Syrian rebels seek no-fly zone to level playing field with Assad

A no-fly zone imposed by NATO and Arab allies helped Libyan rebels overthrow Muammar Qaddafi last year. But the West has shown little appetite for any Libya-style action in Syria.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights via AP video/AP
This image made from amateur video released by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and accessed Monday, Aug. 13, purports to show a Free Syrian Army soldier after firing a recoiless rifle during clashes with Syrian government forces at the village of Mukhtariya in the suburbs of Homs, Syria.

The fate of the the Assad regime depends on who controls the skies over Syria, say rebel leaders as they call upon the international community to create a no-fly zone over the beleaguered country.

Haaretz reports that rebel commanders are vocal in their requests for an internationally established no-fly zone over Syria, even amid reports of the rebels shooting down a regime jet fighter in the eastern part of the country.

"What is hindering our movements to take control of more areas [in Syria] is the constant bombardment launched by the regime jets," Abu Alaa, a Syrian Free Army commander in Aleppo, told Deutsche Press Agentur.  "Imposing a no-fly zone is essential for us to continue our fight."

Abdelbasset Sida, head of the anti-Assad Syrian National Council, made similar statements this weekend, reports Reuters. "There are areas that are being liberated," Mr. Sida told Reuters by telephone from Istanbul. "But the problem is the aircraft, in addition to the artillery bombardment, causing killing, destruction."

He said the establishment of safe areas on the borders with Jordan and Turkey "was an essential thing that would confirm to the regime that its power is diminishing bit by bit."

Clinton: No-fly zone an option

Sida added that the US realizes that a no-fly zone is "essential" to the rebels' success. His comments come on the heels of a meeting over the weekend between US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul to determine a course of action to help the rebels in their efforts against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Although Ms. Clinton did not indicate any immediate measures to aid the rebels, she did acknowledge that a no-fly zone was among the options under consideration.

As the international community debates how to respond to the crisis, the fighting in Syria continues unabated.  Agence France-Presse reports that Assad regime forces shelled several rebel strongholds in Damascus on Monday, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory says that more than 45 people, including 36 civilians, have been killed in the Damascus province in the past 48 hours, and 150 people all told were killed across the country on Sunday.

The fighting also comes hand-in-hand with several reports of "massacres" committed on both sides, writes CNN.  Members of the opposition Local Coordination Committees also report that Syrian forces publicly executed at least 10 people in a Damascus suburb on Monday. Residents have been unable to reach the bodies due to government gunfire. "Regime forces have been firing at anything that moves," the LCC said. And recently posted YouTube videos reportedly show rebels in Aleppo throwing the bodies of government fighters off the roof of a captured building.

"We strongly condemn this heinous act," said Abdul Hafiz Abdul Rahman, an activist with the Syrian human rights organization MAF. He told CNN that when he saw the video, "I felt that part of me died, and now I'm worried about the revolution."

Al Arabiya reports that Bara’a Yusuf al-Bushi, a Syrian military defector turned rebel field reporter, was killed on Saturday in a bomb attack while covering a story in a suburb of Damascus. Mr. Bushi assisted several international news agencies, including Al Arabiya, with coverage of the Syrian conflict. Syria's state news agency, SANA, also reported that a state journalist, Ali Abbas, was killed on Saturday by an "armed terrorist group," a term the regime uses to describe the rebels.

A NATO imposed no-fly zone helped Libyan rebels overthrow Muammar Qaddafi last year. However, the West has shown little desire to engage in Libya-style action in Syria, and Russia and China strongly oppose such intervention.

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