At least 120 civilians were killed by the Syrian regime this weekend as the anti-government protests become stronger each passing Friday. The gross human rights violations have been decried by international human rights groups and spectators in the West, leaving many to openly wonder why the Obama administration will not undertake even non-military measures to denounce the violence — especially against a nation that is one of Iran’s closest allies and, likewise, a regional sponsor of terror.
The uprising that began in Daraa has now spread throughout Syria as protesters are now explicitly demanding an end to President Bashar Assad’s rule and even using the words, “regime change” in their chants. Over 120 protesters were killed by the security forces on Friday and Saturday who used live ammunition. The funerals for the dead have become primary targets. On Sunday, at least 9 people were killed in Jabla alone and dozens of democratic activists were arrested in raids on private residences by the secret police. This weekend’s events should put to rest any naïve notion that Assad is a “reformer” as Secretary Clinton said or that the lifting of the state of emergency is anything but an insincere political trick.
Demonstrators bravely turned out en masse despite the casualties over the previous week. In Deir al-Zour, a statue of Bashar Assad’s late brother was set on fire and destroyed. Protests took place throughout the country, including Homs, Izzra, Latakia, Banias, Qamishli and the capital of Damascus. On Saturday, four were killed as demonstrators seized a headquarters for state and military security. The protesters have vowed to continue their fight and some areas of Damascus are organizing a three-day period of civil disobedience when stores will close their doors. After citizens were shot by snipers in Jableh on Sunday, residents blocked a major highway going from Tartous to Latakia in retaliation.
“They [the protesters] say they cannot stop midway. Many of the activists we speak to who take to the streets, they tell us if they stop now, they know they’ll end up in jail…and they will not stop until there is a democratic Syria,” Al-Jazeera’s correspondent in Damascus said.
As reported in FrontPage Magazine last week, the regime is looking at Homs, the country’s third largest city, as a severe threat. It has reportedly warned the Sufi sheikhs that the city faces destruction if the protests do not end. A massacre on the level of Hama in 1982 has not taken place but the city is under siege. Eyewitnesses say that the gunfire has resulted in empty streets as anyone seen outside is subject to arrest or attack. Security personnel still surround the city and the food supply is said to have been cut off.
Videos posted on the Internet show savage attacks by the security services on unarmed protesters but it is very difficult to get detailed information out of Syria since the regime has kicked out most foreign media. One reporter from Al-Jazeera was forced to exit the country on Saturday when the government would not renew his visa and threatened him with the “full force of the law” if he stayed. There are frequent reports that the families of those killed are being required to sign statements confirming their loved ones were murdered by “terrorists” or “armed gangs” before being given the bodies for burial. There are also accounts of burials being forced to happen at night to prevent funerals during the day that could become a rallying point for the opposition.
Two parliamentarians from Daraa and the city’s mufti have resigned to protest the violence. There still isn’t a wave of defections as other countries facing uprisings have experienced but stories of soldiers and police refusing orders to kill civilians continue to come in.
The killing of the deputy commander of the 90th division outside Damascus, Jameel al-Assad, is said to have come at the hands of a soldier after his forces were told to open fire. In another incident, the body of an army officer was delivered to his family who were told that he was murdered by the nefarious elements behind the protests. His uncle, also an officer, reacted by blaming the regime and causing a protest in Tadmur. A Kurdish soldier from Amouda has also been executed for refusing orders. Notably, the regime has arrested Mansour al-Ali, who the Jerusalem Post describes as a “prominent figure” in the Allawite community that the regime draws its ranks from.
The Assad regime continues to deny that its security services or military is responsible for the murders and continues to blame unspecified “armed gangs” and radical Islamic terrorists. In reaction to these accusations, protesters in Homs chanted, “Brothers we want freedom, not Salafism.” Hamas and Hezbollah have not endorsed the uprising and the Muslim Brotherhood has yet to put pressure on the regime or mobilize its supporters to back the protests. Farid Ghadry of the Reform Party of Syria wrote an article lambasting the hypocrisy of these groups and the Turkish government and said, “When elections come, we will make the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] in Syria pay for [their] silence.”
President Obama has joined other Western leaders in condemning the “outrageous use of violence to quell protests” but no substantive action has followed. The International Commission of Jurists and Human Rights Watch are demanding that sanctions be placed on the Syrian officials involved and for an international investigation into the acts. Senator Joe Lieberman is suggesting the enforcement of an arms embargo and now, the Washington Post is slamming the U.S. response in an editorial.
“As a moral matter, the stance of the United States is shameful. To stand by passively while hundreds of people seeking freedom are gunned down by their government makes a mockery of the U.S. commitment to human rights,” the newspaper said.
But the U.S. has only offered words to the anti-American dictatorship of Bashar Assad. Even small measures like withdrawing the ambassador have yet to be taken. Seemingly, the administration’s posture toward Syria is yet another example of the curious “Obama Doctrine” apropos the Middle East: Offering hostility and heavy-handedness to allies (Egypt, Israel) and unimportant actors on the world stage (Gaddafi), while American enemies and terrorist regimes are handled with extreme, bewildering delicacy.