A turning point for Syria protests?
Syrian Army defectors launched a fresh assault on a pro-government group yesterday. Some say their concentrated military action could be the turning point for the Syrian protest movement.
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What was the turning point? Mr. Fisher writes that it was two things: the Arab League suspension of Syria's membership earlier this week (read more about that here), and the increasing organization of the Free Syrian Army, which staged an assault on a military facility outside tightly-controlled Damascus this week. Because military intervention remains unpopular and senior military leaders are unlikely to turn on Assad, the current fighting is the most likely path to removing the regime.Skip to next paragraph
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So the only foreseeable way for this conflict to end (other than an outright victory by Assad, which is sadly plausible) would be for mid- and low-level military defectors to lead an armed rebellion against the regime. And that's beginning to happen.
The rebel attacks against military facilities around Damascus reportedly lasted 90 minutes, an extraordinarily long time given how tightly the military controlled the country as recently as a few weeks ago. Defectors are organizing themselves into what they call the Free Syrian Army. Some leaders of the rebel group say they are planning to ramp up a coordinated assault against the government. While they might have some success in more rebellious towns such as Homs and Hama, the fighters would need to take Damascus and Aleppo to win. The leadership is based in those two cities, where it has much tighter control; though protests in neighboring towns have been escalating, residents of those two major cities appear too terrified -- understandably -- to follow.
…What has for so long seemed impossible – the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – now seems to be merely extremely unlikely.
Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow for regional security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies – Middle East, writes that Free Syrian Army leaders told him in a meeting in Lebanon that they are "gearing up for direct confrontation … regardless of whether they have the support of foreign intervention." One officer told him their forces now number 17,000.
According to Mr. Hokayem, the uprising has entered a third phrase "that will be not only more violent, but could be a decisive one."
My conversations with Syrians in Beirut and northern Lebanon left me with the sense that the initial revolutionary euphoria has given way to a darker mood. No side can afford to back down anymore. Anti-regime Syrians told me they have gone too far to stop, and that the pain and death that would inevitably follow would massively outweigh the cost of persisting. In any case, they argue that the regime has suffered deadly blows to its internal legitimacy, lost any Arab cover, cannot resurrect an economy that may shrink by as much as 8% – and that, now more than ever, victory is in reach.
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