East whilst giving more aggressive options through „gunboat diplomacy‟. Tartus is also the
port through which Russia provides its lucrative arms shipments to Syria and has recently become more significant as a “counter to NATO‟s ballistic missile defence system, which includes the integration of naval vessels which Russia may hope to undermine through its own maritime capabilities in the Mediterranean”, according to Nordic Intel.
On April 28, 2010, The Ukrainian parliament ratified an agreement to extend Russia‟s‟ lease of Crimean base facilities to 2042 with an option for five more years, through 2047.
22 January 2013
Russian Naval Build-up On 20 January, the largest Russian war games since the Cold War commenced in what has been described as a flexing of military muscle and underlining Russian interests in Syria and the Port of Tartus. Task forces from Russia‟s Black Sea, Northern and Baltic fleets, strategic bombers, tactical aircraft, air defence units, paratroopers and navy are taking part in the manoeuvres in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, according to the Russian defence ministry. Andrei Frolov, a naval expert at the Moscow military think-tank CAST, said the drill may be intended to remind the West of Russia‟s links to Syria, where it has repeatedly argued against outside intervention. According to RIA Novosti, the exercise is in line with the Russian Armed Forces‟ 2013 combat training plan and will aim to “practice the issues of establishing a multiservice grouping of forces (troops) outside Russia, planning its use and conducting joint actions as part of a united naval grouping based on a common plan”. Further, naval exercises are not uncommon, particularly in light of the latest Russian strategic plan which calls for a 2016 “replenishment of the combat strength of the Russian Navy with eighteen surface warships of various ranks and designation, thirty special-purpose and counter-subversion vessels and a plan to put six multi-purpose and strategic submarines into operation”, according to the Russian defence ministry. Michael Weiss, co-chair of the London-based foreign policy think tank Russian Studies Center believes that the presence of Russian navy ships in Syria is serving three distinct and different purposes: “to run weapons and material into Syria, take Russian nationals out of the country, and send a signal to the United States that it still backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad”. Furthermore, the military build-up may also serve as a reminder that for Russia “remaining empty-handed in the developments in Syria is Moscow‟s red line”, iterated by a member of the parliament‟s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission and Russia Expert Mehdi Sanayee. Many observers surmise that the Russian naval build-up and placement of three hundred marines on the Tartus base is simply a preparation to “set up a sterile zone around the port to protect its facilities and rescue some of the 30,000 Russian nationals believed to be in Syria”. On 24 January, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the situation in Syria was “causing utmost concern” but not enough to warrant a “mass evacuation of Russian citizens living there”. Although Russia did transport by air 77 of its citizens fleeing the violence to Moscow early 23 January, it did not signal the start of a broader evacuation. “Of course we have no interest in the Mediterranean region becoming even more destabilised, and the presence of our fleet there is undoubtedly a stabilising factor,” Lavrov said. Chemical Weapons According to Russia‟s foreign minister, as of 23 December, Syria had consolidated its chemical weapons into one of two locations from its usual places scattered across the country, reports CNN. “As of right now... the [Syrian] government is doing all it can to safeguard those weapons2”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to Russia‟s RIA Novosti news agency. Russian President Vladimir Putin has assured Israel that “Syria chemical weapons stores will not get into the hands of any element outside the country, including Hezbollah”, according to the Lebanese newspaper A-Nahar. Fear that Syria could also use chemical weapons against its neighbours was cited by Turkey as one reason the country requested six Patriot missiles from NATO to be stationed on its border with Syria; the alliance approved the deployment. Furthermore, there is some speculation that the chemical weapons have been moved to Tartus, which is one of the country‟s few Alawite majority enclaves. Jordan‟s King Abdullah suggested in August that Assad may try to create a “mini-state” in the area should he lose control of Damascus3.
However recent reports have indicated that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has all the components to produce chemical weapons and have the knowledge to put them to use. The media linked the announcement to Major-General Adnan Sillu, a regime defector who formerly led the army‟s chemical weapons training programme.
Alawites account for twelve per cent of Syria's population, or just under three million people, and yet have been in tight control of a Sunni-majority country, for more than 40 years.
ENGAGE WITH US 22 January 2013
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