This past week had an eerie "history repeating itself" feel about it, as it marked the 20-year anniversary of the beginning of the Bosnian War. Like Syria, that conflict saw the violent deaths of thousands while the rest of the world sat back and watched through their TV sets in between reenactions of Jesus getting nailed to the cross.
A couple of weeks ago, President Assad agreed to the UN/ Arab League envoy of Kofi Annan's peace plan on Syria. This stipulated that his forces must withdraw today, Tuesday the 10th of April, and that a full ceasefire must be implemented 48 hours later. Many were sceptical about the agreement and rightly so, as Assad has used it as an excuse to kill as many people as possible before Tuesday. He has also now requested a written guarantee that the Free Syrian Army will cease operations before he orders a withdrawal, which he knows is almost impossible for the fractured and disparate rebels to agree to.
So far, however, there seems to have been no agreement on what to do if Assad fails to come through. The UN can't sanction the regime without having a massively adverse effect on the population and the international community has continued to reject armed intervention. So what can be done?
Well, for one thing, Turkey came out this week and said they would “implement steps” if the violence continues after today. No wonder they want something done about it as thousands of refugees (24,000 at the time of writing) cross over its borders with Syria, putting pressure on the already strained refugee camps and local hospitals. Solutions that have been discussed include setting up a "safe zone" inside Syrian territory protected by Turkish troops to safeguard the streams of refugees, and setting up a no-fly zone across northern Syria that will stop Assad from using his helicopters and jets to bombard anti-regime areas. That could backfire though, as it may provoke the Syrian army into a costly aerial battle.
Last week the "Friends of Syria" alliance agreed to pay the FSA fighters a salary in an effort to convince regime soldiers to defect. Yet, that announcement can also be seen as a way of indirectly arming the rebels, which could result in pitching the Friends of Syria into a proxy war with Syria and its powerful allies, Russia, Iran and China.
An opposition spokesman told The Guardian: "FSA people are in Istanbul right now waiting for deliveries." Apparently, deliveries of cash have also already been made to the rebels in Douma and Damascus.
In spite of all this "arming the rebels" talk, Syria's principal ally, Russia, doesn't seem to have worked up a single drop of sweat. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov just said that, "even If the opposition is armed to the teeth, it will not defeat the Syrian army," which I guess is a bit rich coming from a Russian whose entire military might was once defeated by the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Lavrov and Russia's only fear seems to be that if the West are to arm the FSA, they'll do so with much fancier hardware that will outshine those of the regime army, harming future Russian arms sales in turn.
As mentioned above, Assad has been desperate to crush as much of the oppostion as possible before the proposed ceasefire this week, and so there have been major regime offensives in Idlib, Homs and Damascus. Whole villages have been wiped out (64 civilians were killed in just one day last Tuesday) and thousands of refugees have flooded into Turkey – in some instances, over one thousand in one day. A citizen journalist working for Avaaz commented: “The situation is terrible. What the people of Syria are going through is unbearable and yet the world still watches the inhuman actions that are taken on an hourly basis. There are no changes whatsoever, despite the looming deadline set by Kofi Annan. In fact, Assad’s attacks on towns and villages have became more brutal in the past couple of days.”
Despite being pushed back by the overwhelming use of artilery and helicopters however, the FSA have managed to strike back:
Homs experienced the wrath of the regime once again with heavy shelling resuming across the city (see video below), while the arrests of civilians, mostly fighting-aged men, have now reached up to 1200.
On their part, after withdrawing over a month ago, the FSA have slowly trickled back into the city and struck back by taking the Homs national hospital from the Syrian army. Once inside, though, they found it had been used as a mass grave by the regime, with up to 70 bodies being found frozen in the morgue.
According to observers, the FSA now need to switch tactics. Before the regime started using artillery and helicopters against them the FSA could put up a good fight but now they're increasingly being forced out of areas they control. This has lead to many FSA fighters withdrawing to Turkey to re-group and re-arm and revert to guerrilla warfare:
So, what was highlighted this week was the gross and untrustworthy nature of a president who ramps up the bloodshed before a proposed ceasefire. Whether Assad can surprise us and keep to his word remains to be seen, but judging from the past week's developments I can pretty much guarantee that the barbarity will continue and the international community's bluff will be called.
In other news:
More evidence of the regime torturing children emerged this week as the Global Post conducted an interview with 13-year-old Hossam about how the Shabiha militia and army soldiers pulled his toenails out with pliers.
Assad's forces are panty-stealing thugs.
A video (warning: extremely graphic) was leaked on Sunday night by a member of the security forces showing a civilian being interrogated by regime troops who then beat him, set him on fire and finally slit his throat.
Reports from Turkey early on Monday indicated that the regime forces had fired at a refugee camp inside Turkey, killing two and wounding some 20 others. Will this be the straw that breaks the camel's back?
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Previously : Syrian Slaughter Update - Week Eight