Ban Ki-moon boosts Assad by blaming al-Qaeda for Syria bombings (TELEGRAPH UK) Adrian Blomfield, Middle East Correspondent 05/19/12)
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Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, sided with the Syrian regime
on Friday by blaming al-Qaeda for a double bombing that killed 55
people in Damascus last week.
Mr Ban’s assessment is likely to be seized on in Damascus, where
President Bashar al-Assad has long claimed that the rebellion against
his rule is dominated by extremists bent on turning Syria into an
“Very alarmingly and surprisingly, a few days ago there was a huge,
serious, massive terrorist attack,” the secretary general said. “I
believe that there must be al-Qaeda behind it. This has created again
very serious problems.”
Both Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s second city, have witnessed a spate
of mass-casualty bombings, generally targeting civilians, since last
December as the country’s uprising entered its tenth month.
On each occasion, Mr Assad has been quick to blame al Qaeda and a
shadowy group claiming affiliation to the network has claimed
responsibility for a number of the attacks, including last week’s
Mr Ban did not provide evidence for his claim, nor did he indicate
whether he believed that al-Qaeda was responsible for the earlier
Opposition officials, as well as a number of officers who have
defected from the army, claim that the regime itself is behind the
attacks as part of a conspiracy to discredit the uprising and rally
Syrians behind the president.
But a growing number of Western diplomats and analysts have suggested
that Islamist extremists inspired by al Qaeda are operating on the
fringes of the uprising, even if their message of violence is neither
blessed nor wanted by the vast majority of the opposition.
Beyond sowing chaos, it is unclear what the motivation of such
extremists is. Many are believed to have crossed the border from
Iraq, where they were involved in the insurgency against US forces in
the years following the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Although al Qaeda has long dreamed of overthrowing many of the Middle
East’s leaders, its followers have played little part in the
uprisings have swept the region. Following the American military
withdrawal from Iraq last December, some may have concluded that
Syria represented a more fertile territory for their ambitions,
Western diplomats suggested.
“Al Qaeda has been left behind by the Arab Spring,” one said. “They
see in Syria an opportunity to re-establish their foothold.”
Mr Ban said he believed that “more than 9,000, at least, maybe 10,000
people” have been killed over the course of the 15-month uprising.
“It has reached an intolerable situation now,” he told a youth event
at UN headquarters.
Struggling to compile accurate statistics because of Syria’s chaos,
the UN has stopped estimating a death toll. But it said in March that
more that 9,000 civilians had died, while Susan Rice, the US
ambassador to the UN, said last month that the figure had passed
10,000. Syria’s opposition says 11,000 have been killed.
The violence continued on Friday, with security forces opening fire
on demonstrators in Douma, near Damascus, and in Aleppo, which saw
its largest protests since the uprising began. The opposition have
struggled to win open support in Aleppo, which is considered crucial
to their chances of success.
Mr Assad’s army also shelled the cities of Rastan and Homs. Although
such artillery attacks have dwindled since the deployment of UN
observers last month, they are far from infrequent and have led to
calls on the international community to admit that the peace plan
brokered by Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab league envoy, has failed.
The Norwegian head of the 200-strong observer mission, Maj ten Robert
Mood, warned that it would be impossible for it to achieve a
permanent end to the violence unless both sides in the conflict
agreed to hold genuine talks.
Negotiations are an integral part of Mr Annan’s plan but the prospect
for dialogue looks remote. (© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group
Limited 2012. 05/19/12)
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