From the Editors
[This post, originally started earlier this week, will be updated as matters develop after today's bombing. Last Update: 4:00 PM, Washington DC time]
Two car bombings rocked the greater city of Damascus this morning, targeting two security services branches--a first occurrence on such scale since the 1980s. The Syrian government says these were terrorist/suicide bombings, while others, mostly in the opposition, are holding the regime itself responsible for the attacks. The United States condemned the attacks, but, along with other states/actors opposed to the Syrian regime, asserted that the Arab League's observers' mission must go on. The death toll was registered around forty-four, while the injured amounted to more than one-hundred and fifty.
To avoid functionalist thinking (i.e. noting who could potentially benefit from the attack, then attributing responsibility to them), it is sound to wait for further developments. The fact that the timing is curious does not suffice to make too many claims at this early point. The last thing one wants to do is to treat such attacks in the same manner that the Syrian regime treats news of protesters's deaths.
Whatever the truth, as the title of this post indicated a few days ago, we are entering a new confrontational phase in Syria. Unfortunately, as discussed in earlier posts on this site back in March 2011, the original spark of the uprising--i.e., opposition to decades of authoritarian rule and increasingly untold corruption at all levels within state and society--is likely to take a back seat to the legitimate and imagined complexities of the Syrian case. The more the domestic situation is penetrated by external interests and factors, the more diluted the legitimate demands of local opposition will become. Syrian citizens, dead or alive, and overwhelmingly among the opposition, will continue to pay the highest price for domestic oppression and/or external designs.
[Close shots of the aftermath]
Warning: Gruesome Images
[Close shots of the aftermath]
[View of the explosions from afar. Video from RT News]
[Text of Original Post. Wednesday, 21 December 2011]
The protests in Syria seem to be entering a new phase in which a constellation of factors are beginning to take their toll—whether or not the recent signing of the Arab League plan materializes. Among the pertinent factors at play are economic, logistical, moral/physical fatigue of regime forces, military might of part of the opposition, and the increasing organization of the internal opposition as a whole. The intensity of the violence in general, and regime crackdown in particular, speaks of a new confrontational phase, as opposed to the more awkwardly optimistic explanation that the regime is embarking on a final push before implementing the Arab League plan. One hopes this former grim forecast is incorrect. For now, what remains are the grim developments this week.
More than 200 Syrians were killed during the past few days, mostly in northwestern towns of Idleb and Jabal al-Zawiyeh, in what activists say were the two bloodiest days of the 10-month-long uprising that has claimed over 5000 lives according to the U.N.
The escalation of violence coincides with the regime’s signing (after weeks of stalling) of the anticipated Arab League “observer” protocol on Monday. The Syrian government agreed to allow independent monitors to enter “hot spot” areas to observe protests, and check Syria’s compliance with the Arab League’s peace plan to end the violence, withdraw armed forces from the streets, release prisoners, and open dialogue with the opposition.
[Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu`allem at the Arab League signing]
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Araby said an initial team would arrive to Syria on Thursday, with another 150 monitors expected by the end of the year. After the signing, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallim gave a one-hour long press conference inviting the monitors to “see for themselves” what is really going on in Syria, insisting that foreign-funded “armed gangs” are to blame for the unrest. On Tuesday, Bashar al-Assad issued a new law that would punish anyone caught distributing arms "with the aim of committing terrorist acts" with the death penalty.
[Demonstration in the Midan quarter, Damascus, on Monday]
Al-Midan neighborhood in Damascus witnessed a large-scale protest on Monday, as thousands took to the streets in the name of wounded 9-year-old Hala Munajed who had been shot in the abdomen by security forces the day before. Meanwhile activists said 60 defecting soldiers were killed in Idleb by the Syrian military's machine guns. The violent crackdown in the area continued on Tuesday, as activists report the slaughter of dozens of people within the olive orchards of Jabal al-Zawiya.
[The ensuing crack-down in the Midan quarter]
Burhan Ghalioun, president of the Syrian National Council, who is heading the group's first major gathering in Tunisia, called on the Arab League and the Secretary General of the U.N. “to interfere immediately to put a halt to the massacres being committed by the Syrian regime against unarmed civilians masked under its signature of the observers’ protocol.”
In better news, after being detained for 2 weeks, prominent blogger Razan Ghazzawi was released Sunday on bail after being charged with “fomenting sectarian strife and spreading false information through a secret organization – charges punishable by up to 15 years in prison.”
Finally, a pro-regime rally was organized this past Monday in Damascus, but it drew a significantly smaller crowd than previous rallies. However, one should not attribute much credence to such differentials considering the regime’s role in catalyzing these “spontaneous” demonstrations.
Here's some parting sarcasm from Syria's demonstrators lamenting the period prior to the regime's signing of the Arab League plan: "First day of the protocol . . . 100 martyrs"
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