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Focus on Syria: 'Assad’s attempt to crush the resistance has failed'

Armed insurgency and civilian defiance are spreading to regions once thought loyal to Syria’s regime, writes Simon Assaf


The Syrian revolution is moving along several different tracks.

There is a guerrilla war in the major cities and along the international borders.

There is a militant street movement in the capital Damascus and the largest city Aleppo.

And there is a wave of strikes and demonstrations in towns and villages across the country.

President Bashar al-Assad gambled that if he crushed the central city of Homs, known as the “capital of the revolution”, resistance to his regime would crumble.

He used the run-up to the United Nations ceasefire to launch a deadly military offensive on rebel areas. This campaign was to be crowned by “local elections” that he hoped would lend some credibility to his “reforms”.

Far from cowing the revolution, the repression is creating a new wave of radicalisation that has spread to the Alawi Muslim heartlands. It is often triggered by the execution of Alawi conscripts who refused orders to fire on protests.

These protests undermine attempts by the regime to portray the rebellion as a sectarian rising by Syria’s majority Sunni population.

Elections were widely boycotted across the country last week in a campaign that included city-wide strikes. Many neighbourhoods presented lists of martyrs as their candidates. The elections were widely seen as a flop.

The regime reacted to these growing failures with mass arrests of leading activists and an increasing number of those who had signed up to his “national dialogue” and “reform” programme.

Meanwhile revolutionary youth in Damascus have launched a series of effective “flash demonstrations”. Many neighbourhoods are in open revolt.

In Aleppo a murderous invasion of university dorms by regime thugs triggered days of street battles between stone-throwing youth and heavily armed security forces.

Aleppo’s hinterland is becoming a deadly battlefield for regime troops.

As well as the continuing civilian resistance, the regime now faces a growing armed insurgency.

The military offensive has led to large numbers of soldiers defecting to join the armed rebels, including members of once-loyal elite units.

The majority of these soldiers have joined units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and have pledged to defend civilians.

But there are fears that other forces are also entering the battle. Last week’s indiscriminate and deadly car bombing on one of Assad’s secret police headquarters was claimed by an organisation said to be affiliated to Al Qaida.

There is no way to verify who was behind the bombing. But the revolutionary leadership inside the Local Coordinating Committees (LCCs), as well as many of the armed resistance organisations, denounced the attack.

The crisis in Syria has now spilled over into neighbouring Lebanon, triggering sectarian battles between Lebanese Alawi and Sunni neighbourhoods of the capital Tripoli.

These clashes are rooted in Lebanon’s civil war and local hostilities that predate the revolution.

Lebanon is home to the largest number of Syrians fleeing the military offensive.

They face a hostile government dominated by pro-regime parties at a time when Lebanon is gripped by wildcat strikes and growing social unrest.


Back story

The regime has tried to portray the rebellion as a sectarian Sunni uprising. The truth is quite different.

President Assad and the majority of his commanders come from the minority Alawi Muslim population.

Alawis make up about 12 percent of Syria’s population.

The Alawi heartlands in the mountains of north west Syria are becoming the focus of a new wave of demonstrations.


Article information

International
Tue 15 May 2012, 16:57 BST
Issue No. 2303
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