Sen. John McCain skipped the Sunday talk show circuit this week and made a quick trip into northern Syria, meeting with rebel commanders in rural Aleppo. Mouaz Moustafa, an opposition activist and executive director of Washington advocacy group the Syrian Emergency Task Force, used Instagram to disseminate proof (see tweet below) of the senator being in Syria, at the doorstep of a lounge in the rebel-controlled border post Bab al-Salameh.
Reactions from opponents of the Assad regime were cautious, and most wanted to see more action from the U.S. (especially arms shipments) before cheering Senator McCain’s bold move. Regime loyalists were livid. A usually quiet, U.S.-based pro-Assad group lashed out at McCain for visiting “terrorists” and the U.S. government for “supporting those terrorists who already did the [9/11 bombing].” Comments on the post ranged from disbelief that Syrian land isn’t completely controlled by the Assad regime to multiple calls on the Syrian army to bomb and mutilate McCain.
Three months ago, then-National Coalition president Moaz al-Khatib initiated a round of Facebook diplomacy, launching an initiative via the social networking site to negotiate with representatives of the Assad regime. The proposal, and its delivery method, prompted heated discussions in and out of Syria. (The talks never materialized, and Khatib made other unsuccessful diplomacy overtures before his resignation.)
Last week, Khatib lobbed out another offer to the regime, which was quickly panned. The plan (click here for the English version) spelled out an orderly, peaceful transition to democracy, allowing President Bashar al-Assad and 500 of his associates to leave the country without granting them amnesty.
Activists and observers of the Syrian conflict were quick to question how al-Khatib formulated the proposal, and if this was the vision of a group or an individual. Other activists mocked al-Khatib’s optimistic vision (below) as the war rages and regional players such as Hezbollah (an Iran-funded Lebanese party designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.) increase their role in the deadly conflict.
During this week’s National Coalition gathering in Istanbul the opposition leaders’ infighting has been exposed in both social and traditional media. But the issue dominating the press in the last seven days is the ongoing battle in Qusayr, near Homs, led by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
This weekend Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, gave a speech on the rationale behind sending his group to fight Syrian rebels. He shifted from defending Shiite civilians and shrines from extremist Sunnis to protecting the so-called “resistance axis” that includes Iran, Damascus and Hezbollah, and defies Zionist and U.S. designs on the region.
Hezbollah was founded as a proxy of the Shiite theocracy in Iran. In an effort to frame it as a non-sectarian Islamist group, Nasrallah said the party sent fighters to protect Bosnian (Sunni) Muslims against Serbian forces two decades ago.
It didn’t take long for users of Twitter to check the accuracy of this statement, and a former Balkans reporter weighed in (below). On Facebook, Saleh el-Machnouk, a young Lebanese politician who opposes Hezbollah, pointed out another inconsistency (Nasrallah saying he would never stand with the U.S. and the West in any conflict, yet allegedly placing Hezbollah fighters in NATO’s camp in Bosnia).
Inside Syria, the reactions of former Hezbollah supporters demonstrated the extent of the party’s diminished standing among many Syrians.
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