The Middle East Channel

The United States pulls support for the Syrian National Council

The United States is withdrawing support for the Syrian National Council (SNC) and helping form a more representative opposition group. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "There has to be representation of those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom." The SNC is largely comprised of exiles. The Obama administration has been working behind the scenes for several months in negotiations to build a new Syrian opposition leadership. Clinton said she has been heavily involved in planning an Arab League supported meeting for next week in Doha, Qatar, where opposition figures will work to form a new opposition body. U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, pulled form Syria last year due to safety concerns, has also been working to assemble a new group. It is expected to have between 35 and 50 representatives, up to one third of which will likely go to members of the SNC. Former Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, who defected in August, is one of the people proposed for the new council. Addressing increasing reports of Islamist extremist involvement in fighting in Syria, Clinton also warned the opposition should "strongly resist the efforts by the extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution." Meeting with U.N. and Arab League envoy on Syria Lakdar Brahimi, China proposed a plan to end violence in Syria including a regionally phased ceasefire and establishment of a transitional government. Meanwhile, violence continued Wednesday with street fights in Aleppo and a bombing in Atarib, 12 miles west of the city, which hit a breadline and killed at least 15 people. Additionally, a bomb exploded at a Shiite shrine in Damascus near a government checkpoint.


  • A Saudi fuel truck crashed and exploded killing 22 people and injuring over 100 others.
  • Libya's General National Congress has approved a cabinet proposed by Prime Minister Ali Zidan, who took office when the former prime minister was dismissed after his cabinet was rejected.
  • After an unverified report that Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad resigned, the PLO refuted the report and said Fayyad had presented a plan for a more inclusive factional government.
  • Kuwait has extended the detention of former opposition Member of Parliament Mussallam al-Barrak on charges of challenging the emir in a speech at an October 15 protest. 

Arguments and Analysis

Syria's Digital Proxy War (Sean Lyngaas, The Atlantic)

"There is a proxy war going on in Syria, one measured in megabytes rather than in arms. On one side, Iran is providing Bashar al-Assad's regime with the tools of digital dictatorship to locate and bait the Syrian opposition. On the other side, the United States is trying to help the opposition protect itself from such attacks and set up alternate channels of communication. The outcome of this proxy war will affect the lives of many Syrians and the credibility of the State Department's efforts to promote digital freedom internationally.

The Syrian regime has long been interested in improving its online repression. Dlshad Othman, a member of the Syrian opposition and an Internet expert, says that in recent years the regime has sent its bureaucrats abroad for technical training in places like Dubai. But Assad's censorship efforts remained clumsy and at times ineffectual until the uprising against him began last year. He then re-opened social media to the public in order to better monitor and crush dissent, and confided in the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security for surveillance techniques. We are now seeing Iran's sophisticated online crackdown on its own Green Movement in 2009 being applied by Assad in Syria. Pro-regime hackers pose as dissidents in chat rooms to lure and locate the opposition before gunmen are dispatched to kill them."

Gaza: A Way Out? (Nicolas Pelham, The New York Review of Books)

"This week's arrival in Gaza of the Emir of Qatar and his entourage of fifty Mercedes revived the frenetic pace of activity in the coastal enclave, which has been uncommonly quiet in recent months. On his day-trip spent laying foundation stones for cities, hospitals, and schools all bearing his name, the Emir, Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, came pledging gifts of $400 million in reconstruction, and promised to end the political and economic isolation Gaza has endured since the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas took power six years ago.

For Hamas leaders the trip, the first by a head of state since the siege on Gaza began, heralds their latest attempt to escape political pariahdom, after their hopes of deliverance by the new Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt ran aground this summer. On August 5, sixteen Egyptian soldiers were gunned down by militants just across Gaza's borders from Egypt; Egypt suspected the killers had crossed over from Gaza. Fearing the ire of its powerful neighbor, Hamas temporarily barred access to the border, including the vast tunnel complex connecting Gaza with Egypt that serves as Gaza's economic lifeline. The trucks that cart thousands of tons of raw materials and fuel every day lay silent, and a few of the Gazan government officials and 9,000 tunnel workers who had bothered to make an appearance sat on stools disconsolately counting the lost revenue, which they estimated in the tens of millions of dollars."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey 



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