End of Arab League observer mission to Syria opens door to renewed clashes

The Arab League's observer mission in Syria was suspended yesterday, and violence seems to be climbing once again as the United Nations attempts to take further action. 

Smoke rises from the suburb of Erbeen in Damascus, January 29. Around 2,000 Syrian troops backed by tanks launched an assault to retake Damascus suburbs from rebels on Sunday, activists said, a day after the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission in Syria because of worsening violence.

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Just a day after the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission to Syria, the nation has erupted into what some observers have called the “fiercest violence” in months.

After two days of fighting that came within a couple miles of the heart of Damascus, government forces reportedly regained control of the city's restive eastern suburbs, but the violence and fighting has spread to other areas of the country.

“Activists say it is the fiercest violence they have witnessed in months,” said Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught. “There are fires burning all over Syria, some say almost too many for the army to deploy all over the place.”

The state-owned Syrian Arab News Agency reported that an “armed terrorist group” attacked a gas pipeline in Homs, one of the focal points of the violence since the uprising began in March. Syrian government officials often attribute violence to foreign terrorists.

The ongoing violence led to renewed calls for international action against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Many observers say it is unlikely his regime can endure the current uprising, but if no international action is taken, it will be a long and violent battle before Assad's government is removed from power.

“The Syrian regime headed by Bashar Assad is doomed in the long run, but is likely to last longer than most believe,” writes Joshua Landis, director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies in a blog for Bitterlemons. “So long as the Syrian military leadership remains united, the opposition remains fragmented, and foreign powers remain on the sidelines, the Assad regime is likely to survive, but all three of these elements are changing, even if gradually, in the favor of the opposition.”

This week the international community will take one of its most aggressive steps against Syria so far. The United Nations Security Council will consider a draft resolution calling for Assad's resignation, reports CNN.

However, the resolution may not go any further – it faces opposition from Russia, an ally of Syria who has steadily resisted UN efforts to take more action there and holds veto power on the council.

International efforts and those of the Syrian opposition in exile have offered little hope to those suffering from the increased violence, writes Peter Harling, project director with the Middle East Program of the International Crisis Group in a blog for Foreign Policy. Without any serious efforts that provide tangible improvement, or at least the promise of it, the opposition is likely to turn to violence to achieve its goals, he writes. 

As more Syrians come to believe that their collective efforts are in vain, that the world has forsaken them, and that the regime can only be fought with its own methods, the nature of the struggle could be transformed into something more fragmented, narrow-minded, and brutal. Those who have given up on everything but God will be easy recruits for the Islamists. The logistical needs of armed groups will offer opportunities for whoever is willing to sustain them. Communal rifts may further deepen. Violence predictably will serve as a vehicle for the advancement of the more thuggish components within each community. The creative, responsible, and forward-looking activists within the protest movement could soon feel overpowered – many already do.

With the end of the Arab League mission yesterday, any restraint by government forces exercised while the observers were on the ground seems to have disappeared. On Monday, a day after the Arab League observer mission suspended its work, Syrian activists reported 60 deaths. There were more than 50 military funerals over the weekend. Monday’s fighting was heavily focused around the capital, but violence has also been reported in Homs, Hama, Idlib, Deraa, and in other places, reports the BBC.

“If the Arab League observers had inhibited Syrian government forces from attacking residential areas, any such constraints now seem to be thrown to the winds,” reports the BBC’s Jim Muir. “The government actions reported by activists in the eastern suburbs of Damascus and in Rankous, just to the north of the capital, reinforce the sharp escalation cited by the league as grounds for suspending its observer mission.”

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