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August 30, 2012

Syria: Government Attacking Bread Line

Civilian Deaths at Bakeries Are War Crimes
August 30, 2012
  • Children wounded in an air raid on a bakery are treated for shrapnel wounds in one of the main emergency hospitals in an opposition-controlled area on August 16, 2012. At least three bakeries in Aleppo city were hit that day.
    © 2012 Ricardo Garcia Vilanova

(New York) – Syrian government forces have dropped bombs and fired artillery at or near at least 10 bakeries in Aleppo province over the past three weeks, killing and maiming scores of civilians who were waiting for bread.

The attacks are at least recklessly indiscriminate and the pattern and number of attacks suggest that government forces have been targeting civilians, Human Rights Watch said. Both reckless indiscriminate attacks and deliberately targeting civilians are war crimes.

One attack in the city of Aleppo on August 16, 2012, killed up to 60 people and wounded more than 70. Another attack in the city on August 21 killed at least 23 people and wounded 30.



“Day after day, Aleppo residents line up to get bread for their families, and instead get shrapnel piercing their bodies from government bombs and shells,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch who has just returned from Aleppo. “Ten bakery attacks is not random – they show no care for civilians and strongly indicate an attempt to target them.”

continued here

To Kill, and to Walk in the Funeral Procession (reposted with p.s.)

with 4 comments

photo by Razan Ghazzawi

The Syrian regime is now perpetrating crimes against humanity at a pace to match its crimes in Hama in 1982 and at the Tel Za’atar Palestinian camp in 1976. All of Syria is a burning hell. Savage aerial bombardment (such as that causing the apocalypse here in Kafranbel, which held such beautifully creative demonstrations) and continuous massacres have raised the average daily death toll to well above two hundred, most of them in Damascus and its suburbs. The other day 440 people were murdered in twenty four hours.

The worst hit area has been the working class suburb of Darayya. I visited people in Darayya some years ago, and once bought a bedroom set for a friend’s wedding in the town. I remember it as a lively, friendly, youthful place. Last year Darayya became a cultural centre of the revolution. Ghiath Matar and others developed wonderful methods of non-violent protest there. When security forces arrived to repress demonstrations, Darayya’s residents handed the soldiers flowers and glasses of water. But Matar was murdered, and Darayya has been repeatedly raided, its young men detained and tortured, its women and children shot and bombed. Nevertheless, for some months the regime was kept out of Darayya. The town ruled itself in a civilised manner, successfully keeping a lid on crime and sectarianism.

The recent pattern is already well established (remember the massacre at Houla), but this time has played out on a larger scale. The regime bombed Darayya for days, mainly from artillery stationed on the mountains overlooking Damascus. Once any armed resistance had retreated, soldiers and shabeeha militia moved in, with knives and guns. This stage reminds one of Sabra and Shatila. It seems there was a list of suspected activists and resistance sympathisers, but the field executions included old men, women and children. About three hundred bodies have been counted so far, found in the street or in basements or in family homes.


The next stage is to mock the victims. The film below is the al-Dunya (a regime propaganda channel) report on the massacre. The actress/journalist (not a good actress, for she mistakes the scene; while waxing poetic and prettily outraged, she forgets to simulate fear and horror) shows the viewers what the ‘terrorists’ have done. She interviews a wounded woman. The wounded woman responds as if she’s facing interrogation, which of course she is. Terrified women in the back of a pick-up praise the regime army. The reporter is accompanied by the army that has just murdered the women’s neighbours. From 4.20 the reporter compounds the trauma of a little girl who is lying terrified beside her dead mother. It is perhaps the most disgusting thing you’ll ever see.


Postscript. The appalling Robert Fisk (I know he used to be good but since 2005 he has been an awful journalist, self-obsessed, ignorant, fawning over warlords or their wives, pretending to speak Arabic when he obviously doesn’t) has done his own version of the al-Dunya propaganda in Darayya. Admittedly, his report isn’t quite as obscene as al-Dunya’s, or rather it exists within a tradition which is slightly less obscene than al-Dunya’s. But it’s still obscene. Here it is. It will make the intellignet, informed or humane reader vomit. (A few days before, Fisk fawningly interviewed the criminal Walid Muallem. Muallem whined about anti-Syrian conspiracy, and Fisk, instead of using his access to say “But surely the revolution is motivated and mobilised by regime repression?” he said, “But isn’t it all about Iran?” In other words he believes the regime propaganda, and the balnket thinkers, and is entirely ignorant about what happens on the ground in Syria, just as he’s been ignorant about Lebanon for many years. What else can we expect from an area ‘expert’ who thinks the arabic word umma (nation or community) means ‘mother’?

Anyway, the Local Coordination Committees, who understand the requirements of ethical journalism better than the Independent, have responded, very politely, to this shambles of a journalist. Here is the response:

Daraya Coordination Committee

Press Release

Robert Fisk’s report about the massacre of Saturday 25/08/2012

On Wednesday 29 August 2012, Mr. Robert Fisk of The Independent wrote a report on the Daraya Massacre that was perpetrated only 4 days earlier. Mr. Fisk is a world-famous journalist known for his balanced opinion pieces and ground-breaking reports especially from the Middle East. The people of Syria especially remember Fisk for being the first foreign reporter to enter the city of Hama after the 1982 massacre and relate to the world the horrors he saw there. Thus, we were absolutely astonished by the above-mentioned report and would like to make sure that certain points in it are not left uncorrected. We do this out of respect to the fallen heroes and to make sure the voice of the victims is heard.

Anyone who watched the infamous and insolent report made by the state-favored Addounia TV, would notice the obvious similarities between the two reports.

One major concern that would invalidate any statement taken from the victims is the presence of army personnel as admitted by Mr. Fisk himself. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the Syrian regime would know the degree of intimidation this would incur in the hearts and minds of witnesses. The army does not need to spoon-feed the statements to the witnesses as fear is more than enough to make them repeat the narrative propagated by the government about armed militias and radical Islamists.

Moreover, the article is headlined and predicated on the government’s unbelievable prisoner-swap story. The question that begs to be asked is the following: Even if there was a prisoner exchange and it failed, does the Assad regime have any grounds at all for this level of retaliation? Were there similar failed rounds of negotiation before the massacres of Muaddamiya, Saqba etc. In fact, what has been happening in the towns of the Damascus Countryside Governorate, and indeed all of Syria, follows a similar scenario that begins with shelling and ends with massacres of civilians.

A seemingly strong point in Mr. Fisk’s report is his mentioning of real names of people telling their real stories. However, the Coordination Committee of Daraya has been in touch with some of these people and the following corrections need to be made.

1- The story of Hamdi Khreitem’s parents. The witness must have been too intimidated to identify his parents’ killers. Our reliable sources from the field hospital of Daraya confirm that both of them were targeted by a sniper (from the Assad army of course).

2- The story of Khaled Yahya Zukari. The witness was actually in a car with his brother and their wives and children. They were shot at by government forces and his wife and daughter (Leen) were hit. The baby girl’s head was almost split in half and a bullet penetrated the mother’s chest. The mother became hysterical as a result of the shock. Later she died as the field hospital had to be evacuated prior to an army raid. The Assad army told the people that the FSA raped and killed the woman.

The fear and intimidation of witnesses is reflected sometimes in their refusal to name a guilty side. Moreover, Mr. Fisk should know better than reporting conjecture such as this: ‘Another man said that, although he had not seen the dead in the graveyard, he believed that most were related to the government’s army and included several off-duty conscripts.’ The implicit accusation is of course directed against the FSA and this method of reporting resembles Syrian state propaganda par excellence, something that we wish Mr. Fisk had not done.

The revolution committee would finally like to stress also that Mr. Fisk did not meet any member of the opposition in Daraya and that he merely depended on the narrative of his ‘tour guides’ in reporting on such a horrific massacre, the ugliest Syria has seen in the 17 months of the revolution

FSA rebels – accused of war crimes – shape Syria’s future

Amal Hanano

Aug 29, 2012

Syria, the crossroads of civilisation, has become a land of crossings. Refugees cross borders to overcrowded camps; displaced families travel from destroyed towns and cities to others still being destroyed; officials and diplomats defect from the Assad regime to form alliances with the loosely defined “opposition”. And thousands of people have crossed from life to death.

Some of these crossings are devastating and heartbreaking to watch. But a few are euphoric. As the regime began its offensive against Aleppo, a short video emerged, showing some young Syrian Army soldiers who had just defected to join the Free Syrian Army.

They huddled together in the back of a lorry en route to Atareb, a nearby town. It was dark, but their faces glowed with relief as they lit cigarettes. When they alighted, opposition fighters showered them with welcomes, their voices rough yet comforting. “Thank God for your safety,” they said, the common greeting to those returning from a trip. Crossing over was like coming home.

Another video, emerging around the same time, told another story, one of vengeance. In Aleppo on July 31, the FSA-affiliated Tawheed Brigade captured members of the Barri clan. Seated in a line on a dirty floor, they faced the cameraman, one by one. Most of their faces were bloodied. Ringleader Zeyno Barri, stripped to his underwear, looked forlorn and humiliated – and like a man who knew the end was near.

The Barri tribe has been known for years for criminal behaviour – a dirty clan with dirty ties to the regime. Since early 2011, their thuggery and intimidation have aimed at suppressing the uprising in Aleppo. Asked why the city took so long to join the revolution, many Allepians answer simply: the Barris. In Aleppo, the Barris are the definition of shabbiha, the “ghost” militia that supports the regime.

Supposedly after a field trial, of which no video has been released, the men were marched outside and executed in a hail of bullets. When the dust cleared, only bodies remained. The fighters scattered. Even the cameraman hid behind a wall as he continued filming.

I wondered: were we watching brutality seep from one side to another? When was the line between justice and vengeance crossed? When they decided to execute the men? When they decided that one bullet per man was not enough but used round after round?

Afterwards, the video’s details were dissected in social media. Some activists were surprised that the Barris had not been tortured first. They said that the punishment could have been much worse, and emphasised that after the first fatal shots the men could not have felt the other bullets, fired only for show to warn the rest of the shabbiha. But some believe the brutal scene killed more than men; it killed the great expectations of an idealised revolution, and it set a disturbing precedent.

The executions opened new rifts among supporters of the revolution. Accusations divided those who think the FSA is faultless, those who argue that this is not the time to talk about a “mistake”, and those who separate the revolution from the FSA. Aleppian activists were unfairly reminded of their silence (meaning acceptance) when other cities were being bombed. Those who did not unconditionally accept the FSA’s actions were labelled hypocrites, at best, and traitors, at worst.

And so the “Rambos” who justified the violence as necessary separated from the “Gandhis” who denounced some of the FSA’s tactics. Both sides were right and both were wrong, and all of us knew it.

There are regime supporters who call for reform and dialogue without acknowledging that they would dare not utter those words but for the courage of the revolutionaries. In the same way, diehard FSA supporters refuse to acknowledge that the FSA finally signed and implemented a code of conduct, after the Barri executions, only because of the voices of the critics.

The regime is still strong, but power is shifting. And with shifting power comes greater responsibility – and stronger criticism. The FSA will capture many more pro-regime criminals, leading up to the top. Now is the time for the difficult conversation about how to act justly.

For people like me, watching the revolution from afar, insisting on the revolution’s original principles seems impossible. How do you ask a person who has experienced such bloody horrors to show restraint? To practise compassion? To extend dignity? It seems impossible. But didn’t a Syrian revolution against the Assads seem impossible once?

The next time an FSA criminal act is exposed, we should remember that thousands of people who died hoping for a peaceful transition to freedom and dignity may not have supported armed revolt, just as most Syrians did not support armed revolt three decades ago during the Hama revolt.

Last Saturday was the worst day of the revolution, in a sense: over 300 bodies were discovered in Daraya. But still regime supporters display a unified front. Routine summary executions in Artouz, the shelling of peaceful funerals in Dael, the bombing of breadlines in Aleppo, the reduction of residences to rubble in Azaz – are all accepted in the name of “security”.

Meanwhile, the opposition seems divided about justice. But the reality is different. For decades, Syrians gave the regime fear disguised as love. The revolution is about reversing that, abandoning blind support for anyone and building a new society founded on accountability and responsibility. Our actions today ripple into the Syria we will inhabit tomorrow.

Like the defectors in that lorry, we all have internal boundaries to cross. For us, as for the few men who have become brothers after being enemies, crossing over, without vengeance or betrayal, is our only option. We must reject what we have inherited from the regime and act like who we are: a complex society not always in agreement, but united as a people, united as Syrians.

Amal Hanano is a pseudonym for a Syrian American writer


Al Jazeera Series, ‘Poets of Protest,’ Starts Tomorrow

Al Jazeera’s “Poets of Protest” series — which promises to document the lives and landscapes of Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, Syrian Hala Mohammed, Lebanese Yehia Jaber (another video of Jaber here), Iraqi Manal al-Sheikh, Palestinian Mazen Maarouf, and Algerian al-Khadra — is set to begin tomorrow.

The first “Artscape” portrait will be of vernacular poet Fouad Negm, who was also recently featured in a disappointing Egyptian film. An Al Jazeera news release promises that “Poets of Protest focuses on writers, their political and artistic struggles, and their work, with beautifully filmed visual interpretations of the poems. “

The release adds, after discussing the profile of Fouad Negm, “In other episodes in the series, Syria’s renowned Hala Mohammed tells us about the pain of watching from exile as her country is violently torn apart. Poets of Protest also goes beyond the Arab Spring to hear the works of Mazen Maarouf from Palestine, Manal Al-Sheikh from Iraq, communist fighter turned poet Yehia Jaber from Lebanon and the ‘the poet of the rifle,’ Al Khadra, from Western Sahara. “

Short promo for the series:

More from Al Jaz

Syria: the point of no return

The battle between President Assad’s regime and the Free Syrian Army is a life-or-death struggle. But whatever its outcome, this is a civil war being fought on a faultline that threatens the entire Middle East

A Free Syrian Army fighter reacts after his friend was shot by the Syrian army, Aleppo, August 2012

A Free Syrian Army fighter reacts after his friend was shot by Syrian army troops in Aleppo. Photograph: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

When power starts to shift in the Middle East, its people have long known what to expect. Challenges to authority have rarely been met with a promise of consensus or inclusion. Strong-arm suppression – the more forceful the better – has been the default reaction to dissent. The price has usually been brutal.

Syrians who wanted an end to regime dominance knew the rules when they started demanding changes in the region’s most uncompromising police state in March last year. Now, 18 months and more than 23,000 bodies later, and with no end in sight to the chaos ravaging the country, their worst fears are being realised on a scale that continues both to horrify and numb.

And yet, the events of the past 18 months have shattered one of the abiding guidelines to life under totalitarian rule – that absolute power is uncontestable. If anything has so far been achieved through the bedlam now rumbling through Syria and indeed other parts of the Arab world, it is a new reality: the power of the street has exposed the fragility of authority.

“I had always said they would fall over when we were no longer scared of them,” Moustafa Abu Khalil, a retired electricity worker from the northern Syrian town of Jisr al-Shughour, told me in June. “It took a long time to get to the point where people were prepared to risk everything, their families, their futures, just to bring about change. “The truth be told, [the people] probably wouldn’t have got here if the regime did not continue to escalate the violence every month. That just fed the flames. And now we have a true revolution, civil war, call it what you will. It is a point of no return.”

With all of Syria’s cities now under siege, its capital Damascus and commercial hub Aleppo engulfed in violence, Syria seems well past that proverbial point. Defections have whittled down the strength and numbers of the country’s vaunted military and destruction and misery is seriously testing the resolve of both regime supporters and those who want Bashar al-Assad gone.

The country’s economy has been under the anaconda-like grip of international sanctions, which have ground industry to a halt, crippled trade supply lines, battered the currency and shattered confidence. In the hard-hit north, little works any more. War has seen Syrian society, already stuck – seemingly permanently in 1973 – wound back even further. There are more donkey carts than cars on the streets of some towns between Aleppo and the Turkish border. Clapped-out tractors belch fumes from precious fuel that is sold in two-litre bottles on rubbish-strewn roadsides for around $8 (£5).

“None of us can afford it,” says Abu Nour, a member of the Free Syrian Army, who, before the Syrian uprising gained momentum, was a tailor whose only military experience was 15 months as a conscript more than a decade ago. “I’m not sure where the money is coming from to get us to the frontline. Those things a person like me doesn’t ask.”

Abu Nour is now a foot soldier in the rebel army that is at the vanguard of the fight for Syria’s destiny. Drawn largely from the rural poor, and also represented by conservative Islamic groupings such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the FSA has taken the battle to the country’s two lead cities, where it is now engaged in a fight to the death with the regime army.

Rebel groups entered Aleppo and Damascus in mid-July and their early gains sparked predictions that four decades of uncompromising rule was about to end. But as a withering summer draws to a close across the northern plains that have harboured Aleppo, and the central plateau on which Damascus, the world’s oldest capital has stood for more than 6,000 years, this early optimism has yielded to a more unpalatable reality – that neither side is about to secure a decisive victory in either city anytime soon.

The soaring death toll this week in Damascus, where more than 300 people were reportedly killed in one day alone, and the grinding misery in the battlefield suburbs of Aleppo, have left many in Syria – and in the rest of the ever-more restive region – wondering what comes next.

“Change of this scale is perilous,” says Rita Sabbagh, a Damascus businesswoman who supports the regime. “You must understand that meaningful shifts in thinking and behaviour take generations in this part of the world. Did they really think they would just ride into town like this and the regime would run away?”

Were he to try to cut a deal with Syria’s fractious opposition groups or to capitulate to their demands, the downside for Assad and the regime he inherited from his father is obvious. Also increasingly clear, even to lay observers, is the scale of the risk to Syria’s neighbours if the civil war continues to expose regional fault lines that have remained unaddressed throughout the modern history of the region.

After the 500-year Ottoman empire disintegrated more than 90 years ago, the borders of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and what was to become Israel were defined – often on imperial whim. The pact between Britain and France that led to Syria’s independence, known as the Sykes-Picot agreement, cobbled together various sects under the banner of nation states, which have not coexisted easily.

For more than 40 years, the Alawite sect, which is loosely aligned to Shia Islam and had long been persecuted under the Ottomans, has been used to solidify regime control. Most of the key regime figures, including the Assads, have been Alawites ever since Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad, was at the peak of his powers. Despite comprising around 12% of Syria’s population, the Alawites dominate the Syrian establishment and hold most key positions in the military and security apparatus. Now, as Syria wobbles, the sect feels a deep sense of threat from the country’s majority Sunnis, some of whom hold grudges against the regime because of its treatment towards them before the uprising.

“Egypt and Libya have taught us that the way that power works [now] in Syria does not have to be the way it will always be,” said Mohammed Hariri at one of Aleppo’s frontline zones earlier this month. A realignment of power appears to be top of the wish list for many fighters and residents alike in Syria’s opposition strongholds. But such a shift will not be contained within Syria’s borders – a fact that is causing increasing alarm outside the country and fuelling fears that changes more profound than anything since the fall of the Ottomans are starting to take place in the Middle East.

In neighbouring Lebanon, long under the tutelage of Syria to the east and the influence of other players, such as Saudi Arabia, the United States, France and Israel, the tension is palpable. “I’m afraid that if things are to stay like that, it could lead to the partitioning of Syria and where that will lead the Middle East, don’t ask me,” the leader of Lebanon’s Druze sect, Walid Jumblatt, told the Guardian earlier this month. “Big historical cities will be destroyed. Assad might take refuge in the mountains. Now he is trying to cleanse the Sunnis from Latakia, Benyas, Tartous. It seems the map of Syria is being changed. What is left of the famous Sykes-Picot agreement is being changed.”

Along with Jumblatt, other Lebanese leaders broadly aligned to the west or Saudi Arabia have been laying low this summer. The country’s former prime minister, Saad Hariri – whose father, the Lebanese elder statesman Rafiq Hariri, was assassinated in 2005 – has been in self-imposed exile in Riyadh and Paris for the past 18 months.

Samir Geagea, a political ally of the Hariri, who leads a prominent Christian political bloc, survived a failed attempt by a sniper to shoot him in his garden in June. The arrest earlier this month of Lebanon’s former information minister, Michel Samaha, a key ally of Bashar al-Assad, has given weight to the fears that assassins are lurking.

Samaha has been charged with receiving explosives and instructions from Syria’s national security chief, General Ali Mamlouk, allegedly with the knowledge of Assad, to target 20 key figures in Lebanon. He was entrapped by a close aide who filmed him saying Assad was personally aware of the plans. His case is now before a military tribunal, a rare event in Lebanon, where state institutions have often failed to assert their independence.

In Iraq, where assassins have remained a part of the political fabric for much of the past eight years, there is also a growing fear that the chaos in Syria cannot be contained. Islamist groups that wreaked havoc between 2004 and 2007 have announced that they are trying to reclaim ground they lost during fighting with US forces and militias that were at the time backed by the US and Iraqi governments. They claim to be drawing inspiration from the Syrian uprising, which has in part been joined by a new dynamic – jihadists from other parts of the Arab world, some of whom see the fighting taking place in Syria as part of a global jihad.

“They are trying to make their presence felt again,” the director general of the intelligence division at Iraq’s interior ministry, Major General Ali Hussein Kamal, explained earlier this month. “They see what is happening in Syria as a chance for them.”

Sitting in his fortified office in a riverside Baghdad suburb, Kamal claimed that Syria’s insistence that the uprising against it is a foreign-led plot using jihadists was at odds with Iraq’s recent dealings with Syria. “In 2009, the bombs that targeted the ministries could clearly be traced back to Syria,” he said. “Both in planning and instruction.”

Asked whether he believed that regime figures had known of the bombing campaign, in which huge bombs targeted the finance, foreign and justice ministries, as well as the Baghdad governor’s offices, killing more than 200 people, Kamal said: “I refer you to the comments of the defected Syrian ambassador to Iraq who said the regime had close links to al-Qaida and had links to the recent bombings in Damascus.”

A man reacts after an airstrike on Azaz, 15 August 2012A man reacts after an airstrike on Azaz destroyed 10 buildings on 15 August 2012. Photograph: APAs Aleppo has burned, the regime counter-assault in Damascus has been relentless over the past fortnight. The Syrian army has warned of “inevitable death” for rebel fighters who don’t put down their weapons in areas known as opposition strongholds. Anti-regime neighbourhoods say they have little reason to trust that pledges of amnesties will be honoured by a military that has shown no quarter in more than a year of battles with rebels. And, as sectarian positions harden, in an increasingly volatile region, there appears little reason for the regime to decide that now would be a time for compromise.

Iran, which has viewed Syria as its key ally in the Arab world for much of the past 30 years, has shown signs of increasing belligerence as the situation in Syria has deteriorated. The fall of Damascus would be a serious strategic blow for Tehran, as it would for its key ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, which has enjoyed staunch support and patronage from both regimes since 1982.

Also unflinchingly in Syria’s corner is Russia, which has acted to prevent even more severe international sanctions or any move towards direct foreign intervention in the conflict. Russia’s ties to the Syrian regime date back to Soviet days and have, in many ways, post-dated them. Libya and Egypt had at times been in the Soviet sphere. Syria, meanwhile, has barely left it despite the end of the cold war more than 20 years ago.

Late last month, in a grand villa in the Aleppo hinterland that belongs to the family of General Hikmat Shehabi, a former confidante of Hafez al-Assad who left Syria shortly after his son was named president, rebels thumbed through old books on a lounge room shelf. One had been signed by the late North Korean dictator, Kim Jung-il. There were also tomes in tribute to Assad Sr and eulogies to the achievements of Soviet society. Time had stood still in the dusty marble mansion, just as it had on the drab empty streets outside where this society in the north of a country deeply embroiled in revolution seemed collectively unsure about what to do next.

“Nobody has come to help us,” said Khalid Ibrahim, a steel worker who joined the rebel army when dwindling business closed his workshop earlier this year. A Russian-made Mig fighter jet circled nearby as Ibrahim pressed his point. “We knew what we were up against when we took this on, but in Libya the Americans were there within a month. France and Britain were fighting each other to be the first to bomb Gaddafi. And Assad is worse, much, much worse.” He shook his head, then added: “This could be a disaster, or a new map. Only God knows which way it will go.”

In dozens of conversations the Guardian has had with Syrians in recent months – some diehard regime backers and others just as deeply committed to the opposition cause – a clear sense has emerged that the popular uprising that started it all in the southern city of Deraa has been dwarfed by something far more significant.

The arc of revolution that started in Tunisia, surged through Egypt, then raged through Libya, has hit an obstacle in Syria, one that may prove difficult as a whole for the region to bypass. “History has hijacked what the people were trying to achieve,” says Amal Kuzbari, a Syrian teacher from Homs, now a refugee in southern Turkey. “It was simple at the beginning and it isn’t now.

The fight for Syria has become a struggle for the destiny of the region. It is also now a clash of ideologies and orders, of sects and societies. The battle for regional influence runs straight through Damascus and none of the region’s main players are willing to yield ground. “It’s Sunni versus Shia, Arab versus Persian, America versus Russia, the list goes on,” says a western diplomat. “This is unfinished business on many levels.”

What will emerge from Syria’s civil war will likely take many months to determine. A rapid end to the regime would not mean an end to crisis. The vacuum that would follow the end of strongman rule would take some filling – the recent experience of Iraq to the east, another sectarian state bound together by an autocrat, clearly demonstrates that.

Even states such as Turkey, with strong borders and robust institutions, will remain susceptible to Syria’s spillover effects. Turkey is now hosting around 40,000 Syrian refugees and said earlier this year that it has prepared contingencies for up to 500,000. However, if Syria’s Kurds decide that the crumbling of state authority gives them the chance to push their case for statehood, Turkey will be facing more than a refugee crisis.

“Changing how power works [in the region] is a good thing,” explains a Syrian exile in Beirut, who claims to support neither side. “But I’m not sure people know exactly what it is they have started.”


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