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Terrorism & Security

Syria vows to execute 'terrorists' after worst day of violence

Human rights groups estimate that at least 110 Syrians were killed yesterday, which would be the highest single-day death toll in the nine-month uprising.

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Mr. Assad “hides behind sovereignty, and this plan would seem to put his activities in the spotlight. He will now try to skirt around the plan to his advantage and play for time,” he said. “If he pulls back from cities and people protest, the true scale of the uprising will be apparent. That will be hard for him to handle politically.”

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The Syrian National Council, the largest rebel coalition, criticized Syria's commitment to the peace deal as a ploy, reports Reuters. "Syria's signature of the Arab League agreement is a lie aimed at winning time and preventing the League from resorting to the United Nations," council head Burhan Ghalioun told reporters in Tunisia, where council members gathered over the weekend to build the group's internal structure. "We need to use force, even in a limited way, or for Arab defense forces to respond."

Time Magazine notes that Mr. Ghalioun's mention of the use of force is significant, as the SNC has previously refused any foreign military intervention in the conflict.  But Time adds that even if the coalition group's position is changing, it will still have trouble finding countries willing to put boots on the ground in Syria.

"We're searching for those boots," joked Anwar al-Bunni, a prominent Syrian human-rights activist and member of the SNC who has done several stints in President Bashar Assad's jails. Turkey would be expected to play an important role in the establishment of any safe zone, several SNC members said. "But the Turks need political cover," al-Bunni said, speaking after the press conference. "An Arab and international cover. A safe zone must happen. It's not a question of how. It's the single way to protect our people."

But even without foreign military intervention, the sanctions imposed by the Arab League and the West appear to be putting the Assad regime under severe pressure. In commentary for Lebanon's Daily Star, Christian Henderson of the markets and risk analysis firm Dunlin Consultants writes that Syria's economy is contracting rapidly."

It is estimated that since the protests began, the country’s gross domestic product has shrunk by as much as 20 percent. Revenues from oil and tourism, two important sources of foreign income, have almost disappeared. Recent Arab League sanctions have closed the trading route between Turkey and the rest of the region, cutting customs revenues.

So what effect will the country’s economic problems have on the political situation? Disruption of daily life due to economic problems may persuade Syrians who have remained neutral that the situation is untenable, forcing them to take to the streets. The salaries of government workers were already meager and are now smaller due to the weakening of the pound. This could add to the mood of revolt.

Mr. Henderson concludes that "if the Syrian regime endures, the restoration of the country’s economy will be difficult to achieve," as the foreign sanctions and protests will likely continue as long as Assad and his allies remain in power.

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