Thursday, March 01, 2012

Rebels on Run As Assad's Brutal Crackdown Continues

Rebel forces opposing Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria are quitting from the Bab Amr neighborhood in Homs that has seen some of the most violent confrontations since protesters began calling for regime change in the country nearly a year ago. Hundreds have died in the past month as Assad's forces have launched one artillery and mortar barrage after another against the city.
The rebels’ decision came a day after Syria’s army launched a fresh push to retake Bab Amr, which had become a powerful symbol of resistance to the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad. The district has been under siege by government troops, bombarded on a daily basis for nearly four weeks.

Unconfirmed reports that government forces had entered the neighborhood and were combing the streets hunting for activists immediately raised fears for the safety of the estimated 4,000 civilians who remain in Bab Amr. A Homs activist who asked to be identified only as Sami said massive explosions were shaking the city as the army closed in on the neighborhood and bombarded areas around it, an apparent effort to block the retreating rebels.

Activist groups published the names of 17 civilians who they said had been hacked to death by government forces on the outskirts of Bab Amr. Some reports said the victims had been beheaded.

“Bab Amr is now most probably under army control,” said Wissam Tarif, an activist with the advocacy group Avaaz, in Beirut, who is in contact with Free Syrian Army soldiers inside Homs. “We are very concerned about the civilians because the history of this regime means they are likely to kill everyone who is there.”

“Another Hama is happening in 2012, and the world is watching,” Tarif added. He was referring to the 1982 crackdown by Assad’s father against a revolt in the nearby city of Hama, in which at least 10,000 people are believed to have died.
Aid groups are apparently now able to enter Homs.

While the news is grim from Homs, the opposition appears to be consolidating both militarily and politically. Opposition groups are apparently consolidating their efforts with those groups that have taken up arms against Assad. The civilian protesters continue risking their lives just by going into the streets in protest, but this move puts them in even greater risk. A military bureau has been created within the Syrian National Council that will operate like an established defense ministry.

The consolidation of rebel/opposition forces under a single banner, along with greater coordination among protesters, increases the likelihood of a civil war. I'd say that Syria is past the point of an insurrection and is already engaged in a civil war - rebel forces have been holding territory and there are established forces on both sides each reporting to a centralized authority.

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