Middle East Features
ANALYSIS: One year on, Syria sucked deeper into violence
By Weedah Hamzah Mar 12, 2012, 10:19 GMT
Beirut - Syria, a rock of stability in the Middle East for decades, is being sucked ever deeper into bloody unrest one year after calls for political reform drew a violent response from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The protests, which began peacefully in March 2011, have mutated into a conflict that has claimed more than 7,500 lives, according to the latest estimates by the United Nations.
'Syria is heading for disaster,' Nizar al-Hakeem, an opposition politician living in exile in Paris, told dpa.
Al-Assad's forces have pursued a relentless crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and battling rebels across the country. Assaults by government troops using heavy weapons have reduced several areas to ghost towns.
The violence has forced thousands of Syrians to flee to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, where they are living under harsh conditions.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who visited Syria last Wednesday, spoke of shock at seeing the Baba Amr neighbourhood in Homs, which has been besieged and shelled by government forces for almost a month.
'I was devastated by what I saw. That part of Homs is totally destroyed, there are no people left. Those I saw were claiming their possessions,' Amos said.
Yazan Badran, a Syrian blogger, sees a recognizable pattern. 'The more ruthless al-Assad's regime gets in its bid to quell the uprising, the wider it spreads,' he said.
Significantly, anti-regime protesters have recently gone public with their support for arming the rebel Syrian Free Army (FSA), which activists estimate comprises around 45,000 army defectors.
The FSA was formed in July 2011 and consists largely of Sunni deserters. Al-Assad, who has been in power for 12 years, belongs to Syria's Shiite Alawite minority.
Ahmed, an FSA member injured in the Baba Amr fighting, said from hospital in Lebanon: 'Our primary goal is to protect civilians and topple this brutal regime no matter at what cost.'
Prospects for a political solution being pushed by the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, remain dim.
Al-Assad told Annan on Saturday that a political solution to the crisis would not succeed while there were still what he called 'armed terrorist groups' operating in the country.
The Syrian government has blamed the unrest on 'terrorists' financed by Arab and Western powers to destabilize the country.
The opposition, on the other hand, insists that calls for dialogue merely allow al-Assad's forces to kill more Syrians with impunity.
'How can we sit down for dialogue with a bunch of killers?' al-Hakeem asks.
A Western diplomat based in Beirut told dpa that the Syrian crisis was slowly slipping into a civil war 'because there is now a lot of blood and hatred on the streets of Syria.'
Al-Assad's government had fallen 'hostage' to political disputes between the West on the one hand and Russia and China on the other, he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Russia and China, Damascus' main allies, have blocked two UN Security Council resolutions condemning Syria's crackdown on dissent.
Things do not look good for the opposition either. One year into the uprising, it appears largely divided - something that has strengthened al-Assad's hand.
'Disunity among the opposition has weakened it and has made many Western countries reluctant to recognize it as the sole representative of the Syrian people,' Lebanese analyst George Alam told dpa.
'Opposition forces that led uprisings in other Arab countries, such as Libya, were more united than the Syrians. That's why they gained Western support and recognition quickly,' Alam said.
To Nicolas Noe, an analyst based in Beirut, the Syrian conflict is likely to drag on. 'Both sides - the government and the rebels - have decided to keep fighting it out until the end,' he said.
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