Syria: general strike or civil war?

Dec. 12 municipal elections in Syria were hailed as a step towards democracy by the regime—but were boycotted by the opposition, which called for an indefinite general strike and civil disobedience campaign. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said seven people were killed in Homs and Idlib. The strike was most widely observed in Daraa, cradle of the nine-month protest campaign. (CBS, Middle East Online, Dec. 12) In response to escalating violence, Syria’s main opposition leader said he had urged military defectors to limit their actions to defending anti-government protesters. Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun said he pressed the leaders of the Free Syrian Army to rein in operations after they launched a series of attacks on government troops. “We are worried that we will slide towards a civil war which pits a free army and an official army against each other,” he told Reuters in an interview. “We want to avoid a civil war at all costs.” (Reuters, Dec. 9)

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  1. Terror blasts hit Damascus
    From Bloomberg, Dec. 23:

    Suicide bombers targeted two Syrian security-service buildings in Damascus, killing civilians and soldiers, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said, after an Arab League mission arrived to prepare for monitoring of an accord to end nine months of violence.

    More than 40 people were killed and 100 wounded, Al Arabiya television reported, citing Syrian authorities. SANA said a preliminary investigation reveals the attack “carries the blueprints of al-Qaeda” and published photographs of the dead from the scene. President Bashar al-Assad’s government previously blamed “terrorists” and foreign provocateurs for fomenting the anti-government protests.

    “Syria claims it is fighting foreign-backed armed groups, and these attacks would appear to lend credence to these allegations,” David Hartwell, Middle East political analyst for London-based IHS Jane’s, said in a note. “The fact that they occurred the day after the Arab League monitoring mission began arriving in Damascus to assess the human-rights situation in the country is certain to be viewed with suspicion by opposition and international observers.”

  2. Syria: observers go in, tanks withdraw —maybe
    Arab League observers arrived in Homs Dec. 27 to monitor a peace plan that requires an end to the violent repression of anti-government protests. Residents said tanks were withdrawn from the city’s streets just hours before the observers came in. But activists said at least 30 people were killed in Homs on the day before as government troops shelled parts of the city. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also claimed some of the tanks had not been withdrawn from the city, but were being hidden in government buildings. (BBC News, NYT, Dec. 27)

  3. Syria repression continues —despite observers
    Despite the presence of Arab League observers, Syrian security forces killed at least another 25 protesters Dec. 29—six of them in Hama, the town north of Homs which was actually being visited by the observers that day. (Daily Star, Lebanon, Dec. 30) Syria’s opposition is calling for the removal of the observer team’s head, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi of Sudan—who is implicated in the Darfur genocide. (AP, Dec. 29)

  4. Syria repression continues —despite observers
    Some 20 protesters were killed in Syria Jan. 2, despite the presence of Arab League observers. Opposition activists issued a statement protesting the observer mission. “The Arab League has fallen victim to the regime’s typical traps, in which observers have no choice but to witness regime-staged events,” said a statement by the Local Coordinating Committees, an umbrella group of activists. “This has rendered the observers unable to work or move independently or in a neutral manner.” (AP, Jan. 2) On Dec. 30, ecurity forces were accused of firing live rounds, nail bombs and tear gas in the Damascus suburb of Douma. (BBC News, Dec. 30)

  5. Another false flag attack in Syria?
    A suicide bomber killed 26 people and wounded 63 in central Damascus Jan 6, destroying a bus and nearby vehicles. State TV showed body parts, bloodstains and broken glass from the explosion, with the Interior Ministry promising to respond with an “iron first.” Riad Assad, commander of the Free Syrian Army, told AlJazeera, “the regime plotted this explosion to prevent peaceful protest.” By opposition accounts, some 300 protesters have been killed by Syrian security forces since the arrival of Arab League observers last week. Growing numbers of soldiers and even officers have defected from the armed forces to the Free Syrian Army. (AlJazeera via YouTube, Reuters, BBC World Service, Jan. 6)