Middle East tense as moment of truth on Syria draws near
Jordan deploys forces along Syrian border to prepare for possible attack • Western activists volunteer to defend Assad's regime as "human shields" • U.S. warship passes through Haifa port, destination unknown.
The USS San Antonio in Haifa port on Saturday
Photo credit: Michel Dot Com
"I want to thank the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Police and the Border Police and all the men and women of our security forces for the peaceful and serene holiday that the people of Israel enjoyed across Israel [this weekend]," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, as the entire region prepared for a possible American attack on Syria.
"It [peace] is not a given, especially when the storm rages around us, and it is really stormy. We are protecting Israel -- an oasis of calm, quiet and security. This is also a result of our well thought-out and responsible policy, and the extremely professional and decisive actions of all the branches of our security establishment, not all of which are made public," the prime minister said.
Meanwhile, preparations were underway in Syria for a possible Western attack, Lebanese media outlets reported over the weekend. They said the uncertainty surrounding U.S. plans was having a palpable effect, with food markets and pharmacies in the major cities packed with long lines of customers clamoring to stock up on supplies.
One eyewitness in Damascus told the Lebanese network Al Mayadeen that it was "very difficult to obtain drugs, and even bread and the most basic food items are rapidly running out."
The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf called on the international community to intervene as soon as possible to prevent the humanitarian collapse of the Syrian nation and to save the people from the current regime. In a statement, the council said, "We place full responsibility for the latest events in Syria on the regime in Damascus because it rejected every attempt to resolve the conflict, and continues its acts of killing, using chemical weapons among other means."
According to reports, more than 100 people were killed in clashes between rebels and regime loyalists over the weekend.
On Saturday, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos left Damascus following a flash diplomatic visit. The purpose of the trip was to meet with the leadership in Damascus on the issue of refugees and restrictions placed by the regime on humanitarian organizations operating in the area. Amos remarked that more than 2 million citizens had already fled Syria since the beginning of the civil war over two years ago.
Fearing a U.S. strike and a Syrian counter-strike in the foreseeable future, Jordan was also preparing its forces along the border. Saudi-owned network Al Arabiya reported that Jordan had deployed anti-aircraft batteries, armored vehicles and troops along the shared border and that the Jordanian air force was on high alert.
Standing with Syrian President Bashar Assad is Hezbollah, whose fighters are preparing to defend Damascus and the Syrian army's strategic posts in case of an American strike. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who essentially commands Hezbollah, said Thursday that if the U.S. launched an attack against Syria, it would be defeated. "In the case of Syria," he said, "the Americans are using the chemical attack as an excuse to intervene."
The commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards also chimed in, declaring that Iran would stand with Syria to the end.
Another regional nation that opposes a Western strike against Syria is Egypt. Egyptian President Adly Mansour met with American members of Congress in Cairo and beseeched them to oppose the strike. In a statement issued by the president's office in Cairo, it was reported that Mansour had told the Congress members that an American attack would have extremely negative implications on the entire Middle East and that Egypt was vehemently opposed to any military intervention in the Syrian conflict.
International human shields
Meanwhile, the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph reported on Friday that hundreds of peace activists from Britain and the U.S. had volunteered to serve as human shields in regions controlled by the Syrian regime.
The group, which calls itself "International Human Shields," plans to travel to Syria and deploy in regions controlled by Assad in an effort to prevent a possible attack. Franklin Lamb, one of the attorneys representing the group, said the organization has been approached by activists from Canada, France, Italy and additional countries.
Report: U.S. rejects Assad's proposed resignation
Lebanese newspaper Al-Mustaqbal, affiliated with former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and an outspoken opponent of Hezbollah and Syria, reported over the weekend that, according to an official in Washington, the U.S. had rejected Assad's proposal to step down. According to the report, the U.S. rejected the proposal because of Assad's demand to resign under terms set solely by him.