This week marks the one-year anniversary of government tanks rolling into Deraa to crush anti-regime protests. It's been another week of stalling and inactivity. Kofi Annan went to the country to try to sweet-talk Assad into a ceasefire and failed, and the President announced that parliamentary elections would be held in May. Many regime opponents are skeptical about the idea of holding an election while the country is in the midst of a brutal crackdown, and so the move is widely seen as another delaying tactic while Assad busies himself with eliminating the revolutionaries. On Tuesday, Russia, however, has signaled that it is willing to support Kofi's envoy as long as there are no ultimatums.
I have no idea why it's taken the media and the international community this long to realize the regime is not interested in serious talks. As long as they're backed up by China and Iran, a few strong words from the UN or a chat with Kofi Annan (who led the UN through both the Srebrenica massacre and the Rwandan genocide) will make no difference. After all, this is a government directed by a man who sent his wife an MP3 of Blake Shelton singing "God Gave Me You" the day before ordering 300 rockets to be fired at civilians in Baba Amr.
Thanks to some cunning hacktivists, not only do we know that Assad's a mass-murdering sociopath, we also know he has fucking terrible taste in music.
On Saturday, a series of explosions hit state security buildings in Damascus. However, these buildings are housed in what is now a heavily defended part of the city. It was also the day when all the 300 staff were off work. Though state TV is claiming that the Free Syrian Army were behind the bombings, other rumors point the finger at al-Qaeda, and some even believe it was a false flag operation carried out by the state against itself to increase anti-FSA feeling. If the FSA had the capabilities to carry out such an attack, why wouldn't they have attacked the Presidential palace up the street?
Dispatches from our activist friends inside Homs have now dried up. Thankfully, the campaign group Avaaz has been an excellent source of information. On Thursday, Avaaz received word from Syrian citizen journalists of a large group of children in the district of Rifai showing signs of severe torture:
"A few FSA soldiers and activists entered some houses in the Rifai district adjacent to Karam El-Zeiton after hearing news about massacres committed against neighborhood families by the army. They were surprised to find 32 children and two women in their twenties, still alive despite being severely injured."
"They were all suffering from different types of injuries: stab wounds on the neck, chest and abdomen, in addition to broken bones and cut fingers. One of the two women was still alive after being shot five times and the fingers of one children were chopped off."
One of the women who survived the massacre said: "Two days ago we were gathered by the troops, they started to insult us using obscene and extremely sectarian words and then began killing people one by one."
Of the children, 18 have been taken back to what relatives of theirs remain in Homs. The others, some of them less than three years old, are being taken care of by women in field hospitals since no one can find their families.
What is more, this past week, Amnesty International released a report detailing the types of torture used by the regime. Compiled from the testimonies of survivors, the report is titled
andlists methods that include crucifixion, rape, electrocution, gouging of the skin with pliers or knives, whipping, and genital mutilation.
Amnesty has since used its website to urge the UN to take action against Assad and his human rights violations, and eventually prosecute him in a court of international law.
On the other hand, today Human Rights Watch has come out with a statement accusing the opposition rebels of also committing serious abuses, including the kidnapping and torture of security forces, exemplifying the complex nature of this uprising.
This week, Assad's forces focused their attention on the FSA stronghold of Idlib, which fell on Tuesday after days of fierce street fighting. This leaves the FSA with no major urban centers of control in the North, though their presence in the rest of the Idlib district is substantial. The FSA have staged a number of hit-and-run attacks on regime forces for months, but this week these attacks have become more brazen:
In just a few weeks talk of Arab states arming the FSA have increased, with one Arab diplomat telling AFP that Saudi Arabia, which closed its embassy in Damascus this week, was delivering military equipment to Syrian rebels.
“Saudi military equipment is on its way to Jordan to arm the Free Syrian Army,” the diplomat said, on condition of anonymity. “This is a Saudi initiative to stop the massacres in Syria.” Maybe those weapons have already crossed the border:
Though it seems the FSA can handle regime tanks without Saudi Arabia's help:
Many FSA Katibas (fighting units), however, do not have access to heavy weapons and so are forced into desperate methods when attacking regime outposts and checkpoints. One of these tactics is to get as many men as possible to charge at a target and hope that they're able to overrun it:
In an effort to halt the flow of weapons, fighters, refugees, and journalists in and out of Idlib, the Syrian army has taken to laying land mines along the border with Turkey, a move which has unsurprisingly been condemned by human rights organizations.
This tactic is characteristically callous of the regime, as the majority of the victims are innocent refugees fleeing the violence they're faced with, and these mines will be there for decades, posing an extreme risk for generations to come.
Early on Monday, President Assad woke to the sound of heavy gunfire in Damascus as fighting raged between army defectors and regime forces in the district of Mazzeh. This district has seen anti-government demonstrations in the past, and Reuters reports that early on Monday morning, 18 regime soldiers were wounded after three hours of gun battles with defectors, using RPGs and machine guns.
"These clashes were the most violent and the closest to the security force headquarters in Damascus since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution," said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Battles this close to the center of the city will trouble the regime deeply, and don't help the rumors that it doesn't fully control its capital. For updates on the situation in Damascus, click here.
On Tuesday, rebels were pushed out of the eastern city of Deir al-Zor by armed forces reportedly. The Free Syrian Army fled in a effort to avoid a civilian massacre. The fierce assault, led by tanks, is one of the most recent setbacks in their movement to topple Assad.
So, all in all, not a happy anniversary for the revolution, but some chinks of light through the clouds, at least; though it's taken the flooding of Turkey's borders and the disappearance of two of its journalists for Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, to suggest that action might have to be taken against Assad.
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Previously – Week Five