According to the UN, Syria's brutal uprising can now "boast" over 9,000 dead human beings and 300,000 displaced ones. Those are big numbers, but as real as shit evidently is, the international community is yet to make any serious attempt to bring the conflict to a close. This past week has seen a lot of diplomatic posturing from both sides with the biggest development being that, on Tuesday, President Assad agreed to Kofi Annan's UN-brokered peace plan.
As expected, the acceptance of the peace plan – the terms of which bound Assad to a ceasefire, the release of political prisoners and negotiations with the opposition – was met with widespread scepticism. In the past, Assad has used the ruse of diplomatic talks to buy himself more time to crush the rebellion, and many believe this is another instance of Assad playing hard to get.
On Sunday, the 'Friends of Syria' got together once more in Istanbul to discuss the crisis and US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, threatened Assad with action unless he implements the peace plan he agreed to. Clinton, addressing the 83 nations represented at the talks, said, "Nearly a week has gone by, and we have to conclude that the regime is adding to its long list of broken promises. The world must judge Assad by what he does, not by what he says. And we cannot sit back and wait any longer." This may sound like tough talk, but as of yet no serious agreements have been made by the FOS on what to do if Assad fails to stick to the peace plan. Once again, though, it was Saudi Arabia that was the most vocal in terms of arming the rebel Free Syrian Army by describing it as their "duty to do so". The US reiterated its plan to supply the FSA with better communications equipment so that they could better coordinate their attacks, and the UK pledged a further £500,000 in "non-lethal" aid.
The Friends of Syria came to another, more interesting agreement, which states that from now on rebel fighters will be paid a salary and regime troops who defect to the FSA will also receive some cash. The money will be stumped up by the wealthy Gulf States and is, in effect, a way of arming the rebels. After all, it is a well-known fact that for months fighters have funded weapon purchases themselves – this should give them a bit of a breather.
Without significant international help, the FSA will continue to struggle to keep the rebellion alive. At the moment, they hold no major urban centres and suffer from a lack of ammunition. But there are still other factors that could help bring down the regime: Early this week, France 24 reported on food shortages in the capital, Damascus. Due to inflation, food prices have skyrocketed and so bread is now the only food many ordinary Syrians can afford to put in their mouths. Queues for it are long and many bakeries run out of it fast.
There are also reports of gas and electricity shortages and, on top of this, the Syrian Pound has taken a beating and is now worth just 10p. Sanctions mean that many Syrian exports, including oil, are not reaching their destinations, bringing down government revenue. On a more "positive" note, Reuters reports that Iran is shipping Syrian oil to China, boosting revenue to the tune of $80milllion and keeping Iran's only Sunni-majority ally alive for a few more months.
The economic crisis will pile further pressure on the regime and help sew more unrest among communities that may have not been supportive of the rebellion from the outset. If the FSA can bring in food for civilians using their newfound windfall, then maybe they've got a chance at winning over more of the population.
In a brazen move, President Assad visited the devastated neighbourhood of Baba Amr in Homs. Once the crux of the revolution, Baba Amr is now mostly rubble. Assad claimed that Baba Amr would once again return to normal as he talked to local residents (or loyal staff dressed as local residents, if you wanna get cynical about it) flanked by security forces and supporters. The visit was short, as his army is still busy putting down the rebellion in other areas of the city by executing male civilians of fighting age and shelling anti-regime neighbourhoods:
On Saturday, President Assad claimed that the revolution was over and the FSA were beaten. As expected, the rebels had something to say about that:
In cities under siege it's extremely difficult to retrieve the bodies of people killed by snipers, as the risk of getting yourself killed while doing so is obviously a lot higher. The video below shows the brave lengths that Syrians will go to to get their loved ones off the street:
In the face of the regime's onslaught, the FSA have increasingly targeted army commanders in very public and brutal assassinations. Last week, two army colonels were killed on their way to work in Syria's second city of Aleppo, and other army officials in Hama were also killed. These assassinations, hit-and-runs and the IED attacks on troop columns and tanks demonstrate that the FSA has become more of an insurgency group than a fully-fledged rebel army, and is learning to play to its strengths. These attacks, as well as being deadly, also sap the morale of the army's remaining forces, further increasing the already large number of defections.
Talking of defections, the above video shows one of the three generals that switched allegiance to the FSA this week. Yet another blow to the regime and a great boost for the rebellion, then. If these generals can quickly link up with the FSA's leadership they could help them improve their attacks and reveal valuable information on the regime, offering them the edge in future confrontations.
In other news:
In previous updates we've spoken of the use of landmines by the regime to halt the flow of weapons and fighters into the country. This week, CNN have found solid evidence of minefields planted at the border with Turkey.
Two British journalists of Algerian descent were killed in northern Syria this week by regime troops as they were making a documentary on the uprising.
In Deir Ez Zour, the local FSA took their revenge upon the hated Shabiha militia by burning them alive after ambushing them in the city. Or so this video alleges.
See you next week for more lols.
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Previously: Syrian Slaughter Update - Week Seven