Syria Update November 16th 2011
For the first time in the eight-month long uprising against President Bashar Assad, Syrian army defectors have attacked an intelligence complex on the edge of Damascus early Wednesday morning.
This marks the first time that a military complex has been attacked.
Members of the Free Syrian Army fired shoulder-mounted rockets and machineguns at a large Air Force Intelligence complex situated on the northern edge of Damascus on the Damascus-Aleppo highway.
Anti-government activists said that at least 6 soldiers were killed and 20 others were wounded in the attack.
Both the Air Force Intelligence and the Military Intelligence are in charge of preventing dissent within the army.
The two divisions have been key players in a crackdown on the uprising against Assad, which according to the United Nations has killed more than 3,500 people.
The Syrian army is being ruled by Bashar al-Assad’s brother Maher, and other members of the minority Alawite sect.
However, like the majority of the Syrian population, most of the soldiers are Sunni Muslims and lately there has been a growing number of soldiers that have deserted from the Syrian army.
Until now the Syrian opposition has favored a non-violent way of uprising against the Syrian government.
But now there are indications that Syria might descend into a civil war, as weapons are being freely smuggled into the country via porous borders with Iraq, Lebanon or via the sea.
French Middle East expert Agnes Levallois said: “For now, the majority of protesters want the movement to remain peaceful, but after months of repression there is a risk of militarization.”
Members of the anti government Local Coordination Commitees (LCC) said that there is increasing dissatisfaction with the international community’s handling of the situation in Syria. Especially with its inability to adopt a UN Security Council resolution that would condemn Assad’s violence.
Some analysts say that an armed struggle would be welcomed by the Syrian government since it has much more weapons than the opposition and would therefore be able to suppress the uprising in a more effective way.
In addition, because of Syria’s confessional makeup, an armed conflict could easily lead to a sectarian conflict between the ruling minority of Alawites and the rest of the population which consists of Sunni Muslims (the majority), Kurds, Druze and Christians.
The armed attack against the military intelligence base came one day after Syria freed some 1000 activists in an attempt to show good intentions towards the Arab leaders. The Arab league last week voted to suspend Syria from the Arab League.
This vote took place after the Syrian government failed to implement an earlier agreement. In that agreement Assad had pledged to free political prisoners, to pull the military out of rebellious cities and to start talks with the opposition and to introduce some democratic measures.
As a follow up to the initial vote to suspend Syria , Arab League members gathered again for a summit in Morocco Tuesday November 15th in order to discuss the situation in Syria again, and to officially decide about Syria’s ouster from the Arab League.
One day before the summit started Jordan’s King Abdallah called on Assad to step down. He was the first Arab leader to do so, adding to the increasing pressure on the Syrian president.
Turkey also put pressure on Syria, after the Turkish embassy in Damascus was attacked and Turkish flags were burned at the beginning of this week.
The Turks called upon Assad to apologize for the attacks. Adding that if Syria would fail to do so, they would impose economic sanctions on Syria and may cut off Turkey’s electricity supply to Syria.
In addition the United States urged the Arab League to strongly condemn Assad during summit in Rabat.
Suspending Syria from the Arab League and imposing more sanctions will most probably not cause the immediate downfall of Assad.
However, the mounting pressure on Assad and the deteriorating security situation, no doubt contribute to the chances that he will fall from power.
In a related development Sana, the official news agency in Syria, reported that government forces confiscated a large amount of communication equipment and satellite dishes in order to prevent communication between opposition groups.
This clearly shows that Assad feels threatened.
But for now Assad is not listening to anyone and continues to attack the Syrian population. On Tuesday alone some 70 Syrians were killed by Assad’s forces and it looks like the end of the violence is still far away.