JFP 8/29: Afghan govt scuttled US-Taliban talks

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August 29, 2011

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I) Actions and Featured Articles

*Action: Tell Congress: $200 Billion In "Real Savings" If We End the Wars "On Time"
Most Americans don't realize that the Super Committee can reach 1/6 of its debt reduction goal just by withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan when we said we were going to. Urge your representatives in Congress to make this part of any debt reduction deal.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/endwarsontime

Video: Ashley Joppa-Hagemann: My Husband Killed Himself to Avoid Deployment to Afghanistan
Ashley Joppa-Hagemann tells her story. Her husband had PTSD. She says it would have been his 9th deployment; the military said it would have been his 7th.
http://blip.tv/toddfboyle/state-of-the-soldier-tacoma-4-of-5-ashley-joppa-hagemann-5495267

Council on Hemispheric Affairs: The U.S. Whitewashes Panama's Fatal Flaws to Champion Its "Free Trade" Agreement
Carrie Burggraf argues that the U.S. should be in no rush to push through a trade agreement with Panama, given the country's unresolved status as a tax haven and other unaddressed concerns.
http://www.coha.org/the-u-s-whitewashes-panama%E2%80%99s-fatal-flaws-to-champion-their-free-trade-agreement/

Matthew Hoh at City Club Forum This Week
Afghanistan Study Group director Matthew Hoh - who resigned from the Foreign Service in protest of the continuing war in Afghanistan - was the speaker last Friday in the City Club Forum. This program is broadcast on many NPR affiliates, at various times - check your local station's website for local time.

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II) Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) The Afghan government intentionally leaked details of clandestine meetings between the US and the Taliban, scuttling the talks and sending the Taliban intermediary into hiding, AP reports. Collapse of the direct talks between Tayyab Aga and U.S. officials probably spoiled the best chance yet at reaching Mullah Mohammed Omar, considered the linchpin to ending the fighting, AP says. The release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, captured more than two years ago in Afghanistan, featured prominently in the talks. Aga sought the freedom of Taliban prisoners in Guantanamo and Bagram. A senior U.S. official said the U.S. would continue to pursue talks.

A former U.S. official said the loss of the Aga contact dismayed and angered the U.S. side, AP says. Several U.S. officials agreed the leak was an attempt to torpedo a diplomatic channel that Karzai and his inner circle worried would sideline and undercut the Afghan leader.

2) Some Republican lawmakers and analysts are seizing upon the Pentagon's finding that China is "closing the gap" with other militaries to criticize the Obama administration's plans to pare U.S. defense spending, The Hill reports. "There is no question that China is rapidly closing the technology gap and striving to challenge the United States' military prowess - there is a question, though, of whether the United States will simply cede its global and military leadership role to a nation with uncertain intentions, but known disregard for human rights, basic freedoms, and democratic institutions," said Rep. Randy Forbes, chair of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Readiness.

3) An August 2005 U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks shows how aggressively the U.S. was promoting privatization in Haiti under the unelected government that followed the 2004 coup, Ansel Herz reports. US Ambassador to Haiti James Foley bemoaned the possibility that the interim government might not carry out any privatizations before handing power to an elected government, and insisted that privatizations be made a requirement of any agreement between Haiti and the IMF or the World Bank [an insistence that the U.S., as the dominant player in these institutions, would be well-positioned to enforce - JFP.]

4) Writing in The Hill, retired Brig. Gen. John Adams argues that the debt debate is an opportunity to reign in out-of-control military spending and re-think what is needed for national security. Further nuclear arms reductions would free up resources. Though the Pentagon is entitled to a vote on what constitutes U.S. national security, it cannot be allowed to hijack the debate. End the folly of self-destructive unilateral wars that undermine our nation's security. End our military involvement in Iraq on schedule, at the end of 2011, rather than wheedling the Iraqis to allow US troops to remain.

5) The State Department argued in a final environmental impact statement that a pipeline that would greatly expand imports of oil sands crude from Canada won't have much impact on climate change, McClatchy reports. The assessment argued that Canada will find another way to export just as much if the pipeline is not approved. However, McClatchy notes, a proposed Canadian pipeline to a port on the Pacific has been hotly protested in Canada and so far is blocked. After a series of upcoming public hearings, the Obama administration will make a final decision about whether the pipeline is in the national interest.

Libya
6) Gaddafi loyalists have been targets of apparent extrajudicial killings in Tripoli, the Washington Post reports. Those deaths call into question whether the rebels will break with Gaddafi's blood-soaked style of governance or merely mimic it, the Post says. "In Tripoli, we are seeing the same pattern in recent days that we saw earlier in the east," said Diana Eltahawy, Libya researcher for Amnesty International. She described a record of abuse, torture and the extrajudicial killing of captured pro-Gaddafi fighters that has followed the rebels from east to west as they have taken over the country. The worst treatment of Gaddafi loyalists appeared to be reserved for anyone with black skin, whether they hailed from southern Libya or from other African countries.

Syria
7) The success of Libya's rebels in toppling their dictator is prompting calls within the Syrian opposition for armed rebellion and NATO intervention, the Washington Post reports. But organizers of Syrian protests are still arguing against violence. By arming themselves, activists say, protesters would be playing into Assad's hands, allowing him to justify even harsher tactics against the opposition. "I know that if the revolution is armed, the human toll would be five to 10 times the current toll," said Amer al-Sadeq, the name used by the Damascus-based spokesman and founder of the Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union, one of the leading groups that organizes and reports on protests.

Obama's call for Assad to step down and harsher EU sanctions will soon start to take a toll on the government, said Rami Nakhle, a founder of the Local Coordination Committees, a group that monitors and supports protests.

Early Sunday, the Arab League issued its first condemnation of the violence, although its statement expressing "concern and worry" was milder than many Syrians had hoped for. Turkish President Abdullah Gul said he had "lost ... confidence" in Assad, and even Iran, Syria's closest ally, on Saturday called on Damascus to respect the "legitimate" demands of the Syrian people.

Honduras
8) Honduras on Friday recognized Palestine as an independent state amid a drive by the Arab League to upgrade it to full membership status in the UN, Reuters reports. Israel's ambassador in Honduras said the move was "a blow to the heart of Israel." But Honduras' foreign ministry said "it has supported and continues to support the full rights of the State of Israel to exist within safe borders that are recognized by the international community."

Contents:

U.S./Top News
1) Afghans furious US held secret talks with Taliban, leak identity, scuttle talks
Kathy Gannon and Anne Gearan, Associated Press, Monday, August 29, 3:30 PM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia-pacific/ap-exclusive-afghans-furious-us-held-secret-talks-with-taliban-leak-identity-scuttle-talks/2011/08/29/gIQAOY3tmJ_story.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - Infuriated that Washington met secretly at least three times with a personal emissary of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Afghan government intentionally leaked details of the clandestine meetings, scuttling the talks and sending the Taliban intermediary into hiding, The Associated Press has learned.

In a series of interviews with diplomats, current and former Taliban, Afghan government officials and a close childhood friend of the intermediary, Tayyab Aga, the AP learned Aga is hiding in Europe, and is afraid to return to Pakistan because of fears of reprisals. The United States has had no direct contact with him for months.

A senior U.S. official acknowledged that the talks imploded because of the leak and that Aga, while alive, had disappeared. The United States will continue to pursue talks, the official said.
[...]
The United States acknowledged the talks after Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who apparently fears being sidelined by U.S.-Taliban talks, confirmed published accounts about them in June, but has never publicly detailed the content, format or participants. The first was held in late 2010 followed by at least two other meetings in early spring of this year, the former U.S. official said. The sessions were held in Germany and Qatar, he said.

A childhood friend of Aga's who spoke to the AP on condition he not be identified because he feared retaliation, said Aga was in Germany. A diplomat in the region said Aga fled to a European country after his contacts with the United States were revealed.


Collapse of the direct talks between Aga and U.S. officials probably spoiled the best chance yet at reaching Omar, considered the linchpin to ending the Taliban fight against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan. The contacts were preliminary but had begun to bear fruit, Afghan and U.S. officials said.

Perhaps most importantly they offered the tantalizing prospect of a brokered agreement between the United States and the Taliban - one that would allow the larger reconciliation of the Taliban into Afghanistan political life to move forward. The United States has not committed to any such deal, but the Taliban wants security assurances from the United States.

The talks were deliberately revealed by someone within the presidential palace, where Karzai's office is located, said a Western and an Afghan official. The reason for the leak was Karzai's animosity toward the U.S. and fear that any agreement Washington brokered would undermine his authority, they said.
[...]
Pakistan had also been kept in the dark about the talks, people knowledgeable about them said. An Afghan official with contacts with the Taliban said the insurgents decided not to tell Pakistan about the meetings with the United States.

At the time of the leak, Washington had already offered small concessions that the U.S. intended as "confidence-building measures," a former senior U.S. official said. They were aimed at developing a rapport and moving talks forward, said a current U.S. official on condition he not be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic.

The concessions included treating the Taliban and al-Qaida differently under international sanctions. The Taliban argued that while al-Qaida is focused on worldwide jihad against the West, Taliban militants have focused on Afghanistan and have shown little interest in attacking targets abroad.

Other goodwill gestures that were not made public included Aga's safe passage to Germany, U.S. officials said. The U.S. also offered assurances that it would not block the Taliban from opening an office in a third country, the official said.

Aga slowly established his bona fides with the U.S. officials, who had initial doubts both about his identity and his level of contact and influence with Omar, a former and current U.S. official with knowledge of the discussion said. For example, a coded reference to the talks appeared on a Taliban-affiliated website following one meeting, just as Aga said it would, one official said.

The whereabouts and eventual release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, who was captured more than two years ago in eastern Afghanistan, featured prominently in the talks, according to Aga's childhood friend and a senior Western diplomat in the region. The U.S. negotiators asked Aga what could be done to gain Bergdahl's release.

Aga sought the freedom of Taliban fighters in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Air Field, north of the Afghan capital where an estimated 600 Afghans are being held. Still at Guantanamo Bay is former Taliban Defense Ministry Chief of Staff Mullah Mohammed Fazil, Taliban intelligence official Abdul Haq Wasiq and former Herat governor Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa. Afghanistan's High Peace Council tasked by Karzai with the job of finding a negotiated settlement with insurgents has requested Khairkhwa's release.

A former U.S. official familiar with the talks said the loss of the Aga contact dismayed and angered the U.S. side, and further eroded thin trust in Karzai. There is a difference of opinion among U.S. diplomats, military officials and others about how directly Karzai should be blamed, but several officials agreed that the leak was an attempt to torpedo a diplomatic channel that Karzai and his inner circle worried would sideline and undercut the Afghan leader.
[...]
A member of that High Peace Council, who asked not to be identified by name so he could talk candidly, told the AP that the leaking of the talks reveals the level of mistrust and the lack of coordination among the key players in any eventual peace deal.

He said all the key players - the United States, Afghan government, Afghan National Security Council and the High Peace Council - are holding separate and secret talks with their own contacts within the insurgency.

The United States, for example, has also held secret talks with Ibrahim Haqqani, the brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani, who heads the notorious Haqqani network considered by U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan to be their biggest threat. That contact was confirmed by officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S.
[...]

2) Lawmakers criticize defense cuts after report on China's military buildup
John T. Bennett, The Hill, 08/28/11 01:00 PM ET
http://thehill.com/news-by-subject/defense-homeland-security/178435-conservatives-criticize-defense-cuts-after-report-on-chinas-growing-military-power

Conservative lawmakers and analysts are seizing upon the Pentagon's finding that China is "closing the gap" with other militaries to criticize the Obama administration's plans to pare U.S. defense spending.

The critics say the president does not fully grasp the Asian giant's global ambitions. "The [Pentagon's] China military power report acknowledges China's insatiable desire to become a world class economic and military power as it advances toward transforming its military into a dominant regional force by 2020 and an unrivaled international power by 2050," said Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Readiness.

Forbes then turned his sights, in a veiled way, on plans to trim at least $350 billion from U.S. military budgets between 2013 and 2023. "There is no question that China is rapidly closing the technology gap and striving to challenge the United States' military prowess - there is a question, though, of whether the United States will simply cede its global and military leadership role to a nation with uncertain intentions, but known disregard for human rights, basic freedoms, and democratic institutions," Forbes said in a news release.
[...]

3) WikiLeaks: Embassy's "Privatization Update" Shows Shock Doctrine in Action in Haiti
Ansel Herz, mediahacker.org, August 27, 2011
http://www.mediahacker.org/2011/08/wikileaks-embassys-privatization-update-shows-shock-doctrine-in-action/

[...]
[from WikiLeaks cable, US Ambassador to Haiti James Foley, Aug. 25, 2005:]

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EFIN EIND ECPS ENRG ETRD PGOV HA
SUBJECT: HAITI: PRIVATIZATION UPDATE

[...]

Despite assurances that privatization is a still a priority for the government, as elections draw nearer we are increasingly skeptical that privatization, in whatever form, will happen under the watch of the IGOH. Time is running out and we are not convinced that the IGOH has the technical capacity nor political will to carry out even one privatization prior to turning over power to an elected government. We will continue to advocate strongly on behalf of privatization and/or private management. Post repeats its recommendation in reftels that privatization be a requirement under future agreements with the IFIs, including an IMF Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) to be negotiated with the new government. Indeed we believe that the only reason that the audits will eventually be completed is because it is a requirement of the World Bank program.

[...]

[Ansel writes:]

IGOH refers to Interim Government of Haiti, the unelected government installed after a US-backed coup ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.

4) Let's seize the opportunity to take control of defense spending
Brig. Gen. John Adams (Ret.) , The Hill, 08/26/11 09:43 AM ET
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/178311-lets-seize-the-opportunity-to-take-control-of-defense-spending

[Adams retired from the Army in 2007. His final military assignment was as Deputy US Military Representative to the NATO Military Committee in Brussels.]

For far too long the quality of our national security has been judged by the quantity of Pentagon spending and by the size of our armed forces.

The truth is, the more we spent like this, the more we have wasted and the less we actually thought about the meaning of national security. This muscular approach is ill suited for the national security challenges facing the United States in the 21st Century.

Over the past 10 years, the DOD budget increased from $297 billion to $549 billion, not including the Overseas Contingency Operations, which alone stands at $159 billion for FY11. Even if we factor in inflation, in an era of constant budget deficits, this rate of spending is unsustainable.

Out-of-control defense spending is a major cause for the calamitous state of our overall budget. This threatens the peace and prosperity that responsible national security planning is designed to protect. We cannot allow the Pentagon to continue to spend exorbitant amounts of money without thought to overall strategy or long-term interests.

In the July agreement reached over the federal debt limit resulted in a $350 billion reduction in planned DOD spending over the next 10 years; with the possibility of a future $500 billion over the same period.

Yet, many of those who benefit from DOD business-as-usual argue that an $850 billion reduction in spending over 10 years would be devastating to our national security. This argument is wrong.

This budget debate should not be viewed as a catastrophe for national security; rather, it represents an opportunity to seriously review our national security strategy. This is an opportunity to make responsible long-term decisions about what is in America's national security interest.

There are four key issues that we should be looking at in this debate:

First, we need an updated and realistic national security strategy with 21st Century priorities.

Let's face it, we can no-longer afford the cost of doing more of the same with defense spending, especially when that means applying 1980's solutions to problems of the second decade of the 21st Century.

A prime example of this is our nuclear posture. Ever since President Reagan, we have negotiated reductions in Russian and US nuclear forces, with strong verification measures that created stability and predictability. We must advance this system and insist on reductions in other countries' nuclear arsenals as well. Further nuclear arms reductions should eliminate weapons we don't need, while retaining a strong and appropriate deterrent. In the process, we will free up resources to meet 21st Century challenges.

Second, future budgets must reflect that national security goes beyond bombs and bullets; it's also about diplomacy, development, and - perhaps most important - preserving a strong American economy. Though the Pentagon is entitled to a vote on what constitutes American national security, it cannot be allowed to hijack the debate.

Third, we should be working with allies as full partners. Yes, it is time NATO countries fully contribute to their national security by putting appropriate resources into their militaries. But, it is also time we work closer with our core allies and Russia to move forward key issues such as cooperative missile defense.

And last, one that history also urges upon us, end the folly of self-destructive unilateral wars that undermine our nation's security. This financial crisis underlines the necessity of ending our military involvement in Iraq on schedule, at the end of 2011, rather than wheedling the Iraqis to allow US troops to remain. This could cost of billions of dollars we can't afford, and at the needless loss of more precious American lives.

It is time for a national discussion on what constitutes American national security, and it is time to reorient our budget accordingly.
[...]

5) State Dept. signs off on controversial oil sands pipeline
Renee Schoof, McClatchy Newspapers, Fri, Aug. 26, 2011
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/08/26/122147/state-dept-signs-off-on-controversial.html

Washington - A pipeline that would greatly expand imports of oil sands crude from Canada won't significantly threaten water in the Great Plains or have much impact on climate change, the State Department argued in a final environmental impact statement it made public Friday.

While not the final go-ahead, the environmental assessment offered a preview of the Obama administration's pro-pipeline arguments in the face of efforts by environmental groups to get the United States to take action to reduce carbon emissions. The tarlike form of oil in the sands requires more energy to extract and process, and therefore produces more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil.

At the heart of the Obama administration's arguments is the contention that Canada will expand strip mining and drilling for the very thick oil in Alberta whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf Coast gets built.

"Climate change has gone too far. Keep the tar sands where they are," demonstrators chanted Friday as 54 people - some young, but many with gray hair - were arrested one by one in a peaceful protest outside the White House. So far 376 people have been arrested in seven days of protests.

After a series of upcoming public hearings, the Obama administration will make a final decision about whether the pipeline is in the national interest.

The State Department's environmental assessment argued that the pipeline is needed because refineries in Texas - which account for half the nation's refining capacity - have declining supplies of heavy crude from Mexico and Venezuela. The refineries could handle more heavy crude if the pipeline brings it from Canada, the report said.

It noted that a Department of Energy lab found that the greenhouse gas emissions of Canadian oil sands crude were 17 percent higher than gasoline from the average mix of crude oil consumed in the United States. But it went on to argue that the pipeline wouldn't have an effect on the amount of crude produced from the oil sands because Canada would find other ways to get it to market.

"The sense we have is that this oil sands is going to be developed and therefore there's not going to be any dramatic change in greenhouse gas if the pipeline was to go forward or without the pipeline," Kerri-Ann Jones, the assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, said in a briefing.

A proposed Canadian pipeline to a port on the Pacific Ocean has been hotly protested in Canada and so far is blocked.

The executive summary of the report said it was uncertain whether emissions from the oil sands would increase.

However, the companies in the oil sands increasingly are going after oil deep in the ground instead of scraping it off the surface. The drilling requires more energy and creates more emissions than strip mining. The Canadian environment ministry recently estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands will triple from 2005 to 2020.

"The U.S. State Department's final report on the Keystone XL today is an insult to anyone who expects government to work for the interests of the American people," Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement.
[...]

Libya
6) Libyan rebels carry out reprisal attacks
Simon Denyer, Washington Post, August 26
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle-east/libyan-rebels-fight-pockets-of-resistance-continue-hunt-for-gaddafi/2011/08/26/gIQAM2BpfJ_story.html

Tripoli, Libya - Evidence emerged Friday that Col. Moammar Gaddafi's retreating forces executed scores or even hundreds of political prisoners this week, even as victorious rebel fighters appear to have carried out their own abuses.

Survivors of an attack by pro-Gaddafi troops said they had watched as fellow prisoners were mowed down by machine-gun fire, minutes after being told they were free.

But Gaddafi loyalists were also targets of apparent extrajudicial killings. Those deaths have cast a dark shadow over Libya's newfound freedom and call into question whether the rebels will break with Gaddafi's blood-soaked style of governance or merely mimic it.

"In Tripoli, we are seeing the same pattern in recent days that we saw earlier in the east," said Diana Eltahawy, Libya researcher for Amnesty International. She described a record of abuse, torture and the extrajudicial killing of captured pro-Gaddafi fighters that has followed the rebels from east to west as they have taken over the country.

In the wreckage of a Tripoli fire station and field hospital on Friday, five fighters loyal to Gaddafi lay in agony and blood, apparently left to die by their vanquishers. They had been without food, water or medical attention for two days.

Rebel fighters patrolling the compound knew the men were there, but scarcely seemed to care. "We would take them to the hospital, but there are no hospitals," said Salah Mansoor, a law school graduate and shopkeeper dressed in a Liverpool soccer shirt. "There are no cars to take them," he added, as a taxi cruised by.

A few minutes' drive from the fire station, at least 15 bodies, most of them Gaddafi's black African supporters, lay rotting in the sun at a traffic junction outside his Bab al-Aziziyah complex. Several of the dead wore green pieces of cloth wrapped around their wrists to signal loyalty to the Gaddafi regime.

The men may have died during Tuesday's battle for Bab al-Aziziyah, and several were wearing military fatigues. But not all of them looked like ordinary battlefield deaths. Two dead men lay face down on the grass, their hands bound behind their backs with plastic cuffs.

The worst treatment of Gaddafi loyalists appeared to be reserved for anyone with black skin, whether they hailed from southern Libya or from other African countries. Darker-skinned prisoners were not getting the same level of medical care in a hospital in rebel-held Zawiyah as lighter-skinned Arab Libyans, Eltahawy said.

Rebels say Gaddafi employed gunmen from sub-Saharan Africa to shore up his army against his own people, and those fighters have elicited intense enmity from Libyans. But many of the detainees in Zawiyah told Amnesty International they were merely migrant workers "taken at gunpoint from their homes, workplaces and the street on account of their skin color," Eltahawy said.

The civilian leaders of the anti-Gaddafi uprising have publicly condemned reprisals against loyalist troops. But the officials are in the eastern city of Benghazi, far from the most intense fighting in recent weeks, which has been focused in western Libyan. Even in the east, the civilian leadership appears to have had little success in preventing fighters from carrying out revenge attacks.

The reprisals could become a powerful element in persuading Gaddafi loyalists in the holdout city of Sirte to fight to the death, said Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank.
[...]

Syria
7) Calls in Syria for weapons, NATO intervention
Liz Sly, Washington Post, August 28
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle-east/calls-in-syria-for-weapons-nato-intervention/2011/08/26/gIQA3WAslJ_story.html

Beirut - The success of Libya's rebels in toppling their dictator is prompting calls within the Syrian opposition for armed rebellion and NATO intervention after nearly six months of overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations that have failed to dislodge President Bashar al-Assad.

The young Internet activists who have helped guide the uprising are arguing against the strategic shift. So, too, are the older dissidents who have long dreamed of the nonviolent revolution now unfolding against a regime that has proved every bit as brutal as the one led by Libya's Moammar Gaddafi.

But some activists have concluded that peaceful protests alone will not be enough to overthrow a government that has used live ammunition, tanks and artillery to try to crush its opponents, killing more than 2,000 and imprisoning tens of thousands.

Protesters in recent days have carried banners calling for a no-fly zone over Syria akin to the one that facilitated the Libyan revolt. "We want any [intervention] that stops the killing, whether Arab or foreign," said one banner held by protesters in the beleaguered town of Homs.

Activists who have recently visited Homs say protesters there also have begun carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles to defend against government attacks. Videos have appeared on Facebook pages teaching activists how to make molotov cocktails.

Yet although President Obama called this month for Assad to step down, world powers, including the United States, have shown little appetite for any form of entanglement in Syria.

Unlike the Libyan rebels, who through force of arms swiftly seized control of the eastern portion of their country and were rewarded with a NATO-enforced no-fly zone, the Syrian protesters control no territory for a foreign military force to protect. There is also no clearly identifiable group that can claim to represent the leaderless, disorganized and divided opposition.

An armed rebellion in Syria, which straddles the region's most volatile ethnic and sectarian fault lines, would have ramifications far more profound than in Libya. A civil war in Syria could spread beyond its borders to Lebanon and Iraq, perhaps embroil Israel and destabilize the countries of the Persian Gulf.

But some see the drift toward violent rebellion as inevitable. "If things stay like this another one or two months, it will happen whether we want it or not," said a Damascus-based engineer who has given up attending protests because of the escalating brutality of the security forces but says he would join an armed revolt. "A lot of people are threatening to do it, and even in Damascus, people are talking about getting guns," he said, speaking via Skype.

So far, instances of armed resistance have been rare, despite attempts by the Assad government to portray the demonstrators as violent extremists.

By arming themselves, activists say, protesters would be playing into Assad's hands, allowing him to justify even harsher tactics against the opposition. "I know that if the revolution is armed, the human toll would be five to 10 times the current toll," said Amer al-Sadeq, the name used by the Damascus-based spokesman and founder of the Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union, one of the leading groups that organizes and reports on protests.
[...]
But there is also widespread recognition that attempting to counter one of the region's most formidable military machines with force would be futile. Kalashnikovs are readily available on the black market in a region awash with guns, and many Syrians keep one in their homes. But acquiring the kind of heavy weaponry that would be needed to fight an army would take time, even if the protesters could find a country willing to provide such support.

Where armed resistance has taken place, it has failed dismally. Abu Saleh, an activist in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, described how a group of about 60 soldiers who defected with their weapons and four tanks battled for days before they all were killed or captured this month.

"Some people have guns, but we don't have heavy weapons, and we can't face the army," he said, speaking via Skype. "What we need is international intervention to protect us, and then we will fight."

Obama's call for Assad to step down and harsher European Union sanctions will soon start to take a toll on the government, said Rami Nakhle, a founder of the Local Coordination Committees, a group that monitors and supports protests.

Early Sunday, the Arab League issued its first condemnation of the violence, although its statement expressing "concern and worry" was milder than many Syrians had hoped for. Turkish President Abdullah Gul said he had "lost ... confidence" in Assad, and even Iran, Syria's closest ally, on Saturday called on Damascus to respect the "legitimate" demands of the Syrian people.

"The international pressure is getting stronger, the isolation is getting bigger, and the regime cannot continue like this much longer. It is starting to crack," said Nakhle, who is in hiding in Beirut. "We have to remain peaceful. It is our only chance."
[...]

Honduras
8) Honduras recognizes Palestine as independent state
Reuters, 8/26/2011 7:56:29 PM ET
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44294123/ns/world_news-americas/

Tegucigalpa - Honduras on Friday recognized Palestine as an independent state amid a drive by the Arab League to upgrade it to full membership status in the United Nations.

Honduras took the decision even though it threatened the country's relationship with long-standing ally Israel.

Israel's ambassador in Honduras, Eliahu Lopez, said the move was "a blow to the heart of Israel."

Honduras' foreign ministry said in a statement that "it has supported and continues to support the full rights of the State of Israel to exist within safe borders that are recognized by the international community."

Neighboring El Salvador on Thursday also said it now recognized Palestine as an independent state.

About 120 countries have recognized the state of Palestine to date.
[...]

-

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