A Bad Weekend to Live in Syria

Unfortunately, the transition from bad to worse is not ending soon

If you were thinking about spending a holiday in Syria, you might want to reconsider your plans (and perhaps read the news now and again). A quick glimpse at a newspaper would give you the frightening statistic of over 1,200 Syrian demonstrators killed by the regime and another 10,000 being held in prison, the story of Hamza al-Khatib, a 13-year-old who was tortured and killed, and the harrowing tale of Dorothy Parvaz, the Al Jazeera journalist who was detained for weeks and heard the tortured cries of detainees. Syrians, it would seem, are having a tough go of it at the moment. President Bashar al-Assad has apparently decided it better to kill off the Syrian population before stepping down from power, perhaps pushing the country closer to civil war. Yet, as if the constant threat of murder by the Syrian government wasn’t enough, this past weekend also witnessed a number of civilians killed in Syrian territory by the Israeli Defense Force. All things considered, it might be time to get out of the disintegrating country.

Before the Syrian government once again took on the growing Friday protests throughout the country on Friday, access to the internet was cut in order prevent protesters from uploading film and to disrupt communication. Yet when the internet was restored on Sunday, plenty of disturbing footage was shared with the world. The death toll for Fridays protest reportedly reached 70 while another 35 were killed on Saturday followed by 28 more on Sunday. While the larger cities, particularly the capital of Damascus and the second largest city of Aleppo, have not been particularly active in protests (reflecting, perhaps, the demographic and geographic disunity among the protest movement), there is not an end in sight for the current uprising and it hardly seems as though the government is contemplating a change of strategy.

Syrian civilians, though, are not the only ones being shot down as the country moves closer and closer to a Libya-style civil war. Syrian government sources are reporting that between 80 and 120 soldiers were ambushed and killed by armed gangs in the north of the country over the weekend, claiming that hundreds of armed gangs are roaming the Syrian countryside and attacking soldiers with various small arms and grenades. Syrian activists have claimed responsibility for taking out two helicopters and nine tanks, saying that the rebels in the north of the country have a supply of weaponry from across the Turkish border.

The danger, of course, is that the Syrian government will be able to justify its armed crackdown by pointing to violence by the protesters. Moreover, The opposition council that was recently established in Turkey could mature similarly to the National Transitional Council in Libya, leading to a split of the country and facilitating the transition to complete civil war. While reaching out to international organizations and other countries for support, the group has renounced violence as a means for toppling Assad and has rejected foreign intervention in Syria, raising questions over the way in which the Council will push for reform.

As the Syrian domestic situation continues its rapid deterioration, Syrians were also met with force elsewhere.* In commemoration of the Naksa – or the end of the 1967 war with Israel in which Israel captured the Golan Heights – Syrians and Palestinians approached the border fence only to be met with crowd dispersal control and live ammunition by the Israel Defense Force (IDF). Despite the commemoration officially being cancelled by Syria, between 10 (Israeli figure) and 23 (Syrian figure) protesters were killed as the IDF attempted to prevent the civilians from crossing into the Golan.

How the civilians were killed and whether the Israeli army used appropriate force is seriously in question. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has made the allegation that the Syrian government instigated violence along the border in order to detract attention from the emerging civil war. Barak’s logic is undermined by a similar attempt to cross into the Golan in commemoration of the Nakba on May 15 and the IDF has a history of being quick to pull the trigger against its Arab neighbors. The Syrian government, though, certainly has much to gain by attempting to bring international attention to the situation in the Golan.

It is easy to predict that the most recent clash with Israel along the Golan will soon fade considering the continuing escalation of violence throughout Syria. The body count across the country will only continue as the protests continue. Unfortunately, the devastation and death that most of Syria witnessed this weekend will only increase as the Syrian protesters develop more support, domestically and internationally, and the government hardens its stance vis-à-vis the movement.

If protesters are receiving weapons from across the Turkish border, the conflict will increasingly resemble a one-sided civil war where the government may find more justification for the destruction of a poorly trained and equipped rebel movement. The opposition council that was formed in Turkey stressed adherence to a strictly non-violent strategy in order to avoid the evolution of the demonstrations from a peaceful protest movement to an armed civil war in which the strength and sectarian loyalty of the army (nearly the entire army is Alawite) would ensure a quick military victory for the government.

Predicting how the conflict in Syria will evolve is a fruitless and an inevitably depressing hobby, but it is clear that neither the government nor the protest movement is losing determination. Perhaps the opposition will begin to arm or perhaps the growth of the movement will be stunted by the exclusion of many of the larger Syrian cities; one thing that is clear, though, is that avoiding Syria (and apparently any border or quasi-border with Israel) for the moment may be best for your personal wellbeing.

*The confrontation between Syrians/Palestinians and Israel occurred on the border between Syria proper and the Golan Heights. Israel has unilaterally annexed this area although international law considers the Golan Heights to be disputed territory. Many countries consider the Golan to be occupied Syria.

Photo from News Time

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