Syria's Deadly Deadline

Protesters are given final warning to turn themselves in by Sunday.

The death toll from the Bashar Assad regime’s violent suppression of the Syrian uprising is now up to 800 and is likely to jump significantly during Friday’s protests. At least 10,000 have been detained, taking up so much space that soccer stadiums are being used as prisons. Now, the Interior Ministry has given a final warning to all who have protested: turn yourself in by May 15 or face serious consequences.

The regime claims that 1,083 protesters have given in to the threat. Those that admit to taking part in the demonstrations are given amnesty if they sign a pledge to never join activities that undermine the government. The regime is also warning that it will not tolerate any protests that it does not authorize in advance.

At the same time, Assad is trying to make it seem as if he is willing to change and respond to the demands of the Syrian population. Just recently he said he is giving orders to his security services not to fire upon protesters during the Friday protests, but he has yet to even admit that his forces have done so in the past. His regime claims that it is fighting Salafist terrorists and gangs and that these foes are the ones firing upon protesters, not government personnel. This declaration by the regime that it will not fire on civilians is a repetition of the lies it has been telling all along.

The regime has announced it will hire 10,000 university graduates every year, and it earlier lifted the state of emergency, a meaningless concession that changed nothing. It also says that a committee reviewing election laws will propose reforms within two weeks, including allowing political parties other than the ruling Baathists to participate. This is also a deceitful tactic, as the regime knows it can use fraud and intimidation to make the results whatever it wishes. It is also setting up a pro-regime Islamist party under the direction of a close friend of Assad as part of this some appeasement game.

At least 24 people have been killed in the past two days alone, including 13 in Hara where tanks shelled four homes. The military is carrying out sieges instead of direct assaults on troublesome areas of the country. The expulsion of journalists from these areas allows the regime to limit the flow of information, and the siege forces the population into submission without massacres that cause internal and international backlash. For example, the regime claims its military has withdrawn from Daraa, but residents consistently report that there is a humanitarian disaster in the city, with citizens unable to access food, water, electricity, medicine and communications.

The story is the same in Homs, Jassem, Banias and other cities. Tanks are now circling the town of Hama, the city that Assad’s father massacred in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood revolted. The regime is particularly concerned about the unrest in areas in and around Damascus. Its Allawite “shabeeha” militia has attacked civilians in the Midan area of the capital, and large raids have been carried out in the nearby town of Zabadani, with at least 80 arrested. Tanks also entered Madaya, 40 kilometers northwest of Damascus, and residents report their communications being cut off. In the Saqba suburb of Damascus, 286 people were arrested in house-by-house searches.

There are reports of small-scale military defections. The regime regularly reports that police officers and soldiers have been murdered by the “terrorists” and “gangs,”  but the opposition says this is a way of justifying crackdowns and covering up the execution of those who refuse to fire on civilians. On May 7, the regime claimed that ten soldiers were murdered in Homs, but the opposition said 9 had defected. It has been confirmed that there was a two-hour clash in the city between military personnel and that at least one soldier was executed for turning on the regime. Other opposition sources have reported defections in al-Rustun.

Al-Jazeera has learned that some soldiers from the 5th Division in Daraa acted to protect civilians being fired upon by the 4th Division led by Maher Assad, resulting in fighting for hours in front of Bilal Mosque. The network reported that about 20 soldiers had sided with the people, but the regime has made it very difficult for information to come out of the areas under siege, and unconfirmed reports indicate the number could be significantly higher.

The Reform Party of Syria reports that an army officer named Safok Khalifa in Homs and 35 of the men in his unit refused to fire on civilians, resulting in their executions. There has yet to be a large-scale defection of government officials, but at least 233 members of the Baath Party have resigned their membership, including 203 from Daraa and 30 from Banias.

The international community is finally reacting to the Assad regime’s inhumanity. The U.S. has placed sanctions on three senior Syrian officials, and the European Union has approved an arms embargo and sanctioned 14 officials, though Assad himself has been spared for now. The U.N. Human Rights Council has voted in favor of investigating the abuses, and now, the Obama Administration is reportedly moving towards calling for Assad’s resignation.

Assad is a dictator that makes good on his threats and will stop at nothing to crush whoever stands in his way. It is not known what Assad is planning on doing after the May 15 deadline passes, but there is little time for the international community to pressure him into backtracking on whatever evil he plans on carrying out.