THE shooting down of a Turkish Air Force F-4 jet over Syrian territory in late May is the latest pretext being used by the West to destabilise the Syrian government. Turkish troops have been moved towards the long border with Syria. Turkey, a NATO member country, is threatening unspecified consequences for the Syrian government. The Turkish government has told the Syrian army to stay away from the border. Armed militant groups and arms are being infiltrated from Turkey through the border.
The horrible massacre in Houla, a cluster of villages situated in a rural area of central Syria on May 25, has elicited a barrage of demands from the West and some Arab countries that the government led by Bashar Assad be removed by force. Around 100 people, including women and children, were reported killed in Houla. The initial reports aired by the international media concluded that all those killed were victims of shelling by a Syrian army unit stationed nearly. These reports were clearly based on information provided by rebel sources. The BBC had in fact aired pictures of mutilated children, claiming that they were graphic pictures of the latest atrocities committed by Assad’s security services. The BBC had to retract its story after it was pointed out that the footage that was aired had nothing to do with Syria but were of an incident in Iraq. Now it has become clear that most of the victims of the Houla massacre belonged to the minority Alawi community. The Alawites are known to be supporters of the Syrian government.
The noted American media commentator and a former contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review, Russ Baker, wrote that the media needs to be more cautious while reporting from Syria. “If news organisations don’t start adopting a higher standard for their reports, another Libyan style intervention, complete with massive bombing and untold civilian casualties, may be inevitable.” If the news coming out of Syria is to be believed, it would seem that the entire country is in flames. As a matter of fact, there are only a few pockets of resistance. At the same time, the armed groups have also shown that they are capable of staging terror attacks in cities like Damascus and Aleppo. But despite the uncertainties, people carry on with their daily routines.
It is the Houla attack that has made Syria once again the centre of international attention.
The West is trying to replicate the successful strategy it used to break up Yugoslavia in 1999 and in Libya last year. In Kosovo and Libya, western trained and financed proxies staged grave provocations against the state. When the governments responded their actions were described as “genocide” and the UN Security Council was bamboozled into authorizing intervention. The NATO war on Yugoslavia and later Libya, are illustrations. Syria is the ultimate prize. If Syria falls, then Hezbollah and Iran will be isolated and open to a frontal attack. The entire resource rich region will once again be the play ground of the West.
RESPONSE TO REFORMS
President Assad, in an emotional speech delivered on June 3, said that the recent events have shown conclusively that the country is engaged in a “real war” with outside forces. He said that the “masks had fallen and the international role in the Syrian events is now obvious.” He admitted that “terrorism has undermined us all” but said that it was a “war waged from outside and dealing with a war is different from dealing with the grievances of Syrian citizens.” The Syrian president bemoaned that “terrorism” was the response he got for the political reforms he had initiated. Assad blamed the “armed groups” for the horrific killings in Houla. “What happened in Houla and elsewhere are brutal massacres which even monsters would not have carried out,” he said in his speech. The Syrian president emphasised that “terrorism has to be fought for the country to heal.” Assad told his countrymen “that a battle was forced on us, and the result is this bloodshed we are seeing.”
Observers from the UN observer’s mission have reportedly said that some of the killings in Houla are the handiwork of pro- government militias. With the crisis in Syria fast assuming the contours of a civil war, there have been rising instances of mindless killings, based on ethnicity and sect by both sides in the conflict. Shia pilgrims from other countries are being targeted by the Syrian opposition. Recently, the Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, issued an ultimatum to the Syrian “jihadi” groups fighting the government to release the Lebanese Shia pilgrims they have been holding hostage.
The bloody strife in Syria has already spilled over to Lebanon. Fighting based on sectarian lines has again broken out in the town of Tripoli in early June, leaving many people dead. Kofi Annan told an Arab League meet in Doha that the country was slipping into a civil war with “an alarming sectarian dimension.”
A few days after the Houla incident, 13 bodies with their hands tied were found shot dead near the rebel stronghold of Deir Ezzor. Plenty of arms, including anti-tank weaponry, much of it brought with Saudi and Qatari funding, are now in the hands of the rebels. Many of the rebels have been openly trained in Turkey. The government there allows the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) and other armed opposition groups to freely operate from its territory. A recent article in the Washington Post, reported that the Obama administration is coordinating the supply of weapons paid for by the Gulf monarchies.
The bulk of the 300 UN observers under the “Kofi Annan” plan have already been deployed inside Syria. Immediately after the first UN peacekeepers landed in Syria, there was a spurt in violent incidents, including two suicide bombings in Damascus on May 10. The Damascus suicide bombings killed 55 people. Another suicide attack targeting a government building the next day was thwarted in Aleppo, Syria’s second biggest city.
AL QAEDA ALIGNED WITH
An Al Qaeda affiliated front, Al Nusra (Victory), claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings saying that “Sunni Muslims” needed protection from Alawites, “who will be made to pay a price.” The Al Nasra had claimed credit for the suicide bombing in Damascus in March which had killed 27 people. In Afghanistan and Yemen, Al Qaeda is an enemy of the West. In Libya and Syria, Al Qaeda is aligned with groups supported by Washington. The Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as the most influential opposition group inside Syria. Nowadays the party is busy reassuring the West that it will not push for an Islamic state and has publicly distanced itself from the jihadists. But the Muslim Brotherhood is not opposed to a NATO intervention to topple the Syrian government. The party is heavily financed by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies.
The main opposition groups have kept on insisting that the government has a hand in orchestrating even suicide bombings. It was obvious that the opposition fighters were responsible for most of the terror attacks against government installations and the targeted killings of senior officials in the last 14 months. One year after the unrest broke out, the UN has put the numbers of those killed at more than 9,000. Syrian officials say that more than half the number of the casualties belonged to their security forces.
The last thing the Syrian government would have wanted at this juncture was carnage on the scale that occurred in Houla. That massacre, the Syrian government feels was done deliberately to completely derail the Annan Peace Plan. The Annan Peace Plan had called for a ceasefire by both the government forces and the rebels. A Syrian foreign ministry spokesman said in the last week of May that since the cease fire agreement was signed, there have been 3,500 violations by the opposition. After the Houla incident, the FSA and other opposition groups were quick to pronounce that the Annan Plan was dead and that the UN should forthwith withdraw its team of observers. The US and most of the EU nations were not happy with the Annan Plan. Even before the UN peacekeepers were on the ground in Syria, the West imposed more draconian sanctions on Damascus. Sanctions have already adversely affected the Syrian economy, with the common man facing the brunt. After the Annan Peace Plan was announced, Washington and its allies pledged millions of dollars for the FSA to buy arms, pay salaries and finance defections from the Syrian army
TO CRISIS IS POSSIBLE”
Following the Houla incident, several western countries along with Turkey were quick to expel the remaining Syrian diplomats and called for air strikes against Syria. The White House spokesman said that the “military option” against Syria is very much on the table. The newly elected president of France, Francois Hollande, said on national television that he could not rule out military intervention in Syria. The 47-nation UN Human Rights Council met in Geneva at the end of May and voted overwhelmingly to condemn “the outrageous use of force against the civilian population” in Houla. The resolution blamed “pro-regime elements” and government troops for the massacre. Only Russia, China and Cuba voted against the resolution sponsored by the US and Arab League. Uganda and Ecuador chose to abstain.
Russian diplomats in Geneva dismissed the resolution as “unbalanced” and, instead, blamed the militant groups fighting the Syrian government as being responsible for the violence. The Russian foreign ministry spokesman said that the Houla massacre was a well planned attempt to thwart a political solution and “lead the situation in Syria to a new cycle of gory violence.” India, once again joined with the West in supporting a resolution against Syria. President Vladimir Putin, on his first official visit abroad after assuming office, told the German and French leadership that Russia remains opposed to any outside interference to bring about regime change in Syria. He emphasised that a “political solution” to the crisis is possible. “It requires a certain professionalism and patience,” he told the media in Germany. He said that Russia wants to ensure that civil war does not break out in Syria. Germany, unlike France, is adopting a more cautious approach. The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle said that there was no question of a “military option” in Syria. Germany, he said, wanted to “avoid a wildfire in the region.”