As pressure mounts on Syria, Assad speaks with a forked tongue

By Khadija Patel 8 August 2011

The Syrian regime claims it is defending itself against gangs of armed criminals. Opposition activists and world leaders beg to differ, charging Bashar al Assad with a brutal assault on unarmed protesters. Pressure on Assad however continues to grow and political analysts in the Middle East believe that the world may well be witnessing the last vestiges of the Assad dynasty. By KHADIJA PATEL.

In diplomatic circles, Syrian President Bashar al Assad is a marked man. The Obama administration is said to be preparing to ask him to step down. The Russians, who had gone out to bat for Assad at the UN Security Council last week, have now issued Assad with a stinking rebuke. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, speaking on Russian television, appealed to Assad to carry out reforms and reconcile with his opponents, saying he risked a “sad fate” if he failed to do so. “Clean up your act, or else…” is what the Russians seem to be saying.

The US and the UK are still vacillating on how exactly to express their disdain of the Syrian regime but the Turkish regime has no such qualms. It is sending its foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, to Damascus on Tuesday to read the riot act to Assad. Saudi Arabia though has been peculiarly vociferous in airing its protest to the way Assad’s government has gone about its business of late.  In a move that signals strong opposition to the Syrian regime, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced that he had recalled the Saudi ambassador from Damascus. In a written statement read out on Al Arabiya televion, the King voiced his disapproval of Assad in these terms: “What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia.”

So far, the reprimands have yet to influence Assad to act with more clemency. Over the weekend, activists said that Syrian security forces had attacked the towns of Houleh and Deir Ezzor, killing at least four people.

The past week has seen scores of people killed in a siege of Hama, a city where Assad’s father launched a crackdown nearly 30 years ago, killing thousands.

Assad’s government defends its brutal onslaught, claiming it is combating criminals and armed extremists who have provoked violence by attacking its troops. Not so, say activists and Western countries who maintain Assad’s forces have attacked peaceful protesters. Hama has come under renewed attack and at least 13 people were killed on Friday. Assad asserts that Hama has been taken over by hooligans and terrorists. But even as mainstream media reports and Western governments’ condemnation of Syria have refuted Assad’s claims of an insurrection, Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies and associate professor at the University of Oklahoma, points out in his blog, Syria Comment, that though ample evidence has emerged to suggest that opposition forces in Syria have indeed taken up arms against the Syrian military, mainstream media reports have failed to acknowledge the possibility that Syria may well be on its way to civil war. Verification of either side’s version of events has been impossible since Assad barred foreign journalists from the country.

Although it is likely that Assad is indeed facing an armed insurrection in parts of the country, the Syrian military has responded with inordinate force. Syrian Human Rights groups claim more than 1,600 people have been killed so far and as Assad continues to roll tanks into Syrian towns that have grown more resolute in their opposition to his government, the UN Security Council may well be prevailed upon to offer a stronger response. Last week, the Security Council agreed to a formal statement condemning Damascus’ use of force. It was the Council’s first substantive response to the five-month-old uprising.

South Africa has so far expressed “concern” about the situation in Syria, “deeply regretting the loss of life”, calling “for an immediate end to the violence”, and urging “all sides to act with the utmost restraint, respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, and to refrain from reprisals”. The South African stance holds that the “only solution to the current crisis is through a Syrian-led political process that is inclusive, with the aim of effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the population which will allow for the full exercise of fundamental freedoms, including that of expression and peaceful assembly.” While the South African government has implored Assad’s regime to continue negotiations with opposition activists, the beleaguered democracy movement has spurned a decree by Assad permitting the formation of opposition parties.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined the burgeoning chorus of censure of Assad when he renewed his appeal for him to stop violence against civilians in light of the most recent crackdown. Speaking in Japan, the secretary-general told reporters that he had delivered a strong message to President Assad in a phone conversation ahead of his report on Syria to the Security Council due later this week. “I hope he takes that situation very seriously and takes necessary measures respecting the will of the people,” the UN chief is reported to have said.

Politicians though are not alone in their censure of Assad. Early on Monday the website of the Syrian Ministry of Defence was hacked by Anonymous who left this message: “To the Syrian people: The world stands with you against the brutal regime of Bashar Al-Assad. Know that time and history are on your side – tyrants use violence because they have nothing else, and the more violent they are, the more fragile they become. We salute your determination to be non-violent in the face of the regime’s brutality, and admire your willingness to pursue justice, not mere revenge. All tyrants will fall, and thanks to your bravery Bashar Al-Assad is next.

“To the Syrian military: You are responsible for protecting the Syrian people, and anyone who orders you to kill women, children, and the elderly deserves to be tried for treason. No outside enemy could do as much damage to Syria as Bashar Al-Assad has done. Defend your country – rise up against the regime! – Anonymous.” DM

Read more:

  • Syria’s Assad risks sad fate: Russian president, on Reuters;
  • Reports: Syrian army intensifies Hama assault, on Al Jazeera
  • Syrian protesters reject Assad gesture amid fresh bloodshed, in the Guardian; and
  • UN response to Syria blasted, in USA Today

Photo: Reuters


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