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In A Syrian Opposition Enclave, Where Faith In Diplomacy Is Long Gone

Even as diplomatic pressure grows on the Assad regime, inhabitants of the Djebel Akrad mountains are doubtful that anything less than are a military intervention can make the difference.

A UN Military officer surrounded by citizens of Homs (UN)
A UN Military officer surrounded by citizens of Homs (UN)
Boris Mabillard

AKKO - A pro-revolutionary television station is showing Kofi Annan's press conference on the violence in Syria. But in the large guest room, no one is paying attention. Fadi's family and guests, who have come over to drink tea and discuss the news, would rather see the latest coverage of demonstrations and fighting. The inhabitants of the northern town of Akko expect more from the international community than another Kofi Annan proposal.

Located between the city of Idlib and the Turkish border, the Djebel Akrad mountains shelter about fifteen villages, mostly Sunni, all mobilized against Bashar al-Assad's regime. Thanks to the population's support, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has made the region one of its sanctuaries. But since April, the Syrian Army has led several forays into the Djebel.

"Armored vehicles descended upon the villages, and helicopters machine-gunned our houses twice," explains Fadi as he shows the ruins of a crumbled house. "Where is the international community when our brothers are tortured, our houses bombed, our children killed? It is silent," he adds. Since the implementation of Kofi Annan's peace plan, repression hasn't diminished here, quite the contrary.

The UN observers did not come to these insurgent villages. Faced with Assad's army, the villagers feel powerless and alone. They haven't heard of the international condemnation of Syrian security forces for their repression, or the coordinated diplomatic of the past two days to expel Syrian ambassadors from a growing number of countries.

After anger, bitterness prevails. Locals here have harsh words for China and Russia, but the Syrian National Council and the UN also take a hit. They are all accused of leniency towards Assad.

Syria has been abandoned

It's the same story with exiled Syrians in Turkey, where half of the Djebel's 15,000 inhabitants have fled. In Reyhanli, one of the refugee camps, symbolic tombs have been erected for China, Russia, the Arab League and Kofi Annan, even though the refugees are reluctant to show the latter, to avoid hurting Western sensibilities.

After his Friday sermon, the sheikh joins Fadi in his living room. He also supports the rebel cause. "The entire world has abandoned us, but we are not alone, we have God, and only he will give us victory." Everybody nods in agreement, "inch'Allah" (if God is willing).

Abu Ramadan, the highest-ranking FSA officer in Djebel, is more pragmatic. "We can't win without military support from the international community. We need a military intervention, with a no-fly zone and bombing of army positions. At the very least we need weapons."

The conversation heats up, and everybody has their take on cynical diplomats. "In Libya there was oil, and that's why NATO intervened. The world has imposed economic sanctions on Syria. They are strangling us, but there has been no effect on the repression."

Nobody in the room mentions peace. "It's too late," explains Fadi. Behind him, two teenagers are playing with Kalashnikovs left against the wall by their elders. "Victory will come from the sky, from the bombs that will topple the regime."

Read more from Le Temps in French.

Photo - United Nations

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An End To Venezuela Sanctions? The Lula Factor In Biden's Democratization Gamble

The Biden administration's exploration to lift sanctions on Venezuela, hoping to gently push its regime back on the path of democracy, might have taken its cue from Brazilian President Lula's calls to stop demonizing Venezuela.

Photo of a man driving a motorbike past a wall with a mural depicting former President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela

Driving past a Chavez mural in Caracas, Venezuela

Leopoldo Villar Borda


BOGOTÁ — Reports last month that U.S. President Joe Biden's apparent decision to unblock billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets, frozen since 2015 as part of the United States' sanctions on the Venezuelan regime, could be the first of many pieces to fall in a domino effect that could help end the decades-long Venezuelan deadlock.

It may move the next piece — the renewal of conversations in Mexico between the Venezuelan government and opposition — before pushing over other obstacles to elections due in 2024 and to Venezuela's return into the community of American states.

I don't think I'm being naïve in anticipating developments that would lead to a new narrative around Venezuela, very different to the one criticized by Brazil's president, Lula da Silva. He told a regional summit in Brasilia in June that there were prejudices about Venezuela — and I dare say he wasn't entirely wrong, based on the things I hear from a Venezuelan friend who lives in Bogotá but travels frequently home.

My friend insists his country's recent history is not quite as depicted in the foreign press. The price of basic goods found in a food market are much the same as those in Bogotá, he says.

He goes to the theater when he visits Caracas, eats in restaurants and strolls in parks and squares. There are new building works, he says. He uses the Caracas metro and insists its trains and stations are clean — showing me pictures on his cellphone to prove it.

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