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Syria: What Baba Amro Really Means – OpEd

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By Osama Al Sharif

In Syria’s bloody saga the deliberate and sustained bombardment for weeks of the besieged Baba Amro neighborhood in the city of Homs by the Syrian Army will stand out as one of the most atrocious and horrific crimes against humanity perpetrated by the regime.

And even when the hapless district finally fell, world media and humanitarian missions were prevented from entering. Unconfirmed reports by dissidents speak of summary executions, wanton destruction and premeditated assaults on civilians, many of them injured, who were unable to flee.

All this was done deliberately. The regime wanted to send a message to other rebellious towns and hamlets from Idlib to Rastan to Diraa. Baba Amro was made an example of and it would bring back memories of what happened to Hama’s residents four decades ago. It was a chilling message that underlined the regime’s determination to crush the popular uprising that is entering its 12th month with a huge loss of life.

Even the regime’s apologists, like China, felt that denying Baba Amro’s residents access to humanitarian relief was a bit too much. Beijing will be sending an envoy to Damascus soon, the second in two weeks, to discuss the situation. And next week the joint UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan, will arrive in the capital in a bid to find a way out of what appears to have become a deadlocked crisis.

Saudi Arabia and most GCC countries are calling for an international decision to arm the resistance. In their view the time for diplomacy has come and gone. But the international community remains divided on which course to take. It now appears that the US, Europe and Turkey have decided that none of the proposals on the table will work. Europe has recognized the Syrian National Council (SNC) but has stopped short of providing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with weapons.

For the time being diplomacy, in the form of UN mediation will be given a chance, although it is clear that President Bashar Assad and the SNC are oceans apart. The regime will turn its attention to other rebellious towns, like Idlib and Rastan, and just as it did in Baba Amro it will be ruthless and unforgiving.

So what other options are there? Talking to Russia is one. Arab foreign ministers will meet with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov in Cairo next week. The meeting was first proposed by the GCC and it has now been expanded. It will take place in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s successful bid to become Russia’s powerful president. Putin has used the Syrian affair to consolidate Moscow’s standing in the regional and international arenas. And although he announced last week that Russia will not change its stance on both Syria and Iran, it would be inconceivable to slam the door shut in the face of Arab representatives. An Arab-Russian dialogue should clarify positions on both issues. By vetoing a UN Security Council resolution on Syria last month, Moscow, and to a large extent Beijing, have become direct parties to the conflict.

On another front arming the SFA is not completely off the table. Any such support can be given covertly and without much publicity. In fact there are reports that recent use of sophisticated explosives by Syrian dissidents against regime loyalists is an indication that arming the rebels may have already started on a small scale.

President Assad will continue to hope that a military solution will succeed. But Syria is no longer a local issue. Pressure, through economic and political sanctions, will continue to mount. The regime is isolated and while it relies almost entirely on its military might, it will have to make some political concessions, at least to satisfy its Russian and Chinese allies and keep the opposition divided.

Unlike Libya’s opposition during the anti-Qaddafi revolt, the SNC is witnessing signs of serious cracks. Its authority is being challenged by revolution coordination committees inside Syria. The regime has launched what it describes as fundamental political reforms, starting with a referendum on a new constitution earlier this month. It can still claim to be ready to initiate dialogue with opponents in a bid to isolate and divide dissidents.

In spite of the courage and sacrifices of many Syrians who continue to challenge the regime and participate in peaceful protests, few can claim that Assad’s days in power are numbered. The Baba Amro carnage continued for more than three weeks and the world could do nothing to stop it. Direct foreign intervention has been sidelined. Diplomatic efforts will achieve little and Anan’s mission is unlikely to succeed.

Two things are likely to happen in the coming few weeks. One is that Moscow and China will put real pressure on Damascus to change its ways leading to a serious dialogue between Assad and some dissenting parties in the opposition. This is not far-fetched since both countries have vested interests in the region that they would like to maintain. And second is that the SFA will be able to escalate its military operations proving that weapons and explosives have finally found their way across the porous borders.

The effects of those two factors will not be seen anytime soon. The likely scenario is that Assad’s troops will turn their attention to other unfortunate areas in a sad repeat of what happened recently in Baba Amro.

— Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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