The Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad looks prepared to fight to the death in its brutal battle against pro-democracy protesters who have been calling for the downfall of the regime since March.
The death toll has spiked in recent weeks. LCCSyria.org said on November 16 that 376 people had been killed since the regime agreed on November 2 to a “peace plan” drawn up by the Arab League — a group of 22 countries led by Saudi Arabia.
Syrian human rights lawyer and activist Razan Zaitouneh told Democracy Now on November 14 that more than 4100 people had been killed by the government during the uprising.
Protesters have rallied daily in cities all across the country, showing incredible bravery in the face of regular killings, torture and arbitrary arrests. General strikes have also been held, with up to 90% of people taking part in some cities, Zaitouneh said.
Up to 15,000 soldiers have also defected to the opposition, the BBC said on November 16.
The Assad regime was dealt a blow on November 12 when the Arab League threatened to expel it over the repression. The Arab League extended its deadline for the end of repression to November 20, Bloomberg.com said on November 17.
The move is deeply hypocritical, since many of the leaders that pushed for the ban have brutally repressed pro-democracy activists in their own countries.
Jadaliyya co-editor Bassam Haddad told Democracy Now on November 14: “It is almost like … Israel speaking on behalf of equal rights or the United States speaking on behalf of international law.”
Despite its belated timing, Syrian activists have welcomed the decision as a step to isolate the regime. Zaitouneh told Democracy Now: “The international community were saying that they can’t do anything, because Arab countries are still supporting the regime. Now there is no reason to just stay watching.”
The Ghad Democratic Coalition said on November 13: “This move is an important answer to the demands of the Syrian people … This is first and foremost an achievement based on the sacrifices made by the Syrian revolutionaries.”
The Western powers continue to rule out a Libya-style invasion. Under Assad, Israel’s border with Syria has been stable, despite the Assad regime’s anti-Zionist rhetoric. This made regime change a questionable prospect for the West.
However, this is changing with the declining ability of Assad to maintain control. The West’s promotion of peak opposition group, the Syrian National Council, indicates imperialist powers are looking for an alternative to Assad, while continuing to rule out direct military means.
The ongoing bloodbath in Libya three months after the destruction of the Gaddafi regime suggests Western military intervention will increase the violence faced by Syria’s people. About 30,000 people have been killed in Libya since the March 17 UN resolution authorising NATO’s involvement.
Haddad told Democracy Now that one possible weak point for the regime was the economic cost of the ongoing crackdown.
“There will come a point in the next few months, and one hopes much earlier, where this will become an internal debate within the Syrian regime, because it’s going to cost ever more to actually continue this oppression, and that might spark some sort of compromise internally…
“There is a slow drain of business people that have been supporting the regime early on, but now they are basically defecting, so to speak, in a very silent manner. I suspect that the defection of the business classes from the regime’s ranks is going to continue and increase very rapidly.”
This drop in elite support has been pushed by economic sanctions imposed by the US and European Union on individuals connected with the regime. A further 18 people were added to the EU’s list, Reuters said on November 14.
LCCSyria.org released a report on November 15 detailing the government’s human rights violations between October 16 and 31. The report said 384 people were killed by the regime in that period — 313 were civilians, including 20 children. Nineteen people were killed under torture in prisons.
More than half the deaths had occurred in Homs, which has been the focal point of protests since the uprising began.
Hundreds of others were badly injured in the assaults. The report contained images and links to videos showing graphic details of the deaths of some protesters. Among these are images of children deliberately killed by security forces.
The report also said hundreds of others, including children, were arrested and abused — many on an arbitrary basis. Security forces also engaged in arbitrary home raids, looting, vandalism and denied people access to medical treatment.
Among the many horrific events, the report included one episode that typified the government’s brutal and vindictive attitude. In Homs on October 21, security forces fired on a demonstration and on a group exiting a mosque. An ambulance helping the wounded was fired on and forced to stop.
“The driver, medical crew, and the wounded were forced out of the ambulance, thrown on the ground, and beaten,” the LCCSyria.org report said. “Thugs (Shabiha) then killed the injured and disfigured their bodies.
“One of the injured was beaten on the head and feet several ties [sic] with the butt of a machine gun, while another injured person’s eye was gouged. The injured were stabbed with sharp knives in the hands, legs, and necks before they were transferred to the Air Force Military Intelligence branch.”