By Arab News
The agony and bloodshed in Syria continue, despite promises made by President Bashar Assad just a week ago to the Arab League that the violent suppression of protest would cease and that his government would enter into dialogue with its opponents.
The abysmal failure of Damascus to stick to this agreement has prompted a further meeting of the Arab League this Saturday.
The United Nations Human Rights office now says the civilian death toll in the eight-month protest is 3,500. These unfortunates were killed when government forces turned the streets of Syrian cities, most notably Homs, into a shooting gallery for rifles, machines guns, tanks and artillery.
It is totally unacceptable that the Syrian authorities continue to try to crush dissent in this callous and merciless manner. Almost from this spring’s start of demonstrations calling for political reform, Assad has spoken of the need for dialogue while at the same time blaming the violence on “bandits” and “armed criminals.”
Initially, there were legitimate hopes that he was genuinely seeking a rapid end to the violence. There were also rumors he was struggling to overcome hard-line opponents, including top military commanders, within his regime. Sadly, as the repression has increased, his continual talk of cease-fires and negotiations has rung ever more hollow. Even if he is a prisoner of his own hard-liners, he is now part of the problem, not the solution.
The remarkable resilience of the protesters in the face of deadly force ought by now to have given the Syrian authorities pause for serious thought. Over and above the three and a half thousand dead, many thousands more have been seriously wounded while even more have been arrested and detained. Despite that, ordinary people are still prepared to take to the streets and risk the deadly retribution of the security forces.
The Syrian state security machine almost certainly now knows that it is fighting for its life. But even such ruthlessly efficient bodies as the police and military have a physical limit to what they can endure, as they are rushed like firefighters from one part of the country to another to confront fresh protests. There are no official figures for the number of security force personnel and pro-government militias who have been killed. But it is clear that among members of the security forces, ordered to fire upon their fellow citizens, there has been a collapse in morale, and desertions. These men have become “the armed bandits” of which the regime has complained from the beginning.
The dilemma facing Assad and his government is that the harder he uses heavy force to try to end the protest, the larger and louder become the demonstrations. Even supposing the Syrian security forces finally prevailed and the streets were cleared of protesters, it would be an ugly, angry Syria — a country where trust has entirely broken down and a new flash point for public anger would not be far away. Only an immediate end to violence and genuine commitment to serious dialogue with protesters, as urged on Assad by the Arab League, can produce any real solution.