Wednesday, June 8, 2011

This Syrian tinderbox could set fire to the region

Assad's regime threatens dire consequences for the bloodshed in Jisr al-Shughour. They may not be restricted to Syria's borders

Simon Tisdall, Tuesday 7 June 2011

"......This chill moment is reminiscent of the day in July 1995 when Serbian forces brushed aside UN peacekeepers and seized the besieged Bosnian town of Srebrenica. Europe held its breath, fearing the worst. What transpired was even more awful than most could have imagined.

Assad should know by now that violence added to violence is not the answer. Amazingly, he does not. Or perhaps he is no longer in control, superseded in effect by his more martial younger brother, Maher, and other Alawite hardliners in the palace-general staff clique. The risk of civil war now looms large over Syria, in part because of this uncertainty about who is in charge; in part, also, because much of the Jisr al-Shughour bloodshed seems to have been the result of infighting between reluctant army units, filled with conscripts, and plainclothes security men – Syria's equivalent of Iran's notorious basij militia.

Wissam Tarif, director of Insan, a human rights organisation, was quoted on Monday as saying that many deaths resulted from clashes between loyalists and defectors, an account he said was backed up by local witnesses. There have been previous reports from other flashpoint towns of conscripts being shot for refusing to open fire on civilians, always officially denied. But the unprecedented regime casualty list in Jisr al-Shughour suggests the rot is spreading inside the many-headed security apparatus. Assad now faces two revolts. One on the streets, another within his own power structures. Like autocrats elsewhere, he will discover you cannot shoot down an idea....."

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