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Next on Syrian hit list: Deraa, cradle of the uprising

After overrunning Homs and launching an assault on Idlib, Syrian government troops are staging an offensive on Deraa, where the uprising began a year ago.

Shaam News Network via APTN/AP
This image made from amateur video and released by Shaam News Network Tuesday, purports to show road barriers built to prevent Bashar al-Assad's regime from entering villages in Latakia, Syria. After overrunning Homs and launching an assault on Idlib, now Syrian troops have moved south to Deraa.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

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Syrian government forces have launched an assault on the southern city of Deraa, the latest opposition stronghold to come under heavy attack as the regime tries to neutralize bastions of rebel support.

After a month-long siege drove most rebels out of Homs, troops began shelling the northern city of Idlib a few days ago. Reuters reports that “dozens” have been killed in Idlib since the assault was launched. Now they have moved south to Deraa.

The uprising began in Deraa about a year ago with protesters marching in the street against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, although the epicenter of the uprising shifted to other cities over time. Reuters reports that about 20 tanks and armored vehicles rolled into Deraa this morning, “raking buildings with machine gun fire.” A local activist told the news agency that the opposition is “outgunned.”

The Syrian government announced yesterday that it would hold parliamentary elections May 7 under the auspices of a new constitution that was passed last month. But United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that Mr. Assad was deluding himself if he expected to survive the uprising with only piecemeal reform, without bringing an end to violence, The New York Times reports.

“If he thinks that he can weather this storm, then that is a serious misjudgment,” Mr. Ban said, dismissing the idea that any reform plan might work without engaging the opposition and dismantling the one-party state.

“Reform while so many people are being killed daily?” Mr. Ban asked, adding, “Whatever they do – a referendum, or Parliament elections – is not important in these circumstances.”

Ban called on Russia and China to lessen their opposition to a Security Council resolution supporting an Arab League plan to end violence, saying that their backing for the resolution would have a substantial impact on Assad’s “political psychology” – his belief that there is no need for him to change course, the Times reports.

Meanwhile, the US scoffed at the offer of elections. “Parliamentary elections for a rubber-stamp parliament in the middle of the kind of violence that we’re seeing across the country? It’s ridiculous,” State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said, according to Reuters.

The Guardian reports that former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, now special envoy to Syria for the UN and the Arab League, is expecting a response from Assad today on several proposals for ending the violence and providing humanitarian aid that Mr. Annan made while he was in Damascus earlier this week.

In a piece for Foreign Policy published last week, Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to several US secretaries of state, writes that the crisis highlights “the fecklessness and powerlessness” of the US and international community as they repeatedly fail to affect the circumstances on the ground. But he also says that the US is doing what it can, and shouldn't add to the tragedy by trying to intervene in what would likely be a protracted conflict.

As the George W. Bush administration has instructed us, getting into these regional messes is always a lot harder than getting out. And as painful as it is to watch, the wrenching reality of a brutal dictator killing his own people isn't a compelling enough reason to justify a unilateral, open-ended American military intervention to topple him.

We should stop beating ourselves up for once. Given the complexity of the problem, other pressing priorities, our interests, and the potential costs of an intervention, the administration is doing what it can. Chances are the longer the killing goes on, the more likely we be will dragged into doing more. But the notion that we should intercede quickly with some dramatic,  ill-advised, poorly thought through idea of kill zones or safe havens without thinking through the consequences of what protecting those areas would entail is a prescription for disaster.

Instead, he implies that "key Arab states – equipped with the most advanced American fighter aircraft and so concerned about their fellow Arabs in Syria" could and should act more boldly.

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