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A grenade attack on Baath Party headquarters in an upscale section of Damascus on Saturday apparently caused no injuries and did little damage. But the symbolic impact of the attack was clear: armed insurgents, including many military defectors based in Turkey, have taken the conflict to a new level by striking at the heart of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the capital city. The attack comes as Islamists in the Syrian National Council have begun to emerge as major players in the opposition group.
The attack also comes as the Arab League appears ready to ratchet up the pressure on Assad after a deadline to implement the peace deal agreed to between the League and the Syrian government passed without any visible change to the behavior of the Syrian military toward civilian demonstrators.
Opposition groups have formally asked Turkey to intervene militarily to protect civilians, an idea that Ankara seems to be seriously entertaining. A newspaper with close ties to the government of Prime Minister Erdogan reports that Turkey would not take such action without approval from both the UN and the Arab League. This is not likely to happen until the League exhausts its diplomatic options for implementing the peace deal.
The deal, inked earlier this month, called for Assad to release all political prisoners, withdraw the military from cities and towns, and allow 500 Arab League observers to enter Syria to ensure that the conditions of the pact were being carried out. The League gave Assad a Saturday deadline to live up to his end of the bargain, but instead, the Syrian military renewed attacks on several cities and the regime attempted to renegotiate the terms involving the number of Arab League observers who would be allowed in. On Sunday, the League refused to renegotiate the status of the observers. Arab foreign ministers planned to meet on Thursday to decide what steps to take next to pressure Assad to halt his slaughter of civilians.
Diplomatic activity was also picking up over the weekend as France called for more European Union sanctions on Syria, while other European powers planned to ask the UN Human Rights Council to pass a resolution condemning the Assad regime for the crackdown. While not requiring the Security Council to take action, the resolution would be taken to the General Assembly where overwhelming passage would be expected.
There will be no action taken by the Security Council because both Russia and China oppose any sanctions on Syria and are unalterably opposed to any Libyan style intervention. To underscore the latter, Haaretz is reporting that a Syrian news agency has announced that Russian ships will enter the country’s territorial waters in order to deter any intervention that might be forthcoming from the UN or the West.
The “Free Libyan Army” based in Turkey alternately took credit and denied responsibility for the grenade attack on Baath Party headquarters. The FSA, made up of former Syrian soldiers who have deserted and defected to the opposition, has a long way to go to being an effective military counter to Assad’s armored units, which occupy many large cities around the country. British ambassador to Syria, Simon Collis, told the Wall Street Journal, “The fact that people have popped off a couple of RPGs at nighttime against symbolic targets — that by itself only means that something is happening in Damascus that wasn’t happening before.” While true, the armed opposition certainly appears to be coalescing under the FSA banner which brings the day closer when a serious civil war could break out and the entire country will be forced to choose sides.
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