The New York Times
reports the league offered to send monitors to Syria to determine whether Syria was implementing the peace initiative to end the eight-month bloody repression of protests. The new reprieve is seen as a partial reversal of the suspension of Syria from the organization. The Syrian government, which has announced a boycott of Wednesday's meeting, did not immediately respond to the offer.
After the announcement of suspension of Syria from the Arab league, supporters of President Assad attacked the diplomatic missions of France, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. France responded by closing its missions in Syria. The New York Times
reports the embassy of The United Arab Emirates was attacked and the Moroccan Embassy pelted with rocks and eggs.
The world has watched with growing concern as the popular uprising in Syria against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and his Ba'ath Party took a divergent course from popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt which inspired it. The Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings achieved their goals quickly and efficiently without need for outside interference, and the people of both countries have remained largely in charge of their internal affairs and fate.
From all indications Syria is sliding into a civil war which will come with the complicating impact of foreign intervention. The strategic position of Syria in the Middle-East is such that a civil war with the involvement of foreign powers and interests will have greater implications to regional stability than the Libyan revolution.
Protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in January 26 and escalated in March with initial demands for far-reaching political reforms. These demands soon changed into demands for resignation of the president and his party that had been in power in Syria for decades. The Ba'ath Party reacted predictably with a military crackdown which has resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 civilians.
The failure of the uprising to achieve its goals has been blamed not only on the Ba'ath Party's cultivated attitude of shunning dialogue but also on lack of a united front in the opposition. Some observers of unfolding events in Syria say the failure of the uprising to achieve a revolution was also due to lack of commitment and support from the urban middle class.
What seems by far the most significant element in the Syrian crisis that indicates that the country is sliding into civil war are developments within the Syrian armed forces. The uprising initially failed to decisively break links between the government, and the armed forces. Recently, however, we have been seeing increased defections from the Syrian army, even while loyalists continue killing civilians on behalf of the the government.
reports on November 16 (today) the commencement of a major offensive by Syrian army defectors on an intelligence complex close to Damascus. According to The Daily Mail
, fighting between the Free Syrian Army and government forces marked a major escalation of the Syrian conflict into a civil war. The offensive involved shoulder-mounted rockets and machine guns. A resident of the suburb of Harasta, said: "I heard several explosions, the sound of machine-gun fire being exchanged."
The Daily Mail reports that the most recent fighting broke out after about 30 loyalist soldiers were killed by army defectors in southern province of Deera.
With peaceful protests against the government of Bashar al-Assad gradually giving way to full-blown armed conflict the slide of Syria into civil war seems inevitable. Daily Mail
reports that tank bombardment continued overnight in Bab Amro, Homs, where army defectors have been fighting loyalist forces for some time. An eyewitness, a retired army officer, described the goings-on in Homs:
"The tanks were firing according to instructions they were receiving from snipers stationed on rooftops."
There is already a deep sense of anxiety in neighboring countries over the implications of a civil war in Syria. Jordan's King Abdullah has called to Bashar al-Assad to step down. In an interview with the BBC
, King Abdullah surprised many by placing himself in Assad's shoes:
"I would step down and make sure whoever comes behind me has the ability to change the status quo that we're seeing"
It seems officials from most of the Arab League countries already feel that more is needed than a diplomatic approach to the Syrian crisis. The New York Times
quotes Qatar's foreign minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassim Jabr al-Thani:
“What is happening in Syria is very sad to all of us..We must take difficult decisions and force Syria to respect its obligations..We should stop wasting time while people are getting killed."
The opposition seems to have resigned itself to the need for foreign intervention in the style of the Libyan revolution, and is already looking beyond the Arab League to the U.S. for help. But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
has not committed the U.S. to any definite action:
"To achieve that same goal[as we did in Libya], we would have to act alone, at a much greater cost, with far greater risks and perhaps even with troops on the ground."
The U.S. does not seem at the moment anxious to fully commit itself to intervention in Syria. Clinton prevaricated, saying U.S. priority in the region remains, "our fight against al-Qaeda; defense of our allies; and a secure supply of energy."
U.S. foot-dragging over Syria may be also be influenced Russia and China's support for Assad. Both countries appear worried about the geopolitical implications of another NATO military intervention in the Middle-East. The Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov recently accused the opposition forces in Syria of trying to provoke confrontation with government forces and force foreign intervention in the country.
The battle lines in the Syrian crisis seems drawn ultimately between U.S led NATO and Syria's supporters Russia and China. The Syrian crisis is not just a regional crisis but a crisis with potentials for global conflict.