Syria held a referendum Feb. 26 to vote on a new constitution. The gesture towards the opposition by President Bashar al-Assad has widely been seen as an empty one, with much of the international community calling it a “sham.” The vote comes just one day after 89 people were reportedly killed in Homs, the center of the opposition. The proposed constitution will impose term limits on the president as well as provide for a multi-party system. However, the term limits will theoretically begin once the constitution passes, meaning Assad’s previous time in office will not be counted against the term limits.
From Jurist, Feb. 26. Used with permission.
Split emerges in Syrian opposition
Prominent members of the Syrian National Council (SNC) split from the organization this week. At least 20 secular and Islamist figures from the 270-member council, established in Turkey last year, have joined the splinter organization dubbed the Syrian Patriotic Group. The new group is headed by ex-jurist Haytham al-Maleh, known for having opposed the rule of the Assads from the beginning of the dynasty in 1970. Opposition leader Kamal al-Labwani—imprisoned for six years and released last December—also joined the new group, as well as human rights lawyer Catherine al-Talli and former SNC foreign affairs head Walid Al-Bunni.
A statement issued by the group said that “long and difficult months have passed since the creation of the Syrian National Council…without achieving satisfactory results or activating its executive offices or adopting the demands of revolutionaries inside Syria. It has become evident that the previous methods of work are ineffective, which is why we have decided to form a patriotic working group aiming to reinforce national efforts to bring down the Syrian regime with all available means of struggle, including giving support to the Free Syrian Army which bears the heaviest burden at this stage.”
The statement was issued from Tunisia, where SNC members attended the “Friends of Syria” conference. Fifty states attended the conference, which tried to push the Assad regime to stop its military crackdown on protesters. (Ahram Online, Feb. 27)
Syria: is it civil war yet?
Like Iraq before it, Syria seems to merit its own special definition of “civil war,” which never arrives. Despite Bashar Assad’s ostensible acceptance of a UN-brokered peace plan, government forces continued to shell areas of Idlib province and the restive central province of Homs. With cities being shelled and urban counter-insurgency being waged, Russia warned Damascus it must act to “avoid civil war.”
On March 18, a car bomb exploded in Aleppo, a day after two similar bombings struck Damascus, killing 27. The Aleppo bomb exploded near a state security office in a residential neighborhood. Two people were killed and 30 were wounded. (NYT, AP, March 30; AFP, March 27; BBC News, March 18; Jerusalem Post, March 17)
Syria: “Taftanaz massacre” claimed
The Local Coordination Committees of the Syrian resistance claimed a high death toll in recent days in fighting in Idlib, Homs, Hama and Douma, with deadly clashes also reported in the Aleppo suburbs. A “massacre” is claimed in the town of Taftanaz, in Idlib governorate, with photos posted to the web and YouTube showing shattered buildings and long rows of bodies, mostly in civilian clothes, being buried in common graves. (Mar15.info, LLC, April 5; AP, April 4)