Inside Syrian regime, hard-liners gain upper hand
As both the Syrian regime and the opposition harden their positions, a nationwide strike aimed at bringing down President Assad through peaceful means looks unlikely to succeed.
Heavy clashes across Syria in recent days provide further evidence that the nine-month struggle to topple Syria's Assad regime is evolving into an armed conflict.Skip to next paragraph
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The intensified fighting coincides with yesterday's launch of a nationwide general strike intended to apply further pressure on the Syrian authorities. But its effectiveness in hastening President Bashar al-Assad’s downfall and averting a further descent into bloodshed looks doubtful.
Despite growing international and regional pressure and a worsening security and economic situation, the Assad regime shows no sign of easing its crackdown on opposition activists and armed rebel soldiers. And both sides have hardened their positions to the extent that a negotiated end to the violence effectively has been ruled out, analysts say.
“The opposition is no longer ready to negotiate with murderers,” Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the Syrian National Council, the top opposition body, said in remarks published by Germany's Der Spiegel magazine today. He added that the SNC was willing to hold talks with civilian and military authorities “who do not represent the regime but institutions.”
Rivalry between Assad and his hard-line brother?
The decisionmaking process within the top Syrian leadership is notoriously opaque. However, it appears evident that the regime has opted for a forceful solution to the crisis. A senior diplomatic source in Beirut says that the “hard-liners are completely in charge now” in Damascus, the Syrian capital.
“Clearly, the policy in Damascus now is you cannot show any weakness, no concessions. You use brutal force and it will get you more respect,” the diplomat says.
According to a senior Palestinian official with a Syria-backed faction, a “rivalry” has emerged between Assad and his younger – and reputedly more hard-line – brother, Maher. The younger Assad heads the Syrian Army's Republican Guard and Fourth Division, the latter of which has played a lead role in the crackdown against opposition activists.
“It is a difficult situation between them,” says the Palestinian official, who is based in Lebanon but travels frequently to Damascus. He adds that he believes the Syrian regime will overcome the crisis ultimately.
“It is illusions and dreams to think the Assad regime will fall,” he says. “Iran is supporting them, Lebanon is supporting them, Iraq is supporting them and so are Russia and China. Jordan is doing nothing. And not all countries will join [UN and European Union] sanctions against Syria.”
Voting amid violence
On Monday, the Syrian authorities attempted to show a semblance of normality with the holding of municipal elections across the country.
The polls were held in line with an electoral law unveiled earlier this year as part of a package of reforms promised by the Assad regime in an early attempt to defuse the escalating crisis. But voter turnout reportedly was low, with one polling center in Damascus receiving only 61 votes in the first hour.
At least one person was shot dead Monday morning in the restive Idlib Province in northern Syria, when government forces raided village strongholds for the rebel Free Syrian Army. The weekend saw fierce fighting between government and rebel forces in Idlib and in Israa in southern Syria, where several military vehicles were set ablaze.