No dialogue with tanks and soldiers

With hardly any foreign journalist in the country the little news that is getting out of Syria comes through people who take great risks filming demonstrations against the brutal repression by the Assad regime. Hundreds of short movies have been uploaded on YouTube. Many of these show tanks and armoured vehicles used to intimidate and terrorise the demonstrators. An estimated 850 people have been killed over the past months. Earlier this month the European Union finally agreed on a limited arms embargo against Syria, targeting only “arms and equipment that could be used for internal repression”. It is too little and too late.

While most of Syrias weaponry is ex-Soviet or Russian, some of it comes from Europe. Such as 250 T-72 battle tanks which were bought from ex-Czechoslovak inventories in the early 1990s. Image analysis by Jane’s Defence Weekly (20 April 2011) “suggests that most of the deployed vehicles have been the T-72”.

Italy is a more recent example. Also according to Jane’s out of Syrias estimated total of 1,600 T-72 tanks “more than 100 […] were to be upgraded in a contract with Galileo Avionica of Italy”. As part of this deal, in 2008 the Italian government granted arms export licences for spare parts of TURMS fire control systems worth € 2.8 million. Actual delivery took place in 2009 by Galileo Avionica, part of state-owned Finmeccanica one of Europe’s largest arms producers.

Earlier Italy also sold sophisticated night vision systems for T-72 tanks to Syria. According to the EU arms export report on 2002 the Italian government approved arms sales to Syria for over € 18 million which are said to be part of a major contract worth 266 million euro. The contracts were signed in 1998 and never suspended, despite continuing allegations of human rights violations by the Syrian government, according to researcher and activist Giorgio Beretta.

Despite the very real threat of government violence against its citizens, many thousands of Syrians went out on the streets again last Friday. According to a New York Times article one of the demonstrators slogans was “No dialogue with tanks and soldiers”. At least 26 people reportedly were killed.

[FS, 22 May 2011]