Syria’s Descent into Darkness

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Violence erupted in three Syrian cities over the weekend as President Bashar Assad continues his efforts to put down incipient revolts against his 11 year rule. But while protests against the regime appeared to be spreading, the government mounted a number of massive demonstrations in support of the dictator in Damascus, as well as Syria’s second largest city, Aleppo.

Most troubling for Assad is the specter of sectarian violence in the city of Homs that raised its head for the first time in the revolt, and the defection of a significant military force in the Iraqi border town of Abu Kamal. This may be a signal that the conscripts that have been ordered to shoot down civilians in the streets are weakening in their allegiance to the regime despite brutal methods to keep them in line.

And in another sign that the rebellion isn’t going to be put down easily, Syrian activists met in Istanbul over the weekend and formed a 25-man “National Salvation Council” made up of all segments of the opposition to challenge President Assad’s hold on the country.

More than 350 activists, many of them Syrian exiles, established the Council with the goal of “reaching out towards other opposition groups to lead the country towards the democratic vision we have, according to spokesman Haitham al-Maler. Made up of liberals, independents, and Islamists, the opposition debated whether to form a “government in waiting” or await the outcome of events in Syria. The day-long meeting, according to Reuters, was fractious at times. The Council was a compromise solution and further meetings were scheduled to attempt to bring groups operating within Syria into the organized opposition. The Syrian army broke up preparations for the meeting of opposition figures in Damascus who were planning to connect electronically to the Istanbul conference, but a smaller group, meeting in a private residence, was able to link up to the activists in Turkey via internet phone.

If events over the weekend are any indication, they will have little problem in finding allies inside Syria. In the city of Zabadani on the Lebanese border, government forces rumbled into town in the pre-dawn hours and immediately set about the task of establishing check points and rounding up residents indiscriminately. Soldiers also went door to door in their sweep, hauling people away. Al Jazeera is reporting that at least 500 residents were arrested in Zanadani over the weekend.

The military was responding to the large protest that occurred on Friday where thousands of residents turned out to demonstrate against Assad’s rule. Human rights monitors and local citizens reported that electricity and phone service had been cut to the city and that residents were fearful of going outside, afraid of getting caught in the round up.

The situation was even more explosive in the Syrian border town of Abu Kamal. Troops were sent in on Friday to quell anti-government protests, but according to reports by both residents and activists, 200 of them, along with their tanks, defected to the side of the opposition. While the report could not be independently confirmed, activists posted video that appeared to show local residents welcoming tanks in the streets.

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  • Chezwick_mac

    The West and even Israel are ambiguous about seeing Assad – bad as he is – supplanted by a radical Sunni regime.

    My own feeling is that Syria's current set-up – a minority regime brutally suppressing the majority – is untenable. Some might argue that such a state of affairs is beneficial to Israel, that a chaotic, divided Syria is less of a threat. In my opinion, Syria will be remain inherently unstable as things stand…and as we all know, autocrats have a wicked tendency to try and distract their people by creating an external threat whenever they are threatened by internal upheaval.

    We've already seen Assad organize a march on the Golan border that ended when the demonstrators were dispersed by Israeli gunfire. Should his position deteriorate, don't be surprised if he does something Syria hasn't done since 1973: Provoke an armed clash on the Golan border. It matters not that Syrian forces will be badly mauled…in fact, that may just evoke more sympathy and support for the regime.

    Paradoxically, for all his support of Hamas and Hezbollah, Assad's regime is the last institutionally secular government in the Arab world. Its fall is inevitable. Policymakers in Tel Aviv and Washington best be preparing for the aftermath.

    • Amused

      I think there may have been a window of time for that , but it has now passed . A distraction on the border , is too little too late. Now even an armed clash would prove futile , for ther revolt juggernaut in Syria is on the move .An armed clash on he border now would only drain "resouces " Assad would need to continue his brutal suppression ofv the rebellion . Yes it is ironic , but the rebellion itself has its base as secular in a way , but risks being hijacked by islamist extremists . Another irony is what you mention , a Secular Government , tyranical in nature , yet backs the religious forces which caused so much trouble in Lebanon and Israel and aligning itself with Iran , a religious tyranical govt . is now about tofall victim to those same forces . I wonder who Iran really backs in this situation ? It's far too late , to blame Israel , for Assad has or will soon be surpassing his father in brutality .

      • Amused

        But these are not the days of Assad's father , where the slaughter of 10,000 , could be passed off , for atleast a time as rumor .Communications back then could be totally blocked and controlled . But since when has a "secular regime " been of any lesser danger ? All of Israel's wars were with "secular " regimes ….and with aid of their Soviet sponsors . The " Pan-Arab Dream " has not changed , However the sponsor has .The NEW sponsor seems to be Iran .

  • SHmuelHaLevi

    Syria's basis is islamic, Light or "extremeist" makes no difference.
    Deceiving the infidels allow for many of them to "look" secular, even liberal.
    The islamic cult of death is right under the surface in any country whole ppopular orientation is islamic.

    Israel is pursuing a course very well focused on that cult's inents.
    The US voters will have to make decisions far more difficult because of vested interests and other considerations.

  • Felsen Stark

    Excellent report, thanks Rick

  • AntiFascist18

    But Bonzo and that stupid silly shrew at Foggy Bottom won't lift a finger even as they bomb the tar out of Libya. Why? Because monkey manure likes Assad – and anyone who is willing to go to war against Israel.

    Any Jew who votes for Bonzo this time around should receive a mandatory Obamacare pre-frontal lobot. Ditto for all so-called Americans equally stupid enough to vote for the Kenyan simian.

    • Amused

      If Bachman gets the nomination…you just watch'em . BTW , the Republican party is beginning to take on the signs of a "religious fascist "party .Toomany of the candidates recieving "orders from above " and the electorate is sucking it up . To what percentage ? That will only be known closer to Election Day . Make no mistake , this election will be decided by Centrists and Independents . If someone like Bachman is the only alternative to Obama , guess what ……get ready for another 4 years where you can make monkey jokes .

      • Amused

        btw , YOU sound like a RACIST ….but you are "anti-fascist " , right ? Rrriiiight .

  • Marty

    syria is a fictitious country and a fake state divided rather hopelessly into religious and tribal enclaves. It should be allowed and even encouraged to disintegrate into half a dozen fiefdoms that would then be at war with one another and threfore too busy to cause mishchief in lebanon or anywhere else.

  • Ilpalazzo

    Pfft.. that's not 'darkness'.. that's the way the Middle East always was, always is and always will be. They'll never evolve.

  • Fred Dawes

    Its not only Syria its the world within one year this country will fall into madness, just look at both political parties are doing to the American people; this syria thing will mean nothing when the attacks on the monkey people of Iran start, about 8 weeks from now, this world will be somewhat nut's.

    It looks like the dogs of war have come to the monkeys of the muslim world.

  • Amused

    We're already there Fred .

  • Amused

    Only now , maybe …will the west [ EUROPE ] take another look at Iran , and stop enabling it on the path it is bent on . Where in the hell does anyone think the computers , software , and centrifuges are coming from ?

  • Indioviejo

    Isn't it time for the Kurds to have their own country? Mossad should be arming and training Kurds to fight the Syrians, Iranians, Iraquis, and the evil Turks for their independence. Lets not let a good crisis go to waste.