This past week in Syria has been yet another wonderful testament to the international community's complete inability to take action against Bashar Assad and his blatant defiance of anything remotely sensible – Kofi Annan's peace scheme, for example.
That was obvious outset this week, as Syrian forces fired across the Turkish border into a refugee camp in the town of Kilis, injuring at least five people and sparking conflicting reports on the deaths of two refugees. According to a Guardian report, the attack had Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan considering a response that would include measures the Syrian regime "don't want to think about". However, no action has actually been taken yet.
According to Annan's peace plan, Syria was meant to pull its forces back from major cities on Tuesday the 10th of April. Instead, Syrian monitoring group LCC reported that at least 101 people died that day.
It seems strange that anyone should expect Assad to suddenly become infatuated with the idea of peace (especially Annan), as he's been killing people for months and now has Russia, China and India backing him up. Depressingly, no one understands this better than the Syrian people – one activist was recently quoted as saying, "We only want to see the end of this regime. I can't forget the memories of the slaughter of the last year, or the repression of the last 40 years."
The bit in the peace plan about a complete ceasefire was meant to have been observed by both the Syrian regime and the Free Syrian Army from 6AM on Thursday. But the killings continued, albeit at a slower pace. In fact, "ceasefire" in Syrian now seems to mean the shelling of Homs, which on that day started at 5.45AM and continued for 45 minutes.
Thursday also saw a number of demonstrations take place all across the country. Unsurprisingly, many of these protests were also attacked by regime forces:
Since the "ceasefire" started, the violence has returned to "normal" levels with shelling completely resuming in Homs and other cities. This cameraman found out the hard way:
With Friday being a day that is traditionally reserved for prayers (and more recently for protests), this past Friday the 13th was an especially unlucky one for activists as many of their demonstrations were broken up by regime forces (though at least they did it quite tamely):
Anti-regime activists from Homs brought us this message:
"From under the rubble, the people in most neighbourhoods of Homs came out to send the world a message that they are still resilient. On the Friday that activists named "a Revolution for all Syrians", people from all over Syria and all backgrounds went out hand-in-hand to say that they want to overthrow this regime. People went out accompanied by members of the Free Syrian Army to confirm their commitment to the ceasefire despite the Assad regime’s violation of the agreement the past two days."
Later in the day, the regime stopped with the pretence of restraint and got back to shelling the shit out of residential areas:
And the next day a brave cameraman sniffed out one of the mortar positions used to bomb anti-regime areas in Homs:
In general, the FSA have been laying rather low, even though they never agreed to Kofi's peace plan. They did, however, find a few minutes to take a new tank out for a spin:
This lack of FSA activity could be explained as an attempt to observe the truce by attacking only when attacked first. Another possible reason could be that they are running low on weapons and ammunition. I guess it's difficult to ever really know, but a conference held by the Washington Institute tried to change that:
It's a long video but gives great insight into the FSA and their capabilities as a fighting force. Overall, the conference concluded that it'd be worth giving the FSA both non-lethal and lethal aid to help them achieve their goal of bringing down the regime.
From their extensive analysis we can summise:
- There is a total of 150 FSA formations, with roughly 3 - 14,000 troops in the ranks.
- There are tens of thousands more waiting to join – all they need is weapons and ammunition.
- Localised command-and-control centres are being formed to better co-ordinate the FSA's attacks across wider areas.
- Eight brigadier generals have so far defected to the FSA from the regime forces.
- There is an FSA presence in 11 of Sryia's 14 provinces.
- The regime has resorted to using a "scorched earth" policy in an attempt to drain support for the FSA.
- The government is not interested in a diplomatic solution with the FSA, only interested in a firepower solution by crushing all opposition, hence the use of artillery and attack helicopters.
- The regime only has 100,000 trigger pullers in its army (much less than the estimated 600,000) and so far has commited roughly 80 percent of its forces to battle.
Regardless of the Washington Institute's analysis, the international community is still no closer to arming the FSA. The UN security council voted to send five unarmed people to Damascus to observe the "ceasefire", with another 24 to join them later. This for a country with a population of 22 million.
The mission seemed doomed from the off, with British Secretary of State William Hague saying, "This number of people cannot possibly effectively monitor what is happening in the whole country. The plan will be for a much larger team, more in the hundreds of monitors, to follow them, provided the ceasefire plan is being implemented by all concerned." Which it clearly isn't.
Last week's update briefly compared the Syrian conflict to the Bosnian War. Now, all we need for this scenario to play out is the UN monitoring mission to fail.
In other news:
- The US discusses the possibility of a "safe zone" after the repeated breaches of the peace plan by Syria.
- Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institute has claimed that arming the rebels is becoming inevitable: “We’re almost backing into this. Initially it was diplomacy, then a concerted diplomatic campaign and now humanitarian aid. Each step is an escalation.” The U.S. has already given the rebels $25 million in humanitarian support, satellite communications equipment and night-vision goggles. “The next step is military aid,” he said.
- Journeyman pictures have released a film that gives an insight into what it's like for soldiers fighting for the regime, based on interviews with soldiers who've defected to the FSA. The film highlights the disturbing propoganda forced onto soldiers to co-erce them into killing civilians.
- In Aleppo, the FSA have their very own motorised Tour De France.
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Previously: Syrian Slaughter Update - Week Nine