WikiLeaks – the behemoth that would be our galactic Yoda – has begun publishing more than 2 million emails from Syrian political figures that it says will shed light on the regime’s crackdown on dissent and embarrass Syria’s opponents. The emails date back to 2006 but also cover the past 16 months, in which thousands have been killed in a bloody crackdown by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
The whistleblowing website says the files will give an insight into how the Assad government operates, and also reveal Western countries and businesses which continue to support Syria. WikiLeaks says the emails came from Syrian ministries including foreign affairs, finance and presidential affairs.
In a statement on the website, Wikileaks says: “Today, Thursday 5 July 2012, WikiLeaks began publishing the Syria Files – more than two million emails from Syrian political figures, ministries and associated companies, dating from August 2006 to March 2012. This extraordinary data set derives from 680 Syria-related entities or domain names, including those of the Ministries of Presidential Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Information, Transport and Culture. Over the next two months, ground-breaking stories derived from the files will appear in WikiLeaks (global), Al Akhbar (Lebanon), Al Masry Al Youm (Egypt), ARD (Germany), Associated Press (US), L’Espresso (Italy), Owni (France) and Publico.es (Spain). Other publications will announce themselves closer to their publishing date“.
Australian WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says the material is embarrassing to Syria, as well as to Syria’s opponents. It helps us not merely to criticise one group or another, but to understand their interests, actions and thoughts,” Mr Assange said in a statement. “It is only through understanding this conflict that we can hope to resolve it.” ::::
Altogether, the site says it will publish 2,434,899 emails from 680 domains, which it is “statistically confident” are accurate and authentic. It says there are 678,752 different email addresses involved, and 1,082,447 different recipients. There are around 400,000 emails in Arabic but also 68,000 emails in Russian.
WikiLeaks will not comment on the rest of the material until stories derived from the files are published.
It is not the first time Syrian emails have been leaked. In March, Britain’s Guardian newspaper published emails and photographs showing President Assad’s wife Asma, spending tens of thousands of dollars on jewellery and luxury furniture amid the bloodshed. The world was once smitten with Syria’s first lady, Asma it was thought would humanise the overbearing, secretive Assad family, instead the London born roses has become a hate figure, a symbol of all that’s wrong with the trouble nation.
The Syria files are WikiLeaks’ first major publication since it began disclosing internal emails from the US-based intelligence firm Stratfor in February. WikiLeaks was forced to suspend many of its publishing operations last October after Visa, MasterCard and PayPal refused to continue processing donations to the whistleblowing website.
WikiLeaks’ publication comes amid continued wrangling between world powers about how the bloody conflict in Syria should be tackled. The revolt, which started with peaceful pro-democracy protests, has turned into a something approaching a civil war as the government’s crackdown triggered an armed uprising.
Rights groups say as many as 16,500 people have been killed in the 16-month uprising, while Mr Assad blames the deaths on “terrorist gangs”.
Check the Wikileaks doc’s here: http://www.wikileaks.org/syria-files/
Meanwhile, Mr Assange remains currently holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London seeking political asylum. He is seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning on sex abuse allegations. Mr Assange denies the allegations, which he says are politically motivated.
WikiLeaks enraged Washington by releasing a flood of classified information and diplomatic cables in 2010, and Mr Assange says America wants to try him for leaking the documents.
Mr Assange fears that once he is in Sweden, the US will seek his extradition. Even if he is granted asylum in Ecuador, British police say they will arrest him for being in breach of his bail conditions as soon as he sets foot outside the embassy. Mr Assange was on $315,000 bail, which included the condition he spend nights at home.
World Powers Urge United Nations to Pressure the Assad Government
A world meeting on Syria has urged the United Nations to use the threat of sanctions to force change in Syria, as president Bashar al-Assad was rocked by the defection of one of his most senior generals.
Speaking at the Friends of Syria meeting in Paris, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said she is increasingly concerned about the lengths the Syrian government will go to to retain power.
“The Syrian government itself has only escalated their violence over time,” Ms Clinton said. ”Given their behaviour and the chemical weapons they posses it is imperative that they understand their international responsibilities.”
Ms Clinton also rounded on Syria allies Russia and China, which both boycotted the meeting. ”They are holding up progress, blockading it. That is no longer tolerable,” Ms Clinton said.
Russia later categorically rejected the idea it is siding with the Assad regime over the conflict.
In its final statement, the meeting of over 100 countries called for Mr Assad to stand down as part of a transition in the violence-wracked nation.
“Participants agreed and clearly affirmed that those whose presence would compromise the transition’s credibility should be distanced,” it said. ”In this respect, they stressed that Bashar al-Assad should leave power.”
Delegates at the Paris meeting also vowed to boost aid to the Syrian opposition, and provide them with communications equipment. The meeting sought a resolution under the UN charter’s Chapter 7, which provides for possible sanctions and military action. But it stressed that the immediate action under Article 41 provides only for non-military intervention.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle backed the call for non-military action for the time being, saying force should only be discussed “when the implementation of the sanctions has not really made the progress they should have”.
French president Francois Hollande also pushed for the Security Council to get tough with Damascus. ”To those who maintain also that Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as dislikeable as it is, can avoid chaos, I tell them that they will have both the most dislikeable regime and chaos. And this chaos will threaten their interests,” Mr Hollande said.
The Syrian opposition used the meeting to call for humanitarian corridors and a no-fly zone. A peace plan drawn up by former UN chief Kofi Annan, which insists on a cessation of violence by all sides, has made little headway.
Activists say an estimated 16,500 people have now died in the 16-month uprising. A meeting last weekend of world powers in Geneva agreed to a transition plan that the Syria opposition, the West and Russia have interpreted differently.
Ms Clinton insists the plan amounts to a call for Mr Assad to go, but China and Russia insist Syrians should decide how the transition should occur.
The Assad regime was dealt a blow on Friday with confirmation that a Syrian general who was close to the Mr Assad had defected and was bound for Paris. Manaf Tlas was a brigade commander in Syria’s Republican Guard, and he went to military college with Mr Assad. It is believed he fled to Turkey this week.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed the defection during the Friends of Syria meeting. ”Everybody considers this to be a blow for the government,” he told a news conference. ”It means that his close entourage is beginning to understand that the regime is unsustainable.”
It is not yet clear whether the General Tlas will join the Syrian opposition. It is the highest-level defection since the unrest began, but pro-government media in Syria has described his defection as an “escape”, and says the move is “insignificant”.
Morocco will host the next Friends of Syria meeting but no date has been set.
Assads Rule Over Syria
Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has been accused of waging a brutal war against his own people as he fights rebels who want an end to his family’s 40-year rule.
In doing so he is following in the footsteps of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who presided over the deaths of thousands of people when he unleashed his forces to crush an Islamist uprising in the early 1980s.
Bashar al-Assad had been showing signs of loosening his grip on the country until protests broke out last year.
“I admit to total incomprehension as to how this man has changed,” French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who hosted Mr Assad in Paris in 2008, said recently.
“He was not a democrat, but two years ago he was not massacring women and children in Homs. He was not a murderer but he has become a murderer.”
Key events in the modern history of Syria and the Assad dynasty:
1916: Diplomats from France and Great Britain draw up an agreement to carve up the Middle East into ‘zones of influence’ after the expected defeat of Ottoman Turkey in World War I. France will get the northern zone, including what are now Syria and Lebanon, while Britain will oversee the south, including Palestine, Jordan, and the Iraqi oil fields.
1918: The Sykes-Picot agreement, named after the diplomats who drew it up, is put into effect following the end of World War I.
1920: An independent Syria is established by Faisal I of the Hashemite dynasty, who had fought with Lawrence of Arabia against the Turks. His forces are defeated by the French, and French troops occupy Syria later that year.
1925-27: A rebellion launched by Sultan Pasha al-Atrash is put down by French troops amid heavy fighting in cities including Homs, Hama and Damascus – all flashpoints in the current rebellion.
1930: Hafez al-Assad is born into a minority Alawite family in western Syria.
1937: Syria and France negotiate a treaty to give Syria independence, but the government in Paris refuses to ratify it and World War II breaks out in 1939 before any progress can be made.
1940: France falls to Nazi Germany and Syria comes under the control of the puppet Vichy regime. The country is occupied by British, Commonwealth, and Free French forces in 1941.
1944: Syria is recognised as an independent state and French troops pull out in 1946, ushering in years of coups and political turmoil.
1958-61: Syria and Egypt unite under the banner of the United Arab Republic, with the head of state being Egypt’s leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, before Syria secedes following a military coup.
1963: The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party engineers another coup which gives its members a majority in a new cabinet.
1964: Now a high-ranking Ba’ath Party official, Hafez al-Assad becomes a general; in 1965 he will become commander-in-chief of the air force; by 1966, he is minister of defence.
1965: As his father rises through the ranks, Bashar al-Assad is born in Damascus.
1967: Pre-emptive Israeli strikes on Egyptian forces develop into the Six-Day War, with Syria and Jordan joining Egypt in attacks on the Jewish state. Israel prevails, and occupies Syria’s Golan Heights along with the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Sinai peninsula.
1970: Hafez al-Assad seizes power in an internal Ba’ath Party coup. Assad loyalists are installed in key posts throughout the government. His regime builds up Syria’s military and develops a cult of personality around the leader while ruthlessly suppressing internal dissent. But overall living standards rise and Syria experiences a relatively long period of stability
1982: Hafez al-Assad sends his troops in to crush a rebellion by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Up to 10,000 people die as troops bombard the city of Hama. During this period Syrian forces also take part in the civil war in neighbouring Lebanon.
1994: Bashar al-Assad, studying as an optician in London, is recalled to Syria as heir-apparent after his elder brother dies in a car crash.
2000: Hafez al-Assad dies at the age of 69. Bashar al-Assad is elected unopposed as president with a claimed 97 per cent of the vote.
2007: Bashar al-Assad gets another seven-year term as president. During this period he makes cautious overtures to the West, with the so-called Damascus Spring leading to the release of hundreds of political prisoners. But Amnesty International says the Assad regime is still torturing and persecuting political opponents.
2011: Protests inspired by the wider Arab Spring movement break out in Syria in late January. Syrian forces violently put down a number of protest rallies. In June, Assad promises moves towards reform – but the repression continues. By the end of the year, Syria has been suspended by the Arab League and Assad’s troops are engaged in a war with rebel forces, led by deserters gathered under the loose banner of the Free Syrian Army.