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.
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The increase in reports of armed clashes suggests that soldiers are continuing to desert the regular forces to join rebel units operating either independently or under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army.Skip to next paragraph
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The actions of the Free Syrian Army and other armed units appears to have created a dynamic separate from the civilian protest movement and the armed resistance will probably come to overshadow its peaceful counterpart in the weeks ahead.
Still, the general strike was launched in the hope that a collapse of the economy will hasten Assad’s departure. The London-based Syrian Human Rights Observatory said that Idlib had a “complete and full general strike: no schools, work or stores were open.” It added that security forces looted many closed stores “as a form of punishment.”
Opposition activists are planning to follow the general strike with a civil disobedience campaign to shut down universities, the civil service, and major highways.
Meanwhile, concerns are growing that the Syrian regime is planning to wage a major offensive against Homs to bring Syria's third-largest city back under full government control. Several quarters in Homs are in the hands of the opposition and defended by units of the Free Syrian Army.
The Syrian Human Rights Observatory claimed that some 200 armored vehicles have deployed to the city in the past two weeks, trenches have been dug around the rebel-held Bab Amr quarter, and citizens in areas populated by Alawites, an offshoot of the Shiite sect which forms the backbone of the Assad regime, have been armed. The bulk of the opposition to the Alawite-dominated Assad regime are Sunni Muslims, a reality that has led the uprising to be defined increasingly in stark sectarian terms.
Spillover into Lebanon?
Meanwhile, there is growing unease in neighboring Lebanon that Syria's turmoil is spilling across the border.
Late Sunday night, a Lebanese woman was wounded when a rocket fired from south Lebanon toward Israel fell short and exploded in a village close to the border with Israel. It was the second rocket attack from south Lebanon to Israel in two weeks, the first such incidents in more than two years.
On Friday, five French United Nations peacekeepers and a Lebanese civilian were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded beside their jeep in south Lebanon.
It was the third such roadside bomb attack against the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, since May. Although there have been no claims of responsibility for the bomb ambushes, analysts suspect they are linked to the unrest in Syria. The May bomb attack was the first against UNIFIL in more than two years. The 12,500-strong force drawn from 36 countries is regarded as a soft target by militants. Although Lebanese politicians and factions across the political divide condemned the bombing of the UNIFIL vehicle, those opposed to the Assad regime were quick to apportion blame on Damascus.
“Another message from Bashar,” tweeted Saad Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister. Similar suspicions of Syrian culpability were aired by a top French official.
“We have strong reason to believe these attacks came from there [Syria],” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told France's RFI radio on Sunday. “But,” he added, “we don't have proof.”
On Monday, Syria denied any involvement with the bomb attack against the French soldiers.
“Syria has no link whatsoever with this act which we condemn,” said Jihad Makdissi, a Syrian foreign ministry spokesman who also criticized Juppe's accusations.
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