Syrian Weekly Brief: 3 - 9 December 2012

Top Stories
High-level defections renewed: The Assad regime received another painful blow with the defection of its Spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, who’s considered one of the highest-ranking Christian members of Assad’s inner circle and who staunchly defended his crackdown on the 21-month revolt. Moreover, nine Syrian judges and prosecutors announced their defection to the opposition side to join the Free Syrian Judiciary Council in condemnation of the regime’s violations and human rights abuses.
Armed opposition becomes more organized: Rebel commanders from across Syria joined forces under the Supreme Joint Leadership Military Council and elected Gen. Salim Idris to lead its General Staff of the Military and Revolutionary forces aiming at unifying the armed groups to topple the regime and bring things under control once the regime is toppled.
Regime gets ready for a chemical attack: On Saturday, Al-Baraa battalion, member of the rebel Free Syrian Army said its fighting units ambushed a military truck in the road to Damascus airport, the truck was loaded with protective chemical gear and was meant to be handed to one of the regime’s fighting units in order to prepare for a possible chemical attack against the opposition forces. On Saturday, seven people died due to the regime fierce shelling in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyat al-Sham, including two girls whose death was allegedly caused by a toxic gas.
Uprising Developments
Fighting rages around airports: Fighting intensified throughout the country and particular in the suburbs of Damascus where the rebels declared Damascus International Airport a battle zone on Friday, warning civilians and airlines they would approach it "at their own risk". The airport was under heavy rocket shelling that hit some of its buildings and clashes continued along the airport’s main road and in the nearby towns. Moreover, the airbases of Deir Azzour in the east and Menneg in the north undergo heavy siege by the rebels. Analysts say, If the rebels are able to take over the Damascus airport, it would be a significant strategic and symbolic victory and could indicate a bigger push to bring the fight to the capital.
Refugee crisis exacerbates: The number of Syrian refugees formally registered or under registration with the United Nations has increased to 498,000 while the ones displaced internally are estimated to be around 2.5 million as of December 9. As the Syrian forces continue to indiscriminately bombard the opposition-held areas, civilians continue to flee their homes and seek refuge either in other towns and villages where they’re relatively calm or cross the border into neighbouring countries. Visiting Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey, the U.N. chief expressed frustration over the lack of aid for the region's growing humanitarian crisis. Reporters who visited the refugee camps described their lives as a ‘Disaster’ with the winter wreaking havoc on them. Worsening security in Syria means aid groups are unable to reach a million people who may be going hungry as winter closes in, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Thursday.
Trade volume in Free Zones sharply down: The volume of trade in Syria’s free trade zones reached SYP 56 billion in the first ten months of the year, a figure that marks a strong decline from previous years. At the current level of activity the full year performance for 2012 should be around SYP 67 billion, or some 40% less than last year.
Cost of living on the rise: The 21-month long conflict has caused severe shortages of fuel and basic staples amid power blackout that can sometimes be permanent in mainly in Aleppo, Idlib and Deir Azzour where fighting has been intense since the summer. In Aleppo for instance, a six-piece sack of bread is sold for 125 SYP (2.00), diesel is sold for 200 SYP (US$2.6) per litre and the gasoline sells for US$2.0. People have even resorted to primitive ways to cook their food with the price of a single gas cylinder hits as high as US$45.00 that’s almost 10 fold increase.
International Reactions
Concerns grow over Syria's chemical weapons: The Syrian military is prepared to use chemical weapons against its own people and is awaiting final orders from President Bashar Assad, U.S. officials told NBC News on Wednesday. This has prompted unprecedented international reactions, most notably by US President Barrack Obama and NATO member countries who joined their voices to issue a solid warning to the Assad regime that any use of chemical weapon will have serious consequences.
New wave of closures for western diplomatic missions: The diplomatic presence of western countries in Syria reduced further this week as several EU member countries announced the reduction or suspension of their presence in Damascus. The EU delegation in Damascus, the United Nations, said they were reducing their presence in Damascus. Hungary, Czech Republic and Romania followed suit.
Syrian Press Focus
Syria won’t use chemical weapons: Syria has repeatedly stressed that it will not use any chemical weapons, if they exist, against its people no matter the circumstances, an official source at the Foreign and Expatriates Ministry said on Monday.

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