5,000 casualties and counting did the trick, and an agreement was signed between the Arab League and Syria to allow Arab observers to come to Syria in an attempt to stop the bloodshed. The head of the Arab mission is the Sudanese General Muhammad Ahmad Al-Dabi, a veteran of the oppressive campaign of his government against Muslim, but non-Arab African tribes in Darfur.
Here is what was written about this "peace observer" General in a book describing the Darfur atrocities:
General Muhammad Ahmad Al-Dabi was sent to the region [Darfur-J.O] in February 1999, ostensibly to restore order, but in fact to put down Masalit [African tribe-J.O] resistance ...his personal militia... trained local Arabs for the government's "popular defense forces" in the west. Since non-Arabs were not allowed to enlist, these became in effect another local militia, which the Masalit called Janjawid... thousands of Masalit were killed and tens of thousands put to flight. [W.M Daly, Darfur's Sorry, Cambridge University Press, p. 262.
Clearly a nice guy... and the question is whether he was elected because he has a proven experience in mass killings, or is it an indication that the Arab League effort is just a fig leaf, and not a serious attempt to force the Assad regime to stop the bloodbath, that has already assumed the proportions of a mass indiscriminate slaughter?
The Syrian regime itself shows no signs of a change of policy. In fact the opposite is the case. Hundreds of Syrians were killed in the last few days and the horrors as seen on video are indescribable. The Arab League means well, but it already missed the train. The Syrian civil war cannot be stopped by any mediation/pacification effort from the outside. This is a struggle for life or death over the control of the country, and the two sides are determined to win.
The Assad regime has done its best in recent days to flex what is left of its military muscles and conducted maneuvers near the Turkish border, putting on display Scud missiles [originally supplied by North Korea of all countries], but also some modern, sophisticated Russian air-defense systems. The Turks, as well as the Israelis took note, but neither of the two countries seem to be too impressed. Bashar Assad is still the Commander-in-Chief of the Syrian armed forces, but he better look after the dwindling ranks of his army. According to accounts cited in Haaretz in Israel, 10,000 soldiers defected from his army and a half of the new conscripts failed to report to duty when called to do so. Surely, the Alawite high command of the Syrian army is still fiercely loyal to the regime, but the Sunni soldiers and new conscripts are not. The Army of Free Syria issues many communiqués, some may be exaggerated, some wishful thinking, but a picture emerges, according to which this is a potent force which is armed and trained well enough to pose a serious challenge to the regime.
The leaders of this army and the leadership of the Syrian National Council [SNC], the political leadership of the uprising, are expected to meet in Tunis on Monday in order to coordinate their actions. In the meantime, the bulk of the fighting is in North Syria, in the Idlib province, and it seems that the rebels are trying to establish control there, in order to declare a "liberated zone". If successful, they will then proceed to invite foreign powers, probably Turkey, to come to their help. The ferocity of the battles there indicates that the regime is doing its utmost to prevent it from happening. The city of Homs is another focal point of resistance. Homs is mainly Sunni, and has always been a center of support for the Muslim Brotherhood, but also the seat of the famous Attasi family, which played a major role in pre-Ba'ath Syrian politics. In the vicinity of Homs is the Salamiyya region, the home of 300,000 Shi'is of the Ismaili sect. They are loyal to the regime, and this is another indication of the sectarian nature of the conflict in Syria.
Clearly, the two sides want to establish facts of the ground ahead of the deployment of the Arab League observers, but be that as it may, this deployment is doomed to fail. The regime cannot really surrender elements of Syria's sovereignty to the Arab League and its acceptance of the deal was intended to gain time and win some good will.
Time may be gained, but not goodwill. Too much blood was spilled and the evidence of large-scale war crimes cannot be washed away. The Syrian opposition smells victory and will not relent in its campaign. So they say, and their actions on the ground prove it. What's left to watch is the role played by the Sudanese General Al-Dabi, the proven expert in mass killings.
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