While the Arab League met in Rabat on Wednesday to enforce Syria’s suspension from the organisation, Syrian opposition groups claimed that army defectors attacked military facilities in several locations around Damascus. If confirmed, this could be the first salvo of a civil war. By KHADIJA PATEL.
The anti-Assad, Free Syrian Army used a Facebook post on Tuesday to announce to the world that army defectors launched a coordinated attack against several military facilities in Damascus. “The Free Syrian Army carried out special operations in all Damascus areas to foil a plan being prepared by the regime against our people and to send a message to the regime that the Free Syrian Army can hit anywhere and anytime,” the post said.
According to the Facebook post, the defectors inflicted “many casualties” on government forces but the claims are yet to be independently verified. US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman however pleaded with the opposition “to continue to reject violence. To do otherwise would, frankly, make the regime’s job of brutal repression easier” while crippling domestic and international support for the protests. Throughout this year, Assad has defended his crackdown against anti-government demonstrations, arguing that his government was battling an armed insurrection. The bold claims of attacks by the Free Syrian Army then validate Assad’s arguments.
Feltman has issued a terse warning against further violence. “It will play into the regime’s hands, divide the opposition, and undermine international consensus against the regime,” he said. He refrained however from labelling the anti-government violence as an attack, saying instead that some protestors were “taking up arms in self-defence” against the crackdown.
Feltman also revealed that Arab leaders have privately told the United States that they have offered Assad asylum in a bid to get him to step down. “Some Arab leaders already have begun to offer Assad safe haven in an effort to encourage him to leave peaceably and quickly,” he said.
After the Arab League met in Rabat in Morocco on Wednesday, Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani said, “We are close to the end of the road as far as the (Arab League's) efforts on this front are concerned." The League has already suspended Syria from the organisation and it suspected that it would enforce economic sanctions against Damascus if Assad continues with the crackdown. The League has now given Syria three days to agree to end its crackdown on protesters and allow teams of observers into the country.
Supporters of Assad responded by hurling their anger at the Arab League on two Arab embassies in Damascus. The crowds threw stones and debris and sprayed graffiti on the walls of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embassy. "You bastards, you agents of Israel," read some of the graffiti on the UAE embassy, witnesses are reported to have said.
Israel itself remains wary of the developments in Syria. The head of Israel’s defence ministry’s diplomatic-security bureau Amos Gilad is reported to have warned of a possible “Islamic empire” if Assad were to be ousted. Gilad said that the removal of the Syrian leader would lead to a “devastating crisis for Israel”. Gilad believes that Israel would be threatened by “wars with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria and Jordan if the Syrian Revolution succeeds in overthrowing al-Assad’s regime.” He argued that the Brotherhood, one of Egypt’s largest political organisations, with branches in Jordan and Syria, “aims to eliminate Israel and build an Islamic empire” controlling the entire region and destroy Israel.
France however has shown no such reservation in its response to the Syrian crisis. On Wednesday the French government recalled its ambassador to Damascus, further intensifying diplomatic pressure on Assad. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France was working with the Arab League on a draft resolution on Syria at the United Nations. The resolution is not likely to succeed as Russia continues to be opposed to punitive measures against Syria.
In the meanwhile, Syria says it remains committed to the Arab League peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of troops from urban areas and the release of prisoners and a dialogue with the opposition. State media said more than 1,000 prisoners, including prominent dissident Kamal Labwani, were freed on Tuesday. Human rights campaigners contend that tens of thousands more are still in detention. Something is indeed rotten in the state of Syria. DM
- Syria’s economy is key to Assad’s future in The Washington Post;
- Syria opposition fails to convince Russia over Assad in BBC News;
- Robert Fisk: Assad will only go if his own tanks turn against him in The Independent;
- Is the Syrian Conflict Turning Against Assad? In The Atlantic.