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Syria conflict may spin out of control, 2 years on

Published time: March 15, 2013 17:16
Edited time: May 21, 2013 16:34

Two years since the start of the Syrian conflict inspired by the Arab Spring before turning into a bloody civil war, there is no solution in sight. And if EU countries start to openly arm rebels, the escalation is likely to reach a whole new level.

Negotiations between the opposition and the Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime along with pressure from the international community have so far failed to resolve the conflict peacefully.  

In February the Syrian government expressed its readiness to negotiate “with anyone who wants dialogue”, including armed groups. The opposition remains divided with rebel fighters refusing to talk until President Assad steps down and leaders of the army and security forces are put on trial.

Syria has been torn apart by violence with the UN estimating more than 70,000 people being killed and over 2 million internally displaced in the two-year uprising against the government of Bashar Assad.

The conflict has also caused immense economic damage already estimated at US$80 billion, according to former deputy premier for economic affairs under President Bashar Assad, Abdullah Dardari. “Economics alone can fragment Syria if we go on like this,” Dardari told the Reuters.

Syrian government forces are briefed before their deployment in the streets of Syria's second city Aleppo (AFP Photo / STR)

While Syria’s deficit is estimated to reach US$10 billion in 2013, a jump from US$3 billion in 2012, SANA reported.
Syria differs from other Arab Spring revolts, as Bashar Assad did not step down within weeks, like the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. Nor did his regime fall within months, like Colonel Gaddafi’s in Libya.

Syrian opposition has gone beyond just demonstration and clashes, making killing by both sides an everyday reality with each blaming the other for the atrocities.

Amnesty International has warned that Syrian rebels have increasingly resorted to torture and the summary execution of soldiers, suspected informants, pro-government militias and captured or kidnapped civilians.

“[Rebel fighters] are summarily killing people with a chilling sense of impunity, and the death toll continues to rise as more towns and villages come under the control of armed opposition groups," Amnesty said.

In a separate report, Amnesty accused government forces of ramping up indiscriminate air and artillery attacks on civilian populations in recent months.

Others say the conflict is being fuelled from the outside.

“It is part of America’s and western strategy to destroy Syria by Syrians and by Arabs and this they are doing successfully”, International law professor Daoud Khairallah told RT.

Syrian children walk past buildings destroyed in an air strike by regime forces on the northern Syrian town of Taftanaz, in the Idlib province (AFP Photo / Philippe Desmazes)

Paris and London announced in March that they will call for an early unscheduled EU meeting on the Syrian arms embargo, which needs to be renewed every three months, in order to lift the ban. The two nations want the next review to be held this month, rather than in May. If the EU does not end the embargo, the two nations may still arm the Syrian rebels, France hinted.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded that plans to arm the Syrian rebels would violate international law. Russia has remained firm that any kind of foreign intervention will only make the conflict worse.

The EU imposed the arms embargo, and other sanctions, against Syria in May 2011, following two months of conflict in the country.

RT contributor Afshin Rattansi believes that the Western strategy will eventually backfire if they arm rebels in Syria. And that those who wanted to see the fall of the regime may witness the country’s fall instead.

“It is sad that these countries [the UK and France] can think of arming these Islamists because the blowback will be phenomenal”, Rattansi said.

The US expresses increasing concern when it comes to arming Syrian rebels, despite the fact that it recently announced that it will provide the opposition forces with US$60 million in aid. Secretary of State John Kerry took a clear stance at the end of February stating that Washington will not provide weapons to opposition fighters fearing that the weapons may fall into the hands of Jihadists.

However, there have been media reports of some countries offering military support to Syrian rebels.
According to Reuters sources, Turkey is directing the rebel fight against Bashar Assad, after setting up a secret base on its border with Syria, with help from Qatar and Saudi Arabia who allegedly supply weapons to anti-Assad fighters. Also,  foreign instructors are reportedly training Syrian rebels in modern warfare in Jordan. The military training focuses on the use of anti-tank weaponry, der Spiegel recently reported, citing what it said were participants and organizers. American, British and French instructors are reportedly taking part.

Residents pass by buildings destroyed in a regime's bombardment in Ras al-Ain (AFP Photo / Giulio Petrocco)


Diverse Syria, in pieces

Syria is a predominantly a Sunni country, but it is also home to other Muslim denominations, among them the Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam, Christians and other religious minorities.

For centuries Syria has been known for its many ethnic and religious groups living in peace and harmony. Now some warn that it can be used to destroy Syria.

One of the significant blows to diversity in Syria was dealt to relations between the country’s Sunni majority and the ruling Alawite minority to which President Bashar Assad belongs.

“Some of the opposition fighters are trying to make the conflict sectarian. But it is not about one sect fighting the other”, a local journalist, who requested anonymity, told RT.

Hearing about sectarian intolerance is something new for Syria, argues researcher Gabriel Cablo.

“We feel this pressure for months now - especially from Gulf countries - trying to drag us to this perilous Shia-Sunni game. It’s a big threat because it tears society from the inside.”

Palestinian refugees in Syria who found a new home there amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were caught in the fighting, their camps attacked. This drove a wedge between the two Arab peoples, previously on friendly terms.

“They wanted to both weaken the regime and spread despair among Palestinians. It’s clear - desperate and destabilized society is a weak one”, says member of People's Front for Liberation of Palestine, Anwar Raja.
Some 600,000 Palestinians currently live in Syria, according to the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian refugees, some of whom fled the Yarmuk refugee camp in Damascus, attend class in the "Palestine" Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian city of Homs (AFP Photo / Anwar Amro)

The Kurdish population in Syria’s north-east were also affected and the Kurdish-Syrian peaceful coexistence has been threatened.   

“Syrian Kurds want to be integrated into Syrian society, have rights and be respected. We’ve never been treated like that. But of course when violence targets us - it cannot not affect relations”, member of Syrian Kurdish Initiative Ismail Ibrahim Shaouish told RT.

Syrian Kurds stand in the street in the Kurdish town of Jinderes, near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo (AFP Photo / Bulent Kilic)

Many Kurds from Aleppo fled the hostilities by moving north, to Kurd-populated areas that are relatively safe. Even those parts feel the impact of the crisis, however: a village that used to be home to some 10,000 residents currently accommodates five times that number.

Making things more complicated are the surrounding regional and neighboring states that flood Syrian borders with fighters, weapons and extremist ideology, allowing for the presence of radical Islamic groups including Al-Qaeda, working in Syria under the façade of the al-Nusra front, argues RT’s contributor Danny Makki.

“Foreign radical fighters are what the Syrian government clearly fears the most, their presence; thought to number thousands is encouraged by regional powers such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, making it a state-on-state clash which is being waged on Syrian soil,” he said.

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