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The key question is what comes next. The Reform Party of Syria says that on April 8, the IRGC commanders in Syria decided that the demonstrations in Daraa must be violently put down in order to demoralize the opposition elsewhere in the country. It is possible that Assad and the IRGC have decided that it is best to keep out of the world’s headlines by only killing a limited number of people in one spot each day, but an all-out assault on Daraa is a distinct possibility.
There are strong indications that the Syrian regime is planning major action. The military has surrounded Daraa, and its communications have been cut off. The same has been done to Banias, where five tanks have been seen and the Allawite Shabbiha militia is reported to be deploying. The Syrian Republican Guard has been deployed to two towns in Homs where tanks have also been seen, and power and communication has been cut off in some areas. There are reports that in Aleppo, some roads have been closed, hundreds of Shabbiha have been mobilized, and several tanks have been seen at the western entrance.
It is apparent that the Syrian regime must take aggressive action far beyond what has been already been undertaken to ensure its survival. The protests every Friday significantly grow each week, with the citizens of more and more towns joining. Damascus is even becoming the scene of unrest, with the regime killing at least eight protesters in Douma earlier this month, which lies on the outskirts of the capital. On April 11, an estimated 1,500 students demonstrated at Damascus University and were met with gunfire that killed one student.
The Damascus Declaration organization is asking the international community to exert pressure on the Assad regime to stop the violence. It is specifically requesting that the Arab League place sanctions on it. The White House has finally issued a forceful condemnation of the violence, but the U.S. ambassador to Syria has yet to be recalled. Secretary of State Clinton’s remark that Assad is a “reformer” indicates the Obama administration still sees the Syrian regime as a government that can somehow be won over.
The news about the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ leading role in the effort to stamp out the uprising puts an end to the illusion about the nature of the Syrian regime. Assad presents a much greater threat to the West than Qaddafi does, yet the U.S. has been slow and weak in its response to the uprising. At the very least, the ambassador should be withdrawn. The U.S. should abandon the false belief that Assad’s regime can change.
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