Judith Orr examines Western aims in Syria, while Simon Assaf reports on fighting in Aleppo
Kofi Annan resigned as United Nations (UN) special envoy for Syria last Friday, signalling the failure of one part of the West’s intervention in the revolution.
The UN and the Arab League appointed Annan in February. His mission was part of the strategy to put Western powers at the centre of the revolutionary process under the guise of humanitarian concerns about civilian lives.
Annan’s plan involved calling for a ceasefire from both the regime and the opposition. Most importantly for the West it also gave the UN powers to oversee any transition from Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
But Assad did not comply and the violence he has meted out has increased in recent months. This has meant an ever-increasing dominance of the military conflict in this struggle.
The battle taking place in the city of Aleppo (see below) shows the extent to which Assad will go to crush the rebellion. But so far he has been unable to.
This increasing militarisation of the revolution undermines the ability of ordinary people to take part in mass mobilisations. Yet these give the revolution its strength. The logic of military confrontation moves away from this onto the territory that both Assad and Nato prefer.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been fighting to defend the very survival of the revolution, while Local Coordinating Committees have maintained their autonomy and local roots in the popular uprising.
The FSA is made up of soldiers and officers who have defected—some very recently—and local civilian fighters who have joined up.
The shift to out-and-out military conflict is also leading to a growing influence of Al Qaida groups among some of the armed opposition.
Now Western powers are using Annan’s failure to talk about extending their intervention. They want to hijack the revolt, as they did in Libya, to construct a regime with which they can do business.
The US is “accelerating” its involvement. It has given permission for an exile group, Syrian Support Group, to circumvent sanctions and raise money for the opposition.
It has also organised for the CIA to offer greater support to sections of the opposition. CIA agents on the Turkish-Syrian border will vet which groups of rebel fighters should be offered intelligence information and communications support.
It is not just the US which is escalating its intervention. Tory minister William Hague said, “We will over the coming weeks increase our practical but non-lethal support to the opposition.”
But it is not the deaths of thousands of civilians that motivates the West’s intervention. What Western leaders really fear is being unable to shape whatever political forces take Assad’s place if he is toppled.
The West wants the opposition to commit to maintaining elements of the state infrastructure of the Assad regime. One US official said “We don’t want them to dissolve all the institutions in place”.
Some in the opposition agree with this strategy. For example the Syrian National Council, based outside Syria and dominated by exiles, is seen as the most Western friendly section. It has said it will talk to those in the regime who do not have “blood on their hands”.
But for many who have sacrificed so much, the fight is for much more than to see the West insert an Assad replacement that leaves his regime intact.
Bashar al-Assad is preparing for a massacre in Aleppo after the city joined the rebellion against his dictatorship. His regime is marshalling some 20,000 troops for a battle that could prove decisive in the 18 month old revolution.
Lightly armed rebel fighters have been pouring into the northern city to join the popular uprising. Rebel successes in and around Syria’s biggest city have defied expectations, but they have little chance of surviving the overwhelming firepower now ranged against them.
Despite talk of foreign and Western support, the rebels are low on ammunition and supplies. They lack any heavy weapons besides those seized in battles.
The regime is now using its full range of advanced weaponry, including helicopter gunships, artillery and warplanes—all with the logistical backing of Russia.
The rebel advances in Aleppo, despite the odds, have eased pressure on other towns and cities that have been under months of siege. The Local Coordination Committees and other grassroots organisations have put many towns and villages liberated from the regime under popular control.
But these gains are under threat as severe food shortages and other problems begin to take their toll.
Ordinary people are paying a high price for supporting the revolution. Regime forces, including the sectarian Shabiha militia, have swept through restive working class areas of Damascus leaving a trail of devastation.
Entire neighbourhoods have been bulldozed as punishment for supporting the uprising. Reports of similar attacks have emerged from other rebel areas including the cities of Homs, Hama and Idlib.
The regime shelled the Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus killing dozens of people who gathered for Ramadan prayers.
The Deraa refugee camp in the south of the country faces a similar fate. Palestinians are suffering the consequences for opening their homes to Syrians seeking to escape the massacres.
Yet the Assad regime has been unable to crush the revolution. The revolution has withstood months of devastating sieges, massacres and repression leaving Assad’s regime teetering on the brink of collapse.
Every offensive comes with risks, as morale among conscripts drops and defections among all ranks rise.
The regime is not broken, but it is weakened. The question is how long the revolution can maintain its independence against such heavy odds.
158 British arms export licences to authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes have been annulled since Arab Spring began
600 British arms export licences are still in place to Middle Eastern regimes
9 active British arms export licences relate to the Syrian government. They include chemicals and cryptographic equipment
The Syrian regime lost its highest profile member on Monday when the prime minister, Riad Hijab, defected from the Assad regime and fled to Jordan.
In a statement he said he left in protest at the government’s “genocide and barbarian brutal killing against unarmed people who are simply demanding freedom and a dignified life.”
It’s a sign of just how much Assad’s government is cracking under the pressure of the uprising. Hijab was only appointed less than two months ago—partly because he was thought to be a reliable regime loyalist.
Three other cabinet ministers are rumoured to have defected as well. Hijab’s announcement came just hours after a bomb attack on the state TV building in Damascus.