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Terrorism & Security

Both sides violating Syria cease-fire. Still worth supporting? (+video)

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon called on all parties in Syria to stand by the cease-fire, which has been repeatedly violated by both the government and the opposition.

By Staff writer / May 1, 2012

United Nations observers travelling in UN vehicles leave the UN office in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, May 1, as they head to areas where protests against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been taking place.

Khaled al- Hariri /Reuters

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Middle East Editor

Ariel Zirulnick is the Monitor's Middle East editor, overseeing regional coverage both for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She is also a contributor to the international desk's terrorism and security blog. 

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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued another call today for all parties in Syria to respect a cease-fire that was violated almost as soon as it began thee weeks ago.

Lacking any alternatives at the moment, the UN and international and regional powers are continuing to focus their efforts on the UN observer mission that is being deployed to Syria and the cease-fire that the observers are meant to be monitoring. At this point, 30 of the 300 intended monitors have been deployed so far.

Meanwhile, fighting continues. Bombing by government forces killed 10 civilians in Idlib today, while suicide bombings of government security buildings – reportedly by opposition forces – killed 20 yesterday, mostly security personnel, Agence France-Presse reports. The Syrian National Council insists the government is behind the bombing of its own buildings in a bid to undermine the opposition.

The New York Times describes the current situation as a "stalemate."

The result is a bloody stalemate, with the West still endorsing a peace plan even while calling it unrealistic, and the Syrian government, if anything, empowered by the paralysis, even more confident it can weather the fractured and diffuse international pressure.

Despite months of fighting, Western and Arab sanctions that have sapped the national treasury and defections that have eroded the unity of the military, the Syrian government is not on the verge of falling nor abandoning its use of lethal force.

The rest of the world, fearing the chaos that further militarizing the conflict might bring, remains reluctant to arm the opposition.

But the opposition appears to be taking care of arms itself. While opposition groups have disputed claims that they are behind the most recent bombings and some that came earlier this year, Reuters reports that their offensive tactics are shifting from "small-scale ambushes on checkpoints and military patrols to audacious assaults on infrastructure and symbols of the Assad state."

"The rebels are getting better at bomb-making – as you know, desperation is the mother of invention," one anti-Assad fighter who claimed to be in command of a militia unit told Reuters in neighbouring Lebanon. "We are starting to get smarter."

A separate Reuters report corroborates such claims. Rebels chalked the shift up to economics – guns are increasingly expensive, while bombs, which can be made, are comparatively inexpensive. 

"We are starting to get smarter about tactics and use bombs because people are just too poor and we don't have enough rifles," a rebel fighter from the north of Idlib province said last week as he took a break across the border in Turkey.

"It is just no match for the army," said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, "So we are trying to focus on the ways we can fight."

However, mindful of Assad's portrayal of those who have opposed him over the past 14 months as "terrorists", and keen to maintain Western and Arab support, several rebel fighters who spoke to Reuters said that, unlike al Qaeda, their bombs were aimed at military, and never civilian, targets.

"We are not targeting civilians. We are strictly going against regime targets," said Haitham Qdemati, spokesman for a rebel group called the Syrian Liberation Army. "We're not killers. We're defending ourselves."

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