Rebel hopes rise that reelected Obama will act on Syria as blasts hit Damascus

Three explosions in the capital, including an attack on the presidential palace, could mark a new phase in the rebels' campaign against the Assad regime.

By , Staff writer

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    Residents flee their homes after what activists say was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at Houla, near Homs yesterday.
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Syrian rebels reportedly fired at the presidential palace in Damascus today, stepping up their campaign of targeting those close to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime even as many push the now safely reelected US President Barack Obama to move more urgently in Syria.

Residents told Reuters that shelling aimed at the presidential palace hit a neighboring community today, while two high-profile attacks on Assad allies took place this week. The brother of the parliamentary speaker was gunned down in Damascus on Tuesday and today the Associated Press reports that, according to Syrian state media, a judge was killed in a car bomb in the capital.

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Three large blasts in Damascus this morning, including the failed attempt on the presidential palace, could signal the start of a new phase of the rebel campaign, Susan Ahmad, spokeswoman for the Revolutionary Council in Damascus, told the Guardian via Skype. Reminiscent of the July bombing that killed four of Assad's lieutenants, Ms. Ahmad said the second and third blasts were attributed to rebels targeting a military airport in Mezzeh and a nearby security department.

US and Western leaders have been frustrated with the fractured state of Syria’s opposition. But within hours of Obama’s reelection victory, Britain said it would deal directly with militarized rebel leaders, according to AP. Previously US and British contact was largely with rebel groups in exile, like the Syrian National Council (SNC), or political opposition members in Syria.

Opposition leadership has been largely based outside of Syria, making them less effective, reports The Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Peterson.

The main Syrian opposition group, the SNC, is in Qatar this week discussing plans for greater unity and representation in Syria, and today will elect a new leader and executive committee. The SNC “voted to broaden its appeal by including more than 200 additional members of other anti-regime groups,” the Monitor reports.

"In order to have revolutionary-scale change, you need an opposition movement that is strongly disciplined, that is organized hierarchically," Murhaf Jouejati, a Syrian analyst at the National Defense University in Washington, told the Monitor. Mr. Jouejati resigned from the SNC recently because of how its growth could intensify Syria's existing challenges, he says. "But the nature of this is that the SNC – or any opposition coalition – is going to [have] different people, different views, and different ideologies."

Many hope that a more organized and inclusive opposition, combined with yesterday’s reelection of Obama in the United States, will result in a stronger stance in Syria.

“We hope that Barack Obama can help us just finish this situation and stop [the] killing and losing more lives and more civilians,” Ahmad, from the Revolutionary Council in Damascus, told the Guardian.

Other regional steps on Syria were made soon after Obama’s reelection. The AP reports that Turkey spoke up to say, along with its allies, it was considering setting up a protected safe zone inside Syrian borders.

The [Turkish] foreign ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of ministry prohibitions on contacts with the news media, said planning for the safe zone had been put on hold pending the U.S. election. He said any missile deployment might happen under a "NATO umbrella," though NATO has insisted it will not intervene without a clear United Nations mandate.

The British Prime Minister David Cameron was in Jordan when Obama’s victory was announced. Soon after congratulating the president, Mr. Cameron said:

Right here in Jordan I am hearing appalling stories about what has happened inside Syria so one of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis.

"With the reelection of Obama, what you have is a strong confidence on the British side that the U.S. administration will be engaged more on Syria from the get-go," Shashank Joshi, an analyst at London's Royal United Services Institute, a military and security think tank, told the AP.

Many in the US, too, are waiting to see how the election will impact US decisions on Syria, where it’s estimated that more than 36,000 people have died in the protracted 21-month-long conflict. The Boston Herald noted in an editorial that even as Americans paused to concentrate on the national election yesterday, the bloodshed in Syria continued.

We need look no further than Syria to know that life there has not stood still, not waited for this president and this administration to lead. There people continue to die in the streets.

Nowhere is the absence of American leadership felt more keenly than in Syria today. It cries out for post-election attention.

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