President Bashar al-Assad set a February 26 date for the vote on a draft constitution, hailed by the his government as an important reform initiative. But analysts and demonstrators sloughed off the effort as "window dressing" and the latest in a series of superficial measures undertaken to mollify his critics over the last 11 months.
Members of a committee tasked with drafting the document "reiterated their keenness on a constitution that allows ... public freedoms and political plurality in a way to lay the foundation for a new stage that will enrich Syria's cultural history," the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
Former Syrian lawmaker George Jabbour said "clause 8 of the new draft of the constitution is the essential point" of the document. It "allows a multi-party system as opposed to the Baath party being the leading party of the society and the state as stipulated in the current constitution." The Baath party rules Syria.
That's a laugh, considering that his brutal crackdown continues and the death and misery his loyalists are inflicting on civilians is growing with each passing day.
Rebel forces claim to have repulsed attacks in some areas, though Assad's forces are continuing their assaults against Homs, Hama, and even Damascus suburbs. At the same time, France is continuing to lead diplomatic efforts to isolate Syria and to take more concrete actions against the Assad regime at the United Nations along with the Arab League. They're circulating an amended draft resolution at the Security Council while the Arab League is moving ahead with a non-binding measure in the General Assembly. Russia and China continue to back Syria's ongoing actions by and through their veto on the Security Council.
Complicating matters further is reports that defectors keep coming forward with stories of brutality, and some are even claiming that Assad's forces are using chemical weapons to improve their chances of pacifying cities such as Hama and Homs. That's a possibility, but thus far we haven't seen photos or video of any victims who have succumbed to such weapons.
We know what use of chemical weapons looks like and what it can do to victims who are ill-prepared to deal with chemical weapons and nerve agents. Mustard gas and VX or GB all do tremendous damage to the nervous system and respiratory systems. Indeed, when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons during the Anfal campaign to eliminate opposition, photos were taken of the victims.
Still, the US and others are watching known Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles and locations for activity, although that is generally in terms of preventing proliferation of such weapons and man-launched anti-aircraft weapons. If such weapons were being used against civilian populations, the US eyes-in-the-skies would likely see unusual activity at monitored sites though there is the possibility that Syria's military has undisclosed locations from which it can draw such weapons.
If the claims by defecting soldiers that chemical weapons are indeed being used, then the pressure for the United Nations to act increases significantly because Assad would then be in violation of the Geneva Conventions, The Rome Statute (establishing the ICC and provides for crimes against humanity and war crimes), Chemical Weapons Conventions although Syria is not a signatory to the CWC.