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Kevin Bayona: Deadly civil war continues to rage on in Syria

Posted: January 24, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 24, 2013 2:00 a.m.

The civil war in Syria still rages on with approximately 60,000 dead, according to the United Nations. Almost half the dead are civilians, the other half armed rebels and Syrian soldiers.

There appears to be no end in sight, although Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power seems to be dubious at best. Rebels continue to besiege Syrian military bases and advance on government forces across the embattled country.

The conflict ominously began when Hasan Ali Akleh poured gasoline on himself and set himself on fire, reportedly in protest of abuses by the Syrian government.

A few months later, in March 2011, a series of protests erupted in Syria amidst the backdrop of the so-called “Arab Spring” that had taken root across the Middle East.

The demonstrators were protesting the 50-year rule of the Ba’ath Party at the head of which is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

President Assad is a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, which comprises only 12 percent of Syria’s population, whereas Sunni Muslims account for over 70 percent of Syria.

Syrian security forces quickly moved to suppress demonstrations with arrests, torture, and deadly force. The Syrian military was fairly successful at quashing many of the protests and occupying several cities and villages.

The Syrian military is traditionally well-organized, well-armed and overwhelmingly commanded by Alawite generals.

The Syrian government also made attempts at extinguishing the flame of rebellion through some political concessions in which it offered to end Syria’s 48-year state of emergency law (which it did on April 21, 2011), as well as offering to release political prisoners, cut taxes and lower unemployment.

The Syrian government never effectively delivered on any of these promises.

The Syrian government has also attempted to curb demonstrations through a campaign of censorship aimed at abducting and torturing Syrian journalists, barring foreign correspondents, disabling cellular phones, landlines, the Internet and electricity.

The use of propaganda by the Syrian government has also been rampant with Syria’s official news agency, SANA, referring to the rebels as “armed gangs” or “terrorists” and continually characterizing the rebellion as a “foreign conspiracy.”

Syrian schools and teachers have also been directed to portray the rebellion as terrorists and foreign mercenaries.

In July 2011, several officers and soldiers who had defected from the Syrian military created the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that today serves as the main opposition army and has recruited up to 40,000 soldiers.

Many Syrian soldiers were summarily executed for refusing to fire on civilians. Turkey permitted the FSA to headquarter on its soil just across the Syrian border, from which it launched strikes against many northern Syrian border towns.

Turkey has since seen thousands of Syrian refugees stream across its border to escape the violence, which has caused much heated debate inside Turkey about its role in the conflict and how many refugees it is willing to take.

In October 2012, the tension between Syria and Turkey intensified when a Syrian mortar shell landed inside Turkey, killing five Turkish civilians. Turkey responded by firing artillery shells into Syria.

The United States has called for Bashar al-Assad to step down and has provided humanitarian assistance, logistical support and intelligence to the rebels — but not arms.

Russia initially supported the Syrian president and opposed the United States by vetoing international sanctions against the Assad regime. China also threw its support behind President Assad.

Russia recently deployed several warships off Syria’s coast and is now working to evacuate hundreds of Russian citizens who have been caught in the violence.

The rebels’ victories across Syria and Assad’s uncertain hold on power has prompted Russia to retract some of its support and has called for both sides to end the violence and come to terms.

America is in no position to deploy soldiers into Syria to engage the Syrian Army, although President Obama has stated that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would signal a “red line” which would prompt American military action against his regime.

Recently, a negotiated settlement has gained favor among foreign policy circles in the United States and abroad, given the death toll and widespread destruction across Syria.

The FSA is unlikely to accept anything other than the unconditional surrender of the Syrian government and the abdication of Bashar al-Assad and his Alawite sect from all levels of government.

Syria’s two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo are still under government control, although the FSA has conducted large offensives against both cities.

The people of Syria and residents of Damascus and Aleppo, two ancient cities, must decide here and now if they are to overthrow their government or come to terms — lest they collectively suffer the fate of Hasan Ali Akleh — and perish in a hopeless and ambiguous plume of smoke.

Kevin Bayona is a Valencia resident. He earned a BA in international relations and political science from Fairfield University, studied global affairs at New York University and is a member of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.


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