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Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Sudan, Syria

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  • Zafar Khan
    SUDAN Clashes continue as Sudan summit suspended UN Security Council expresses alarm that fighting could escalate into new war as Bashir cancels Juba visit for
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 31, 2012
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      SUDAN

      Clashes continue as Sudan summit suspended
      UN Security Council expresses alarm that fighting could escalate into new war as Bashir cancels Juba visit for talks.
      Last Modified: 28 Mar 2012 04:39

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/03/2012326214010519420.html

      Continuing clashes in an oil-rich area of the Sudan-South Sudan border have led to the suspension of a summit aimed at cooling tensions in the region.

      Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, on Tuesday suspended an April 3 summit with his southern counterpart following the renewed clashes between the two countries' armies on the border.

      "The government announced that it suspended Bashir's visit to Juba after the South Sudanese army attacked Heglig," state radio reported.

      Comments by the South's leader Salva Kiir that his troops had taken the northern oil centre "reflected extreme hatred to Sudan," the official SUNA news agency quoted Abdullah Ali Massar, the information minister, as saying.

      Massar said South Sudan had engaged in "deceptive and misleading acts" when it signed accords with Khartoum at African Union-led talks in Ethiopia, and when last week it invited Bashir to the summit.

      South Sudan, however, blamed its northern neighbour for the latest clashes.

      "This morning the [Sudanese] air force came and bombed....areas in Unity state," Kiir said.

      "It is a war that has been imposed on us again, but is they [Khartoum] who are looking for it," he said.

      Unity State Minister of Information Gideon Gatpan said Sudan dropped at least three bombs near oil fields in the town of Bentiu. Gatpan said the extent of any damage was not immediately known.

      "The information as of late this afternoon coming from security sources inside Unity state was that although most of the aerial bombardment had stopped, there was ongoing fighting on the ground between the Sudanese army and South Sudanese forces, particularly around the Heglig oil field," Al Jazeera's Peter Greste reported from Juba, the South Sudanese capital.

      "The situation remains very volatile indeed on the ground and politically as well."

      There were also clashes a day earlier in the disputed border town of Jau.

      'Brink of war'

      Jonathan Hutson, the communications director with Enough Project, an organisation dedicated to ending genocide and crimes against humanity, said there is a possibility that the conflict escalates into a full-scale war, but that it is not clear "who the aggressor is".

      "But what's clear if you monitor social media is that voices both from the north [Sudan] and the south [South Sudan], is that ordinary people are asking their governments to step back from the and brink of war and return to peace talks," he told Al Jazeera.

      "What needs to happen is a comprehensive peace deal that addresses all underlying issues. They need to demarcate the border, decide how to share oil revenue, have a ceasefire in South Kordofan and stop the humanitarian blockade of food and medicine to the people of the Nuba mountains. All these issues need to be settled to have a durable peace."

      Ties between the two countries have been tense since South Sudan was carved out of Sudan in July last year as an independent nation.

      Al Jazeera's Greste said oil was at the heart of the issue between the two neighbours.

      "There are vast oil reserves along those areas [of fighting]," he said, adding that other issues also at play include land and integrity.

      Mohammed Atta al-Moula, the Sudanese national security and intelligence chief, has said, however, that his country does not want a return to all-out war.

      "We hope this will be no full war," said al-Moula. "We have no intentions beyond liberating our [occupied] land."

      The UN Security Council warned that the fighting could escalate into a new war.

      "The Security Council call upon the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to exercise maximum restraint and sustain purposeful dialogue in order to address peacefully the issues that are fuelling the mistrust between the two countries," the 15-nation council said in a statement.

      Both countries claim parts of Heglig.The proposed talks between Bashir and Kiir had been aimed at easing tensions that pushed the two countries to the brink of war as recently as early March.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      George Clooney's satellite spies reveal secrets of Sudan's bloody army
      Actor and activist funds a hi-tech project that is tracking troops and warning civilians of attacks

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/24/george-clooney-spies-secrets-sudan

      Nathaniel Raymond is the first to admit that he has an unusual job description. "I count tanks from space for George Clooney," said the tall, easygoing Massachusetts native as he sat in a conference room in front of a map of the Sudanese region of South Kordofan.

      Close by, pins and ink scrawlings on the map detail the positions of Sudanese army forces and refugee populations in the troubled oil-producing province, where the Sudanese army is carrying out a brutal crackdown.

      The wall next to Raymond has a series of satellite images projected on it. At the flick of a mouse, tiny images of tanks and military vehicles hove into view, caught by a satellite hundreds of miles above.

      Raymond is director of the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), which aims to use advanced satellite imagery to monitor potential human rights abuses in Sudan. And it was all Clooney's idea, turning him from just another Hollywood liberal with a pet cause to a genuine expert and campaigner on Sudan. Together with John Prendergast, another campaigner, Clooney has sneaked repeatedly into the country to document the random bombing of civilians and other atrocities.

      After a trip last month to the Nuba mountains, Clooney dodged rockets to return with grisly footage of corpses, children with missing hands and entire villages forced to live in caves. He showed the film to the Senate foreign relations committee in Washington DC – to great praise from the assembled politicians – then got arrested at a protest outside the Sudanese embassy.

      Images of Clooney being taken away in handcuffs appeared in newspapers and on blogs around the world. But it is in the day-to-day work of the Satellite Sentinel Project that Clooney's impact is really being felt. He came up with the idea, and spoke to Google and the satellite company DigitalGlobe to help set it up, and he donates hefty speaking fees to keep it funded. It has been up and running now for 15 months.

      The situation in Sudan is complex and violent. Ever since the mostly-black African South Sudan gained independence from the Arab-dominated north last year border disputes have flared, especially over the region's oil resources. Meanwhile, powerful figures in the north fear that provinces along the southern border with its new neighbour may also seek to break free of Khartoum.

      The army crackdown is aimed at discouraging such hopes, or even changing the ethnic mix of the area in favour of those groups who that want to stick with Khartoum.

      Based in a nondescript suite of offices near Harvard Square in the Boston suburb of Cambridge, Raymond heads a small team of staff and student volunteers who monitor events on the ground in the heart of what is practically a war zone. Every day Raymond and his staff meet in what is dubbed the "situation room" and news and reports from Sudan are analysed. They also pore over satellite pictures and compare them with a database of previous shots, looking for changes such as new military roads or camps, or troops on the move.

      One day last week, SSP staffer Brittany Card was analysing news stories from Sudan describing a governor visiting two camps that were listed as mobilisation points for the People's Defence Force, a militia group widely used in repressive actions by the government. SSP imaging expert Isaac Baker traced out two rectangles to cover each camp. "We don't have a recent collect on that," observed Raymond. Baker began to tap out a request for fresh satellite imagery as Raymond and Card discussed which camp to monitor if only one picture could be taken. "The one on the east," she said eventually. By using such advanced satellite imagery and being able to commission and take photographs within hours of receiving reports from the ground, SSP can genuinely plot and analyse the course of the conflict. "We don't move the pieces on the chess board. But we have to figure out what they mean," said Raymond.

      SSP's work was initially conceived as mostly gathering evidence that might be used in any future war crimes tribunal for Sudanese leaders. But the imagery was so accurate that it could also be used to monitor claims about massacres and mass graves. After someone on the ground described watching bodies being buried in a mango grove in the town of Kadugli, SSP was able to document the site from the air. It also uncovered what appeared to be body bags lying in freshly dug pits elsewhere in the town.

      It has also shown troops surrounding towns and burned villages. In one astonishing set of images, it even captured an Antonov transport plane – from which Sudanese forces regularly roll out bombs – caught in mid-flight with plumes of smoke rising where the explosives had been dumped on civilian targets.

      In September last year, the group's analysis revealed what appeared to be an imminent attack on the town of Kurmuk in the Blue Nile province. Photographs revealed at least 3,000 troops equipped with tanks, artillery and attack helicopters. That prompted SSP to issue a warning, giving an opportunity for many to flee.

      For Raymond and his team, it was a turning point: they were no longer just observers, but were able to have an impact. For a humanitarian group operating thousands of miles away from the crisis, this was new territory.

      "No one is doing what we are doing right now. It is a splitting the atom moment for the human rights community," said Raymond. However, the experience of Kurmuk – which did later fall to the army – also came with a sense of danger and great responsibility. "What if we get the direction the force is going wrong? You could have walked the civilian population right into them," he said.

      There is already talk of the group's methods being applied to Syria, or to other nations caught in the turmoil unleashed by the Arab spring. It has overturned the idea of what investigating human rights abuses means.

      "It is no longer enough just to stand at the graveside snapping pictures; that doesn't cut it any more," said Raymond.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      SYRIA

      Robert Fisk: On Lebanon's border, silent Syrians are flocking to an unknown future
      Our writer visits a village where families flee Assad's wrath
      ROBERT FISK FRIDAY 30 MARCH 2012

      http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-on-lebanons-border-silent-syrians-are-flocking-to-an-unknown-future-7601133.html

      A poster of the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, smiling at each other hangs over the highway to Al-Qaa. But you know this is no ordinary Lebanese village when you arrive at the custom station.

      A truckload of soldiers (big, burly guys in heavy, black flak jackets, with Kalashnikovs), pulls up and watches silently as flocks of Syrian refugees, fleeing the bloody government crackdown in their nation, plead to enter Lebanon. Lebanese Red Cross ambulances – Syrian wounded lying inside – are waved through. But for the sad, pathetic creatures walking down the road with neither bags nor documents, there is no easy passage.

      To enter Lebanon, a Syrian must hold his papers and documents showing his father's name. "I can't get them – they are on the other side of the border, please," says a thin man in a long black coat too big for him, a small boy at his side. "No – back," says the security man. "I told you, back." He pushes the man and the boy, not roughly but with determination, away from the custom house.

      Many come by yellow and white Syrian taxis and, when they get out, they run to the custom house for a stamp as if their lives depend on it. A few trucks turn up, the drivers asking for a man who is known to have wasta ("influence") and supposedly works here. "He has left," the Lebanese security man says coldly.

      It's a frightening little place, Al-Qaa, just down the road from the houses which the Syrian army fired into four days ago in an attempt to root out Syrian rebels thought to be sheltering in the area. Everyone looks like – or is – an intelligence officer. Even the Syrian "civilians" could be from the Damascus Mukhabarat. No one talks to each other.

      The trucks are searched with some vigour in both directions. Only three days ago, the Lebanese army supposedly stopped two lorryloads of guns heading for the border, though the source – Hezbollah's television news – suggests that the report should be taken with a grain of salt. All is not quite as it seems in Al-Qaa. A few hundred metres from the custom house are a cluster of homes and a rock and mud path that runs low behind an olive grove. A woman and her husband, who live beside it, welcome us cautiously and ask us not to print even their first names.

      "At night, they all come this way, along the path," she says. "Nobody stops them. They are [Syrian] opposition moving into Lebanon and Syrian refugees. Whoever they are, we don't ask and we just say 'God help them'. Many civilians are Christians running away." Al-Qaa is a Christian village.

      The mud-covered path beside the olive grove involves climbs of two feet of rock. Broken shoes and boots with their soles ripped off and filthy, torn socks line the path. These desperate people walk into Lebanon at night and cannot see and must fall on the unseen rocks and slither in the mud. A silent people, armed or not, making their way into an unknown future.
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      Annan calls for 'immediate' Syria ceasefire
      UN envoy's spokesperson says "deadline is now" for Syrian forces to halt attacks on opposition and implement peace plan.
      Last Modified: 30 Mar 2012 21:05

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/03/201233092639482636.html

      Syrian artillery hit parts of Homs city and at least 10 people were killed in clashes around the country on Friday, opposition activists said, as peace envoy Kofi Annan told President Bashar al-Assad his forces must be first to cease fire and withdraw.

      "The deadline is now," Ahmad Fawzi, Annan's spokesperson, said in Geneva. "We expect him to implement this plan immediately."

      An army pullback to bases would permit a safe return to mass, peaceful protest, said anti-government activists. But there was no sign of any risk-free demonstrations on Friday.

      Five people were killed as rebels battled the army after troops broke up a protest in Deir al-Zor near the border with Iraq, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, and protests drew gunfire in several neighbourhoods of Damascus.

      "Clashes erupted between armed defector groups and the regime forces in the Jobar neighbourhood of Damascus after security forces tried to break up a protest," the Observatory said.

      It also reported government snipers killing two people in the cities of Idlib and Homs. Two were shot dead in southern Deraa, where rebels attacking a checkpoint killed a soldier.

      Shelling in Homs

      In Homs, Syria's third city, residents said shells and mortar rounds exploded as troops raided anti-Assad areas.

      Farther north, many were wounded in fighting in Idlib province. Assad has said he will spare no effort to implement Annan's peace proposals, but warned they would not work unless there is an end to foreign funding and arming of rebel groups.

      The United Nations says Assad's forces have killed at least 9,000 people in the year-long uprising. The government says around 3,000 soldiers and police have been killed.

      Removing any ambiguity about the ceasefire terms of the peace plan Assad has said he accepts, Annan's spokesperson said it was up to the Syrian military to move first and show good faith by withdrawing tanks, big guns and troops from cities.

      The Annan plan "specifically asks the government to withdraw its troops, to cease using heavy weapons in populated centres", Fawzi said.

      "The very clear implication here is that the government must stop first and then discuss a cessation of hostilities with the other side and with the mediator."

      The plan requires the lightly-armed rebels to stop shooting.

      But the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has not said whether it accepts Annan's proposals and political opposition groups have not explicitly endorsed his call for a dialogue with Assad.

      Annan is acting on behalf of the United Nations and Arab League. Diplomats say he may ask for a UN monitoring mission to oversee implementation of the peace plan.

      "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. First we want to see that the bloodbath ends," an activist calling himself Abu Mohammed said.

      If the UN plan is adopted and peace monitors are deployed, the opposition could protest peacefully and openly as Egyptians did during their revolt against Hosni Mubarak, he said.

      "But it's not going to happen."

      Hezbollah restates support

      Lebanon's Hezbollah movement said on Friday Arab and international efforts to end the conflict in Syria have moved away from demanding that President Bashar al-Assad steps down and now appear focused on achieving political dialogue.

      Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, a key Assad ally, also declared in his speech Syrian opposition fighters who have fought a year-long campaign to oust Assad were incapable of toppling him and that the option of foreign military intervention in Syria was a "closed subject".

      "Some people talked about the political option ... but with conditions that equalled the fall of the regime, for example for President Assad to step down. I think the international and regional political climate today has passed this phase."

      Assad's strongest regional ally, Iran, said 12 Iranian citizens abducted "by Syrian opposition forces" had been released, including five engineers working for Syria's power plant in Homs who were kidnapped in late December.

      Iran's state IRNA news agency said Syrian "armed gangs" had kidnapped dozens of pilgrims from Iran. In January, Syrian opposition forces released video of seven men they said were Iranian soldiers captured in Syria.

      Iran, meanwhile, is helping Syria beat Western sanctions by providing a tanker to ship Syrian oil to China, netting a potential $80mn. Along with Syria's big-power ally Russia, China has shielded Assad, vetoing two Western-backed resolutions at the United Nations over the bloodshed.

      China is not bound by Western sanctions against Syria.

      Meanwhile, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton met Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in Riyadh on Friday to discuss the conflict ahead of a "Friends of Syria" conference with opposition leaders and Arab and Western foreign ministers at the weekend in Istanbul.

      Saudi Arabia, with Qatar, has led Arab efforts to press Assad to end his crackdown on the uprising and step aside.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Assad family targeted by new EU sanctions
      Syrian president's wife and mother among latest figures to be targeted by European Union assets freeze and travel bans.
      Last Modified: 23 Mar 2012 15:34

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/03/2012323553830686.html

      [VIDEO]
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      Syrian forces assault opposition strongholds
      Government forces continue to pound opposition neighbourhoods in Homs, killing at least five, activists say.
      Last Modified: 22 Mar 2012 10:59

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/03/20123215921238440.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Assad's wife to face EU sanctions
      UK-born Asma al-Assad, who apparently shopped for luxury goods during the brutal Syrian crackdown, to be added to official sanctions list
      Peter Walker
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 20 March 2012 10.40 GMT

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/20/assad-wife-face-eu-sanctions
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      Al Jazeera obtains secret Syria files
      Papers prepared for President Assad by intelligence and security chiefs throw light on his strategy to quell protests.
      Last Modified: 19 Mar 2012 20:49

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/03/20123191073517388.html

      [VIDEO]
      Al Jazeera has gained access to confidential documents prepared for the Syrian president by his intelligence and security chiefs on the conflict raging across the nation.

      The files provide an insight into President Bashar al-Assad’s strategy to suppress anti-government protests, including the lengths the government went to for protecting its strongholds.

      The documents, running into hundreds of pages, point to a government desperate to keep control of the capital Damascus and include clear orders to stop protesters from getting into the city.

      They also revealed detailed security plans for crushing protests in the cities of Aleppo and Idlib.

      One leaked paper spelled out clear orders to top officials to give financial and moral support to Assad's supporters in Aleppo, the second major city.

      Whistleblower

      The documents were passed on to Al Jazeera by Abdel Majid Barakat, who until recently was one of the government’s most trusted officials.

      The former Baath party member, who was in charge of collating information from across Syria at the secret joint crisis management cell in Damascus, has fled to Turkey.

      “For months, the opposition had a mole at the heart of Assad’s security apparatus working in this joint co-ordination cell that co-ordinates the work of all the intelligence agencies across the country,“ Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Turkey, said.

      "This man was leaking information to the opposition. Finally he was compromised and realised that he had to get out of Syria to save his own life. As he left the country he took with him some of Syria's most secret documents."

      In one leaked cable marked confidential, the government cautioned the Syrian foreign minister about countries trying to influence Syrian diplomats to defect.

      “Every evening at 7:00 pm Damascus time, there is a meeting of all the intelligence and security chiefs looking back at what happened across the country during the day, making their plans, making their orders for the next day,” our correspondent said.

      “These orders then go to the office of the president the next morning and he himself signs all the orders, the final go ahead,“ he added.

      Monitors spied on

      The documents indicate that the government spied on the Arab League monitoring mission, which was in Syria at the end of last year.

      They also spell out where protests have been taking place, and how many people were involved. They show that some of the biggest rallies have been in the province of Idlib.

      Barakat, the whistleblower, told Al Jazeera: “Any person reading these reports will be shocked, will realise that Syria is living a true crisis: killings, criminality and suppression of protesters.

      “However security chiefs paint [a] beautiful picture in their reports. They ignore many substantial facts on the ground, simply to boost the president’s morale,” he said.

      Al Jazeera's Bays said that the network was confident about the validity of the documents, and that two Al Jazeera teams had worked for days to verify them.

      "We have been through the documents in detail ... not just looking at what's in the documents, the detail of the documents, looking at the letterheads, looking at the the signatures on the documents, speaking to Syrians, speaking to opposition activists.

      "We are very confident that the documents are genuine," he said.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Yemeni Nobel Laureate tells Syrians: Assad’s time is up
      By JONATHON BURCH | REUTERS
      Published: Mar 19, 2012 01:55 Updated: Mar 21, 2012 17:00

      http://arabnews.com/middleeast/article589015.ece
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      'Heavy fighting' shakes Syrian capital
      Gunfire and explosions rock Damascus neighbourhood, a day after a deadly car bomb killed three in city of Aleppo.
      Last Modified: 19 Mar 2012 17:44

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/03/201231933724565894.html
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      Syria: 'I am the real dictator', declares Asma al-Assad
      Asma al-Assad, the British-born wife of Syria’s president, told a friend that she was the “real dictator” in the family, according to leaked emails that suggest she holds a cherished place in the leader’s inner circle.

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9151547/Syria-I-am-the-real-dictator-declares-Asma-al-Assad.html
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      Fleeing Syrians fear pro-Assad gangs
      Refugees escaping to neighbouring Lebanon fear harassment by groups loyal to Syrian president.
      Last Modified: 17 Mar 2012 11:38

      http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2012/03/201231791330908711.html

      [VIDEO]
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      Assad emails: rise of the woman who became key adviser to Syrian leader
      The US-educated Hadeel al-Ali demonstrated a strong personal and political commitment to Bashar al-Assad and to his survival
      Luke Harding
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 16 March 2012 18.56 GMT

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/16/assad-emails-adviser-hadeel-ali

      On 27 November last year, a young, ambitious woman sent an email to her boss. It contained a single link, to a piece by the BBC correspondent Paul Wood. Wood had been smuggled into the Syrian city of Homs. His subsequent report gave a vivid account of the smouldering rebellion there, crushed two months later in a remorseless government attack.

      The woman was the US-educated Hadeel al-Ali; her boss was Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad. The email was sent to a private account used by Assad to communicate with his wife, Asma, other family members, and a handful of trusted advisers. Some 3,000 emails from Assad and his inner circle were leaked by Syria's opposition to the Guardian last week, revealing a first family strangely disconnected from the bloody drama engulfing Syria and its people.

      This particular email appears to show Assad was personally told about the presence of western journalists in Homs, slipping into the country via a perilous crossing from Lebanon. In retrospect, it takes on a darker aspect. In February the Sunday Times's Marie Colvin and the French photographer Remi Ochlik died in Homs when Syrian forces – it appears deliberately – targeted their building.

      One of the most striking aspects of the emails' leak is how Assad bypassed his male aides. Instead, as his country slipped further into bloodshed, he appears to have grown increasingly reliant on media advice from a group of young, westernised Syrian expats. Most are women. At their core are Ali and her friend Sheherazad Jaafari, a former intern at the New York-based PR firm Brown Lloyd James.

      Of the two, Jaafari has the better connections: her father is Syria's ambassador to the UN in New York, with a hotline to the leader in Damascus. But Ali's biography and now deleted Facebook page offer clues to her rapid rise. Like Assad and much of Syria's ruling elite, Ali is from the Alawi religious sect. She grew up in the coastal town of Qurdaha, known for its Alawi population.

      Friends describe her as smart, smooth and sexy. "She was always going to excel in media and PR," one says. "She has clearly made use of her intellect." Between 2006 and 2008 she was a student at Montana State University in Bozeman, a city surrounded by stunning mountains. She was a political science major.

      Writing of her student days for her yearbook, Ali reminisces about the "gorgeous mountains" and "almost breaking my leg learning how to ski:)". (The same smiley faces crop up in her later correspondence with Syria's president). She also writes about "wearing my cowboy boots and hat and feeling like a local:)" and "attending President Obama's speech and shaking his hand (!)." Photos from this period show a petite but strikingly self-confident woman with high cheekbones and dark hair.

      After university she returned to Syria. She studied English literature at Damascus University. She also taught English as a second language at the Arab International University, and volunteered part-time for UNHCR/Unicef. "She was sociable, well-spoken, and engaging," one friend from this period said, admitting: "I was drawn to her." Photos posted on her vanished Facebook page show Ali and Jaafari holidaying together in the souks of Iran, and strolling in the Syrian coastal town of Latakia.

      When Syria's uprising began, however, something changed. Ali quickly became active in spreading pro-regime articles, sometimes with a shrill voice, sometimes dispassionately. She dumped friends she believed sympathetic to the opposition. Her private emails to Syria's president, "the dude" as Ali calls him in one Facebook post, reveal a strong personal and political commitment to him, and to his survival.

      On 20 November last year she sent a photo to Assad of him as a young, unshaven student. She wrote: "so cute, I miss youuuuuuu". Five days later she forwarded him a screen grab from the Facebook page of a Syrian opposition activist, together with critical comments about the president: "Sorry some of them are very rude but I thought we could find the names although most of them have fake ones," she explained.

      As Syria's crisis darkened, it appears Ali turned down a place at Warsaw University last September to stay at the president's side. She and Jaafari gave him regular feedback on how his speeches were perceived by supporters. She passed on requests for interviews from journalists deemed to be acceptable to the regime — and to its narrative that rebel fighters are all violent "terrorists" and Islamist extremists.

      In late December she gave him strategic advice on a speech. She urged him to mention that "hostility to Israel" must be a key idea for the Syrian people, and told him to sound "balanced and rational" when setting out his "reforms".

      After the speech in January, Ali privately struck a more intimate note, and complimented him on his choice of suit and healthy complexion. She was proud of his "strength wisdom and charisma".

      Additionally, Ali is the conduit through which advice from Iran appears to reach Assad. Hussein Mortada, head of the Iranian-backed al-Alam satellite channel, said it was not in the regime's interests to blame a string of mysterious car bombings on al-Qaida. Mortada also talked of his links to Hezbollah and Tehran. It was Ali who forwarded his emails to the boss, using the president's secret sam@... account.

      The leak of their private exchanges will be mortifying for Ali and Jaafari. Neither has commented publicly since the scandal broke.

      Nonetheless, it appears that their liberal education in the US has not so far translated into any sympathy for Assad's opponents. Instead, both have linked their destinies with Assad, a man who for now at least appears to be prevailing mercilessly over his enemies.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Twin car bombs kill dozens in Damascus
      At least 27 killed and 97 wounded in what state television alleged were terrorist attacks on security buildings.
      Last Modified: 18 Mar 2012 07:11

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/03/201231761115256388.html
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      One year on: Syrians speak about uprising
      Cross-section of Syrians share their thoughts on the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.
      Al Jazeera staff Last Modified: 15 Mar 2012 13:55

      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2012/03/2012315527913540.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Pro-Assad rallies mark anniversary of Syria revolt

      http://arabnews.com/middleeast/article587788.ece
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Exclusive: secret Assad emails lift lid on life of leader's inner circle
      • Messages show Bashar al-Assad took advice from Iran
      • Leader made light of promised reforms
      • Wife spent thousands on jewellery and furniture
      Robert Booth, Mona Mahmood and Luke Harding
      guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 14 March 2012 23.03 GMT

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/14/assad-emails-lift-lid-inner-circle
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      Syria marks revolt anniversary amid violence
      Troops intensify offensive to crush opposition fighters in north and south, as anti-Assad uprising enters second year.
      Last Modified: 15 Mar 2012 14:25

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/03/2012314201510748320.html
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      Syria: From iTunes to Harrods to Harry Potter, secret Assad family emails revealed
      At the height of the Syrian army's assault on Homs, President Bashar al-Assad appears to have sent his wife the lyrics from a country and western song, while the British-born Asma spent thousands of pounds on jewellery and furniture.

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9144453/Syria-From-iTunes-to-Harrods-to-Harry-Potter-secret-Assad-family-emails-revealed.html
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      As Annan flies out, Assad's men go in to kill the innocent
      Massacre of women and children reported in Homs as UN envoy leaves empty-handed
      ALASTAIR BEACH TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2012

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/as-annan-flies-out-assads-men-go-in-to-kill-the-innocent-7563270.html

      There were renewed fears that Syria was slipping towards all-out civil war last night after opposition activists claimed that scores of men, women and children had been butchered by regime militias roaming through a rebel neighbourhood in Homs – just 24 hours after the former United Nations chief Kofi Annan jetted out of Damascus saying he had drawn up a plan for ending the crisis.

      Reports emerging from the shell-blitzed city suggested entire families had been shot or had their throats slit, with numerous videos being uploaded to YouTube showing blood-soaked corpses in homes and backyards.

      "Sunni people in Homs are talking about declaring holy war," an activist calling himself Abo Emad said. He added that alleged massacres by Shia Alawi paramilitaries loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were radicalising communities in Homs, an area that has been plagued by sectarian kidnappings and murders in recent months. Many analysts fear the violence in the city could lead to wider civil strife.

      State media confirmed that mass killings had taken place, but blamed the deaths on "terrorists" fighting against the government. But the Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria, a network of activists which works to publicise the uprising, said 45 people had been murdered by loyalist militias in Karm Zeitoun, a mixed Alawi-Shia neighbourhood, which was controlled by rebel troops until last month.

      A number of videos have since appeared on the internet purporting to show victims of the massacre. One showed the blood-stained bodies of at least a dozen middle-aged men.

      Rami Abdul-Rahman, from the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), said more than 100 bodies had been delivered to hospitals in Homs over the past three days. It was still unclear who was responsible for the killings, he said. According to Abo Emad, mothers and young girls were raped by gangs of paramilitaries as they went house-to-house in the neighbourhood. "If the regime is saying it was the opposition doing this, then they can go to hell," he said. "How could we kill our own children?"

      The latest outbreak of violence comes after a week of intensive diplomatic efforts, which appear to have come to nothing. Despite holding two rounds of talks with the Syrian President, Mr Annan failed to secure ceasefire talks between the government and rebel groups. And the violence shows no sign of slowing: as well as the apparent massacre in Homs, a car bomb exploded in the city of Deraa, killing three people.

      Talks moved on to the UN Security Council yesterday, where again there were harsh words for the Assad regime. The "horrific campaign of violence" had "shocked the conscience of the world", Hillary Clinton, the United States' Secretary of State, said. The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, again attacked Damascus, which has "failed to fulfil its responsibility to protect its own people". Their comments came after Valerie Amos, the UN's humanitarian chief who visited Homs last week, said she was, "horrified by the destruction," she saw.

      Any formal censure from the UN is unlikely given veto-holding Russia and China, who insist that all sides commit to a peaceful solution.
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      Idlib residents targeted by snipers
      As Syrian city endures government assault, Al Jazeera reports how snipers have been targeting residents at random.
      Last Modified: 13 Mar 2012 23:34

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/03/20123139743175490.html

      [VIDEO]
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      'Massacre' in Homs as Idlib endures assault
      Government and activists blame each other for brutal killing of civilians in Homs, as attack on Idlib continues.
      Last Modified: 13 Mar 2012 09:11

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/03/201231203843221328.html
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      Syrian forces assault Idlib amid peace talks
      Northern city attacked for third straight day as President Assad tells UN envoy Annan he is not ready to negotiate.
      Last Modified: 11 Mar 2012 07:49

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/03/201231134134172536.html
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