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Terrorism & Security

Syria's deadline to end violence slips by during a bloody weekend

The Arab League's Saturday night deadline to end the violence in Syria was bookended by government crackdowns and an attack on the Baath party headquarters Sunday.

By Staff writer / November 21, 2011

A general view of the ruling Baath party headquarters, in Damascus, Syria, Nov. 20. Residents in the Syrian capital awoke to two loud explosions Sunday amid reports from activists that the Damascus headquarters of the ruling Baath party had been hit by several rocket-propelled grenades.

Bassem Tellawi/AP

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The Free Syrian Army, made up of Syrian Army defectors, today denied its involvement in a Sunday attack on the ruling Baath Party's headquarters in Damascus without explaining why 24 hours earlier it had claimed responsibility for the attack.

The commander, Riad al-Asaad, said that the group would not attack a "civilian installation," the Associated Press reports. Up to this point, all of the Free Syrian Army's (FSA) operations have been directed toward the military.

The Free Syrian Army is a controversial force in Syria's uprising. Many in the opposition want their movement to remain peaceful, but the FSA and other groups say that "there are limits to a peaceful uprising" and they have been reached, according to AP. Their decision to pick up arms has prompted warnings of an incipient civil war. The Assad regime has capitalized on the change in tactics, seizing the opportunity to refer to it as an armed uprising, as President Bashar al-Assad did in an interview Sunday, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"We have to prevent militants from doing what they are doing now: killing civilians, doing massacres in different places in Syria," President Assad said in an interview with the Sunday Times.

"We have to stop the smuggling of armaments from outside Syria, from the borders of neighboring countries. We have to stop having the money coming in to support those militants again across the borders," he said.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the political opposition, led by the Syrian National Council, feels pressured to choose sides or risk splitting the opposition further. "The Free Syrian Army should work on keeping track of its dissident soldiers, that is what we are trying to do: unite the opposition, peaceful protests and any armed elements, under one political platform," said Omar Idlibi, a spokesman for the opposition network Local Coordination Committees, according to the WSJ.

There is also the very real concern about what will happen if a full-blown civil war does develop – the defectors, even if tens of thousand-strong as leaders say, will be up against the Syrian Army's tanks and heavy artillery.

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