After 20 months, the opponents of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad have gained the upper hand, or so recent events could suggest. In November, opposition forces captured at least five of the regime’s army bases, giving them access to anti-aircraft missiles, tanks and large artillery and, even more, territory in key areas including Syria’s second largest city, Aleppo. The head of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, has said that the Syrian regime could collapse at “any time.”
Jihad Makdissi, formerly the spokesman for Syria’s ministry, is reportedly on his way to the U.S., according to the December 1st Guardian. He would be the most senior Christian official to defect from (or to have been sacked by) Assad’s regime.
In addition, on a visit to Turkey’s capital, Ankara, on Monday, Russian president Vladimir Putin came the closest yet to admitting second thoughts about supporting its long-time ally Syria. Putin said that Russia is “not enrolled as the current defender of Syria.”
Signs of Assad’s Regime Growing Desperate?
The government of Bashar al-Assad still has control of part of Aleppo and the capital of Damascus, along with other key locations. But other recent events suggest that the Assad regime is finding the walls closing in on it.
Commenting on last weekend’s internet blackout, Jillian C. York compares it not to the one in Egypt before the fall of Hosni Mubarak but to a shutdown in Burma in 2007 that was “an apparent attempt to prevent information from reaching beyond the country’s borders.” The blackout in Syria suggests that the conflict has entered a new phase, writes York: “As one commentator pointed out on Twitter, the Syrian government’s brutal attack on the city of Hama in 1982 was also preceded by an information blackout.”
CNN has reported that the Syrian regime has started to mix chemicals that can make neurotoxic sarin gas to use against opposition forces. President Barack Obama has issued a warning to Syria against using chemical weapons against its own people as “unacceptable” and sure to result in “consequences.”
Out of fears that Assad’s forces could use deadly chemical agents, NATO has taken the long-awaited step of allowing Patriot anti-missile batteries to be deployed along Turkey’s border with Syria. NATO ministers meeting in Brussels have said they have “unanimously expressed grave concerns” regarding the use of chemical weapons.
The United Nations has cited the “prevailing security situation” as one reason that it is in the process of withdrawing all non-essential staff from Syria; the European Union has said that it is also reducing its operations. Out of 100 U.N. foreign staff, some 25 are being removed and those remaining will be “on standby” to be withdrawn to safety. Two U.N. staff members have been injured when caught in crossfire between regime and rebel forces and humanitarian aid convoys have been attacked and had their supplies or vehicles hijacked.
The conflict in Syria cannot be resolved too soon. Violence and the humanitarian crisis show no sign of abating. Just on Tuesday, a number of school children — state news agency SANA says 28 along with a teacher while anti -government activists say nine — were killed in a mortar attack; both sides have blamed each other.
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