For much of the past two years, Israel stood sphinx-like on the sidelines of Syria’s civil war. Did it want Bashar al-Assad’s regime toppled? Did it favour military intervention to help opposition forces? And what did it think of the increasing visibility of Islamist groups in Syria? It was difficult to guess.
Syrian Arab Republic
The mass, democratic uprising that broke out in Syria in 2011 against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad has increasingly turned into a prolonged civil war, with violence worsening and accusations of war crimes levelled against the regime and sections of the armed opposition. The situation has been worsened by the intervention of Western-allies in the region, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, selectively arming Islamic fundamentalist sectors of the anti-Assad forces.
The latest United Nations figures put the death toll from the conflict in Syria a third higher than previous estimates by the UN and anti-government activists. “We can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of 2013,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a January 2 statement. “The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking.” The UN has compiled a list of 59,648 named individuals reported killed between March 15, 2011, and November 30, 2012.
Angered by the non-stop, one-sided propaganda on CNN and BBC World, usually a prelude to NATO bombing campaigns (including the six-month onslaught on Libya, the casualties of which are still hidden from the public) or direct occupations, I was asked to explain my views on RTV. I did so, denouncing the promotion of the Syrian National Council by Western media networks and pointing out that some of the armed-struggle opposition were perfectly capable of carrying out their own massacres and blaming them on the regime.
Free Syrian Army (FSA) leader Abdul Salaam types on his Dell laptop while a comrade sitting nearby taps a text message on his iPhone. Eight of his fighters lounge around an apartment living room late one night. Their 150-man brigade, Ahrar Syria (Free People of Syria), even has its own Facebook page. The brigade sports modern techno gadgets, but it lacks sophisticated arms and ammunition. So instead of fighting in the battle of Aleppo, the militants help smuggle refugees and injured fighters from war-torn Syria into Turkey.
The 50-year rule of the Ba’ath Party in Syria looks to be effectively over. In the past month armed clashes have spread to the Syrian capital, Damascus, and the largest city, Aleppo. Armed opposition forces have taken control of several border points. On August 6, Prime Minister Riad Hijab defected to the opposition. The regime of Bashar al-Assad — who inherited the presidency in 2000 from his father, Hafez al-Assad, who seized power in a 1970 military coup — no longer controls the country.
Despite escalating rhetoric and sectarian violence, it seems for the time being NATO is not planning a direct military assault against Syria along the lines of its attack on Libya last year. If NATO had been looking for a pretext for such an assault, the June 22 shooting down by Syrian forces of a air force F4 phantom jet belonging to NATO member Turkey provided one ― notwithstanding evidence the plane was shot down in Syrian airspace.
The United Nations estimated in March that in the year since the Syrian uprising began, 9000 people had been killed, most by the regime of President Bashar Assad. However, the opposition’s share of the killing has been rising. Wthin the Syrian opposition, the non-violent intifada has been increasingly overshadowed by sometimes foreign-backed armed groups and religious extremists, who have begun carrying out suicide bombings.
Syria has been rocked by fresh violence despite the agreement of all five permanent United Nations Security Council members and the Syrian government to a six-point peace plan. The plan calls for a “Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people”. Unlike previous Western-backed initiatives, the proposal does not call for the resignation of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It calls on the regime to release arbitrarily detained people, ensure freedom of movement for journalists and to respect freedom of association.
The Western media reported on March 3 that the rebel city of Homs had fallen to forces of the Assad regime after a bloody 26-day siege. There were reports of a humanitarian disaster in the city and widespread killings.