Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Syrian Conflict Enters New Deadly Phase

The cease fire that UN Envoy Kofi Annan didn't amount to much and diplomats had been trying to paper over its failures for the past couple of weeks even as Syria's thug in charge Bashar al Assad's forces continue attacking rebel forces throughout the country.

All claims to suggest that the ceasefire exists should be repudiated after this weekend's deadly attacks in Houla. Assad's forces shelled the city and his militias then went door to door to murder more than 100 people. Many of those killed were women and children - killed with small arms fire and knives. Those figures are the conclusions of UN peacekeepers, who are unable to do any actual peace keeping but are able to give a rough estimate of how many people are dying in what has been a rebellion/civil war.

The diplomatic response was dramatic as several countries booted Syrian diplomats from their countries. Even Russia had to take the step of denouncing Assad (although they're still blocking any action in the UN beyond a harshly worded letter).

Annan is back in Syria trying to get a ceasefire agreement back on track, but that's a futile measure considering that Assad is unwilling to cede power and will do anything to remain in power. Rebel groups aren't going to relent on their demands that Assad step down and that Assad's forces have to lay down their weapons against civilian groups.

France, which has historical ties to the Levant, has called on Assad to step aside. The French Foreign Minister called Assad a murderer, which is some of the harshest language used against Assad by foreign diplomats to date. However, calling on Assad to relinquish power without actually pushing him out or giving the opposition the means to do so only means that the rhetoric remains just that - talk.

That's even as there are new and additional reports that Assad's engaging in still more war crimes and crimes against humanity, including using rape as a weapon against civilians from cities where the opposition has a foothold. Assad's security forces are carrying out rapes against detainees in detention facilities throughout the country.

The fighting in Syria has also threatened the fragile stability in neighboring Lebanon, where Assad's loyalists hold sway. The kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shi'ites may spark a new round of violence there, as have several rounds of cross-border attacks into Lebanon from Syria.
The Syrian crisis already has spilled across the border into Lebanon over the past three weeks, sparking deadly violence in a country that remains deeply divided over the 15-month-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

But the Shiites' abduction is potentially explosive, in part because it enflames Lebanon's fragile Sunni-Shiite fault line. It could also spark retaliatory attacks against the thousands of Syrians in Lebanon.

In recent days, members of Lebanon's powerful Shiite militant group, Hezbollah, have deployed at the entrances of Beirut's southern suburbs, a heavily Shiite area, to prevent any moves by angry protesters.

Hezbollah is a staunch ally of the Syrian regime, where a predominantly Sunni uprising is trying to oust the Assad family dynasty. The families of the kidnapped Shiites blame Syria's Sunni rebels for abducting the men.

"The kidnapping is clearly intended to drag Hezbollah into the Syrian quagmire," said Ziad Baalbaki, a 37-year-old Lebanese insurance broker in Beirut. "The whole thing is fishy, everyone is worried what will happen if they are not released or they turn out to be dead."

The Lebanese men were on their way back from a pilgrimage in Iran on May 22 when gunmen intercepted their buses in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo, according to the women on the pilgrimage who were allowed to go free and arrived in Lebanon hours later.

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