Syria: U.N. Chief says Syria has broken ceasefire
DOHA (IPS/GIN) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon the has called for a U.N. observer mission in Syria to be expanded, even though he says Damascus has failed to adhere to a ceasefire central to an agreed peace plan.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, Ban called for 300 unarmed observers to be sent on a three-month mission, and also said it was "critical" for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to meet his commitments.
The council called for Ban to report back when it passed a resolution on Saturday which sent an advanced party of 30 unarmed military observers to Syria.
His report, obtained by the AFP news agency, said that even though Syrian troops have not withdrawn from cities and violence has escalated since the ceasefire began, "an opportunity for progress may now exist, on which we need to build".
The 300 observers would deploy over several weeks and go to about 10 different parts of Syria to monitor the fragile cessation of hostilities which officially started on Apr. 12.
They would also monitor the implementation of U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan, which Syrian authorities have agreed to support.
Ban said the proposed mission would "greatly contribute to observing and upholding the commitment of the parties to a cessation of armed violence in all its forms."
The report will be discussed by the Security Council on Thursday and diplomats said a resolution allowing the full observer mission could be ready by early next week if there is agreement among the 15 members.
Meanwhile, a Syrian activist group says clashes between troops and army defectors in an eastern city have left at least one person dead.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Thursday's clashes in Deir el-Zour also wounded three civilians.
Activists say Syrian troops also shelled rebel-held areas in the central city of Homs and the nearby town of al-Qusair, which borders Lebanon.
The observatory says intense shooting and explosions could be heard in Homs' al-Qarabis and Jurat al-Shayah neighbourhoods.
Al Jazeera is unable to independently verify reports of violence, as the Syrian government has placed strict restrictions on reporting.
The U.N. says well over 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising against Assad broke out in March 2011.
Activists says scores have died since the ceasefire started.
Ban said that violence "dropped markedly" when the ceasefire began, but Syria "has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons, or to return them to barracks.
"Violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days, with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by government forces," he said.
Ban said only "partial" action has been taken on other parts of the Annan plan. "While difficult to assess, it does not amount yet to the clear signal expected from the Syrian authorities," he said.
The U.N. secretary-general said it was "critical" for Assad to fully carry out his promise to "cease troop movements towards population centers, cease all use of heavy weapons in population centers, and begin the pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers."
U.S. Tweeting democracy across the Arab world
SYRACUSE, New York (IPS/GIN) — Over the past few years, the political landscape of the Middle East was wholly transformed by the diffusion of social media across the region. Accounting for 50-65 percent of the region's population, young Muslims quickly embraced these new platforms of mass communication and soon thereafter, they became leaders of revolutions.
Social media has enabled citizen journalists with the ability to create and distribute content across the globe. It allowed millions of strangers to unite behind the cause of greater freedom and economic opportunity and organize mass demonstrations that would forever change the autocratic Middle East.
Social media along with Arab satellite television provided a real information alternative to the state-controlled media outlets that for generations engaged in pro-regime propaganda often at the expense the truth.
It is hard to imagine that Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Jack Dorsey (Twitter) ever foresaw the liberalizing impact and magnitude that their creations would one day have on the Middle East. Social media was instrumental in the mass communication and organization of the Arab Spring movement that expressed the aspirations of millions of young people for meaningful political change.
The Obama administration has time and again expressed its commitment to genuine relationship building with Muslims around the world. Through social media, it launched an ambitious multiplatform public diplomacy campaign that allows for direct two-way communication between the State Department and Muslims.
Through videos and blogs, Facebook pages, and mobile phone applications, America can now both talk and listen. It seems like technology is reinventing the very essence of international relations.
Yet, recent evidence indicates that launching a successful public diplomacy campaign via social media may be easier said than done. An innovative global digital outreach campaign was recently introduced by the U.S. State Department. Their campaign allowed citizens from across the world to ask under-secretary for public diplomacy, Judith McHale, questions in 10 different languages using the #AskUSA Twitter hashtag.
This campaign turned out to be a bust. Most of the tweets consisted of either spam or communication from American officials from outside the USA.
Yet, the American State Department should not let one failed effort deter them. All relationships both off and online take time to develop.
The American State Department understands this. Just last month it reached out to young Iranians with its "Ask Alan" campaign through the USAdarFarsi social media platform that combines Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter.
Will "Ask Alan" fair better than previous campaigns? Only time will tell.
One key point that all public diplomacy officials should keep in mind is that communication does not take place in a vacuum. This is especially true in the Middle East.
Recent scholarship on Anti-Americanism reflects a key challenge to American public diplomacy. Public opinion data collected in the Muslim world points to perceived inconsistencies between the values that America communicates regarding its commitment to freedom and democracy and its regional policies. Such perceptions were often related to America's support of autocrats past and present day.
As the struggle for democracy continues throughout the Muslim world, millions of young people look to the social sphere as a virtual meeting place where they can share ideas, frustrations, and hopes regarding the struggle for greater freedom in their nations.
America's digital outreach campaign can both guide and support the cause of democracy.