In the village of Mazraat al-Qabeer, near Hama, at least 78 people have been reported massacred by the the Syrian army and the Shabbiha militia. In an action identical to that at Houla on May 25, the village was shelled and then entered the village and hacked and shot the residents to death. At least 40 of the victims were women and children.
After Houla, President Bashar al-Assad condemned the massacre of 108 men, women and children, but insisted that the United Nations monitors were wrong, and his army and the Shabbiha militia were not at fault. As always, it is the fault of “foreign-backed terrorists,” who are now driving around Syria in stealth tanks.
There are probably terrorists in Syria now, and probably Islamists from or supported by Iran. The opposition is made up of Sunni Muslims rebelling against the government being made up almost exclusively of members of the minority Alawite sect, an off-shoot of Shia. Syrian society has been secular, and the Islamists would want to change that, even if it means attacking fellow Shi’ites. The bombings near Syrian government buildings are terrorist behavior and not part of the patterns set by the opposition or the Syrian Free Army that is made up of defected soldiers from Syria’s army.
President al-Assad’s refusal to face reality is the reason Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton set out al-Assad’s removal from office as a condition of transitioning Syria to a new government. He has named a new Prime Minister, but still someone from within the tight circle of advisors who surround him. He promised reforms 15 months ago, held a referendum on them, but the biggest thing in the referendum would keep him in power for over a decade.
Fifteen nations sent representatives to a meeting in Istanbul to discuss the continuing problem of Syria and its support by Russia. A U. S. State Department official explained “Tonight, the secretary laid out a set of essential elements and principles which we believe should guide that post-Assad transition strategy, including Assad’s full transfer of power.” Secretary also said that a fully representative interim government would be needed to bridge the gap to free and fair elections. The basics of a good government were in the old Syrian constitution, but the banning of political parties prevented true representation. The referendum included a clause about allowing additional parties, and writing a new constitution, but nothing has really happened since the referendum was held in February.
Among those attending this meeting were British Foreign Minister William Hague and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
The State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, suggest that the benchmarks were set out in the hopes of getting Russia to agree to them, and it is speculated that Russia could offer the al-Assad family exile. Fred Hof, a senior State Department official who has worked in Syria, is going to Moscow on Thursday for meetings with the Russians. President Vladimir Putin has been in Beijing, China, holding high level meetings about establishing military co-operation with China. Historically, China and Russia have co-operated on nothing, never, not ever.
The official continued, “In the absence of any significant movement by Assad on any of the tracks and in fact increased violence, it’s time for the international community, working with the Syrian people, to start fleshing out the alternatives to Assad and how this is going to go.”
France is calling a meeting of the “Friends of Syria” – opposition representatives, activists working outside of Syria and the nations that are supporting them, to convene on July 6. Turkey also announced a “co-ordination group” that will meet June 15 and 16th to meet with all of the Syrian opposition groups.