Tuesday, August 07, 2012

More Defections as Casualties Climb Across Syria

The butchers' bill continues rising courtesy of Bashar al-Assad's security forces as they attempt to rebuff rebel forces in Aleppo and other parts of Syria. The security forces aren't exactly distinguishing themselves in anything other than running up a body count.

There have been an increasing number of defections, including another general among those seeking refuge in Turkey today. The rebel forces are trying to maintain support among the civilian population, but with a renewed military offensive, they are unavoidably putting them all in harm's way. The rebels continue to hold on to territory and Assad cannot allow that to continue.
Rebel headquarters in the north-east of Aleppo were bombed again this morning. The building has been attacked three times now. One bomb missed the building, hit a nearby house, killed 10 people. Another this morning hit a hospital, killed another 10. A third hit a wedding hall and no one was injured. Two bombs did hit their target inside the headquarters, but neither exploded. Nonetheless it was time for the rebels to move on. They had lost the patience of neighbours who weren’t too happy about their neighbourhood being relentless targeted by jets above. They’ve move but there has been more bombing in areas they’ve moved to. So there has been no let up in this siege.

Aleppo was strafed by Syrian air force planes and bombarded by artillery to the point that UN observers were forced to leave the city for fear for their own safety. They had that option; Syrians are between a rock and hard place. They could stay and try to ride out the fighting, but they could face being killed by fire coming from either the rebels or the military. Or, they could attempt to make a run for one of border countries, in which case they could get hit on the way or face an uncertain future as to when they could return. It's a humanitarian nightmare, and it's not going to improve anytime soon.

Aleppo has apparently been surrounded by Syrian forces, and it's likely to result in still higher casualties across the city. It appears that Assad's forces are content with aerial bombardment and artillery strikes rather than a ground offensive thus far.

Assad made his first television appearance today, when he appeared in a video alongside an Iranian diplomat.

Even as the fighting rages on, the US and others are already contemplating a post-Assad Syria. They are looking at how to avoid the very messy situations in Libya or Iraq, though I doubt anyone can prevent a sectarian conflict as Sunnis seek retribution against the Alawites and Assad loyalists who have run Syria for more than 40 years. Syria has been a police state where you would be disappeared if your loyalty was questioned. There will be demands for accountability among those involved in the Syrian security apparatus.

Meanwhile, the cyberwar between loyalists and rebel forces has spread to sites including Reuters.
On Sunday, it was a hijacked Reuters twitter feed trying to create the impression of a rebel collapse in Aleppo. On Monday, it was another account purporting to be a Russian diplomat announcing the death in Damascus of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

As the situation on the ground becomes ever more bloody, both sides in Syria are also waging what seems to be an intensifying conflict in cyberspace, often attempting to use misinformation and rumor to tilt the war in reality.

On Friday, Reuters was forced to temporarily shut down its system for posting blogs on www.Reuters.com after the appearance of a series of unauthorized, and inaccurate, reports citing opposition military reverses in Syria.

On Sunday, the company took similar action to suspend the @ReutersTech twitter account after it appeared to have been seized, renamed and used to send a series of false tweets apparently designed to undermine the rebel Free Syrian Army. Both incidents remain under investigation.

The attacks were not the first time a major media or other organization had been targeted apparently by supporters of Assad. Some - including the defacement of a Harvard University website last year to post a picture of Assad in military uniform -- have been claimed by the "Syrian Electronic Army".
Expect a whole lot more of this as Assad's forces attempt to counter all the negative press coming from their ongoing attacks against the rebel forces, while the rebels attempt to counter that with their own propaganda.


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