Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rebels Continue Attacks as Turkey Threatens Assad

It's been a bad few days for Bashar al-Assad. First, his forces shot down a Turkish plane over the Mediterranean Sea. Then, NATO issued a statement backing Turkey (one of the member states) and Turkey issued its own statement reminding Turkey that it can and will shoot back if threatened and Syria can't control itself.

Syria knew that they were shooting down the Turkish F-4 jet.
Under new rules of engagement for the Turkish army, “any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria in a way that may pose a risk or danger will be viewed as a threat and treated as a military target,” he said. Syrian security forces have frequently carried out operations against opposition forces near the border area as part of Assad’s 15- month crackdown.

Turkey’s warning escalates the risk that the civil conflict may draw in Syria’s neighbors. Ties between the former allies have deteriorated as the death toll in Syria mounts. Erdogan has called on Assad to step down and some of the main Syrian opposition groups have operated from Turkish bases.

Now, Assad's forces are finding themselves fighting in and around the capital of Damascus while defections from his military continue.

The fighting around Damascus is a sign that the rebel forces are taking the fight to Assad's loyalists and that they think that they've got sufficient strength to challenge Assad on his home turf.
Video published by activists recorded heavy gunfire and explosions. A trail of fresh blood on a sidewalk in the suburb of Qudsiya led into a building where one casualty was taken. A naked man writhed in pain, his body pierced by shrapnel.

The Syrian state news agency SANA said "armed terrorist groups" had blocked the old road from Damascus to Beirut.

"The clashes led to the killing of tens of terrorists, wounding a large number of them, arresting others and seizing their weapons which included RPG launchers, sniper rifles, machineguns and a huge amount of ammunition," the agency said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy fighting near the Republican Guard headquarters in Qudsiya, and in the Damascus suburbs of al-Hama and Mashrou' Dumar, just 9 km (6 miles) outside the capital.

It said 38 civilians and 24 troops had been killed during the day across Syria.

Samir al-Shami, an activist in Damascus, said tanks and armored vehicles were out on the streets of the suburbs and some activists reported that one tank had been blown up.

The British-based Observatory, which has a network of activists across Syria, said security forces and armored vehicles stormed the neighborhood of Barzeh, an opposition toehold inside Damascus, and there were sounds of heavy gunfire.
Assad's loyalists continue to cause trouble in neighboring Lebanon as well.

Perhaps the most important sign that Assad's fortunes are beginning to change in a serious way is that Russian leader Vladimir Putin noted in meetings with Israeli officials that Russia is not obligated to Assad, but that it has interests in Syria.
"We asked Putin for Russia to work more actively to preserve stability in Syria, to prevent biological and chemical weapons from falling into the hands of Hezbollah or other terror groups," the source said. "Putin said that he is not obligated to Assad, but that Russia and Syria have strategic relations."

Russia has to date expressed support for the Assad regime, despite the bloodbath the regime is conducting against his citizens.

During his meeting with President Shimon Peres, Putin discussed the possibility that a Western state would act to bring down the Assad regime in Syria.

"From my experience, one must think about the consequences of an act before doing it," Putin was quoted as saying. "Look what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. With regard to Syria, one must think carefully whether the opposition that will rise to power will be what the West wants it to be, or whether it will end up being totally the opposite."
If Putin is that serious about maintaining strategic relations with Syria, it ought to be putting out feelers to Assad about giving him a golden parachute that would bring about a swift end to his regime. But don't expect that to happen since Syrians aren't likely to look towards Russia for assistance going forward given the Russian regime's longstanding support of Assad as well as distrust of Iran and China for similar reasons.

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