Syria's nonviolent opposition aligns with armed groups

The Syrian National Council announced that it has established links with the armed opposition faction, the Free Syrian Army, after months of hewing to nonviolence.

Thibault Camus/AP
Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun smiles during a news conference, Paris, March 1. Syria's main opposition group formed a military council Thursday to organize and unify all armed resistance to President Bashar Assad's regime, pushing the conflict another step closer to civil war.

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All eyes on Syria are trained on the city of Homs, particularly the neighborhood of Baba Amr, as residents and the international community both await a crushing full-scale Syrian Army assault that seems imminent.

The Syrian Army claims to have already taken Baba Amr, which has been the most heavily targeted part of Homs in the almost month-long assault of the city. Yesterday government officials said they were “mopping up” pockets of resistance in the area, BBC reports. However, members of the opposition say the Free Syrian Army (FSA), an armed faction of the opposition, repelled regime forces from the neighborhood. 

The New York Times reports, based off conversations with Homs civilians and members of the opposition there, that the long-expected ground assault on Baba Amr has not yet begun. But with the disappearance of checkpoints surrounding the neighborhood and the arrival of additional tanks just outside, most expect it to begin at any time.

“It was a very aggressive attack on Baba Amr today,” Mulham al-Jundi, an activist in a nearby neighborhood, said Wednesday. He said he doubted the army would enter Baba Amr with tanks. “I don’t think they want to enter it anyway; they want to destroy it completely by shelling it from adjacent villages and neighborhoods.

Snipers deployed on buildings were picking off anyone who moved along the streets, he said, so it was impossible to assess how many people were left. Moving into and out of the neighborhood meant courting death, he added. “The humanitarian situation is really bad,” Mr. Jundi said, referring to the entire city. Multiple neighborhoods have lost their electricity completely in recent days. Activists in Baba Amr say they have been using badly needed fuel to refrigerate the bodies of Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik, two Western journalists killed there last week.

After months of conflict within the opposition over whether to link the FSA with the Syrian National Council, the umbrella group representing the unarmed factions of the opposition, the council announced it had formed a military bureau to coordinate with the rebel army, BBC reports.

"The Syrian revolution began as a non-violent movement and has maintained its peaceful nature for months. The situation has changed and the SNC will shoulder its responsibilities in light of this new-found reality," the council said in a statement.

The statement did not mention supplying arms to the rebels, but pledged to "work on providing the FSA with all the support it needs to completely fulfil its defence responsibilities.”

Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the SNC, told reporters in Paris that the bureau would help move arms from other countries to rebels fighting in Syria, The New York Times reports. He did not disclose who is providing the arms, but both Saudi Arabia and Qatar previously called for arming the opposition.

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva passed a resolution today, proposed by Turkey, condemning Syria for “systematic violations” against civilians, the Associated Press reports. Thirty-seven countries supported it and Russia and China, who blocked UN Security Council efforts to take stronger action against the Syrian regime, as well as Cuba, were the only ones to vote against it. There were several abstentions.

The resolution also encouraged the gathering of evidence for possible crimes against humanity charges down the line. According to AP, while the council’s vote has no legal weight, it is considered a “strong moral signal” that could encourage a similar resolution in the Security Council.

The US representative on the council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, told AP “it was crucial that so many countries had accepted that the government crackdown was the cause” of the crisis, which has resulted in the death of at least 7,500 people, according to conservative UN estimates. Activist groups put the number at about 9,000. The Syrian government insists that it is merely fighting back against armed terrorists.

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