Syria: fighting draws closer to Damascus

Submitted by Matthew on 1 February, 2012 - 2:12

The Arab League has suspended its monitoring operation in Syria.

It has effectively accepted that the initiative — which should have seen political prisoners released, the army move away from urban areas, and a dialogue open with the opposition — has failed. The one-party Syrian state has continued to butcher its own citizens under the noses of the Arab League’s observers.

The Arab League’s failure has pushed more Syrian oppositionists towards the view that they will have to fight with guns in hand to overthrow the narrowly-based state of Bashar Assad. Assad’s rule rests on the Alawite community, a Shia sect which is about 10% of the Syrian population. 75% of the country is Sunni Muslim.

More and more towns and villages seem to be freeing themselves from the central state – at least for short periods, until the government rolls back in using heavy weapons and tanks. Local militias area being formed, made up of army deserters and activists, under the general banner of the “Syrian Free Army”, although often with little direct control from the Turkey-based FSA leadership.

Significantly the eastern and northern suburbs of the capital, Damascus, are becoming no-go areas for the state. Last weekend fighting a few miles from the centre of Damascus claimed dozens of lives.

Despite the wishes of many opponents of the regime the general tone of the opposition seems to becoming more sectarian. Alawites run every elite unit of the armed forces; most Alawite families have a family member in the security system and increasingly they seem to believe they are all fighting for their lives.

Will the regime fall?

Joshua Landis, the well-informed US academic and Syria analyst believes the downfall of the regime is now certain, but will be much more drawn out than many believe.

He cites three main reasons: the strength (military and political) of the regime as against the opposition; the disorganisation and fragmented nature of the opposition; the unwillingness of foreign powers to intervene. He states that “Assad family has prepared for this moment of popular, Sunni revolt for 40 years.”

The regime will not fall easily.

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