Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Syrian Dictator clutching at straws?

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As a post on the blog Harry's Place notes, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad running out of things to blame his current predicament on, he appears to be ramping-up violence to compensate. This is characterised by yet another watershed moment in the ongoing turmoil - Assad shelled the city of Latakia from the sea over the weekend, reportedly killing 21 people..

This week has been marked by a turning point in the Syrian uprising.

After playing the terror card, the Palestine card, the resistance card and the sectarian card, and with no sign of the Syrian uprising slowing down, this week the Assad regime has gone for broke by using gun boats to shell the city of Latakia... What do you do after gunboats? Aerial bombing campaigns?

To illustrate the extent to which the Syrian authorities are clutching at straws, the post goes on to point quote a Syrian state-controlled news agency denying that this shelling even happened - despite clear video evidence that they did, in fact, occur.

A military source denied Monday as "absolutely baseless" media reports that Syrian gunboats have shelled the southern al-Ramel neighborhood in the Mediterranean city of Latakia.

The source was quoted by Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) as saying Syrian gunboats are patrolling coasts to practice their routine duty in protecting coasts and preventing "weapons smuggling into the country via the Sea as it had happened in other areas." Sana said earlier that two law-enforcement members were killed Sunday during clashes with armed men in al-Ramel neighborhood. The confrontations led also to the killing of four members of the armed groups, Sana added. Residents of al-Ramel neighborhood had made distress calls for the authorities to put an end to the gunmen practices, said Sana.

In response to the escalation in Assad's violence, the international community has again stepped up its rhetoric on the Syrian regime. As reported by AP, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu has now threatened concrete actions against the Syrian authorities. For months, Syria has been ignoring Turkish condemnations and calls to end the violence.

"This is our final word to the Syrian authorities: Our first expectation is that these operations stop immediately and unconditionally," Mr. Davutoglu said at a news conference in Ankara, the Turkish capital. "If the operations do not end, there would be nothing more to discuss about steps that would be taken," he said, without saying what that action might include.

 

Turkish action on Syria would be more than welcome in the current climate. This blog has previously reported the allegations of growing defections from Assad's forces. It seems that these have become a serious issue for the regime; Colum Lynch, Foreign Policy's UN correspondent, has reported on a Security Council briefing that detailed allegations of defectors being executed en-masse.

In a closed-door briefing to the U.N. Security Council earlier this month, Oscar Ferandez-Taranco, the U.N.'s assistant secretary general for political affairs, cited reports that Syrian security forces had opened fire on defectors within its own ranks and executed troops that refused orders to kill civilians, according to a confidential copy of the briefing notes obtained by Turtle Bay.

The reports, which are unverified, appear to highlight the brutality of President Bashar al-Assad's efforts to enforce loyalty within his own ranks, and raised questions about the veracity of Syrian government claims -- echoed by Brazil, India, and Russia -- that the violence in Syria is increasingly waged between two armed camps.

In both Egypt and Tunisia, the true turning points that led to the downfall of the dictators came when the army was no longer willing to fire on its own people. Turkey could provide the needed momentum to the defectors in Assad's ranks so that a tipping point is reached and regime loyalists begin to realise that the writing is on the wall. Unfortunately, the slaughter will likely only continue until this result is reached.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz