President Bashar al-Assad has announced a general amnesty for anyone accused of crimes during the past ten months in which a popular anti-government uprising has engulfed the country. Assad had made similar announcements in May, June and November but there has been no confirmation that anyone has taken him up on these offers or indeed received immunity, says the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Turkey, Syria’s neighbor and former ally. The Syrian president’s latest announcement seems unlikely to end the unrest in a nation teetering on the verge of civil war.
With over 5,000 killed since last March according to the United Nations, and thousands said to be detained and tortured, any diplomatic resolution to the uprising seems increasingly in doubt. An Arab League mission of 165 international monitors has been widely decried as a failure. Syria had agreed to the visit provided that it end violence against protesters, free prisoners and withdraw the military from cities but as the New York Times observes, this agreement “seemed stillborn even when it was announced.” More than 400 people have been killed since the Arab League’s mission began on December 26, with most of those dead unarmed, although some may be unarmed defectors.
The United Nations has not been allowed to visit Syria and on Sunday the UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Syria to stop the crackdown:
“Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: Stop the violence. Stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end.”
Ban emphasized that, after the Arab spring revolts a year ago, tyranny can no longer be accepted by Arab people. He also met with Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu in the Lebanese capital to discuss the “dangerous trajectory” of the crisis.
Abdel-Rahman, a 30-year-old activist in Arabeen, near the capital of Damascus, said that Syria has become divided into two groups, one supporting Assad and the other against him. Many fear that Syria is well on its way to civil war. The New York Times quotes a diplomat in Damascus who said that “There’s not much more that anyone, at the international level, can do. There’s not much more the Arab League can, either.” Nabil el-Araby, the Arab League’s secretary general, said in an interview with an Egyptian television station that he fears that civil war in Syria could be imminent. On Saturday, the ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, called on Arab nations to send troops to Syria. He is the first Arab leader to make a public call for military intervention in Syria.
The threat of civil war in Syria is also feared because of the potential to sow unrest in other parts of the region.
Assad’s government is still largely loyal and, unlike in Libya, defections within the leadership and diplomatic service have been few. Indeed,
“…the calculus remains much as it did at the beginning of the uprising. Though some soldiers have defected from the military, the more essential security forces, dominated by Mr. Assad’s own Alawite clan, have remained cohesive. Their loyalty, along with support from nervous Christians — who with the Alawites make up more than a fifth of the country — means his fall is not imminent or even likely.
But violence is on the upsurge throughout the country, with residents of Damascus increasingly worried after two recent bombings in a fortified area in December. Many embassies, including the US’s, have reduced their staffs. The government’s authority seems to be weakening not only in parts of major cities like Homs and Hama but also in some suburbs of Damascus. The report of a Russian ship reportedly carrying ammunition arriving last week in Syria has further fueled speculation that the government will fight to the end.
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