The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has announced that Syria’s al-Assad regime has agreed to allow aid organizations into four provinces in Syria – Dar’a (Deraa), Dayr Az Zawr (Deir el-Zour), Hims (Homs) and Idlib. These are allegedly the hardest hit provinces in the uprising. Dar’a was the flash point last winter, the province suffering from a prolonged drought. Hims provincial capital, known as Homs in the West, as been attacked with tanks and mortar, and at least two neighborhoods have been leveled. Refugees from Hims have entered Lebanon. Idlib has been a running battle between the Syrian army/security forces and the opposition both in terms of protesters and the Syrian Free Army. It is from Idlib that refugees have flooded into Turkey, an additional 2,300 since June 1. Over 78,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq in the past 15 months.
The United Nations has been working with the Syrian Red Crescent trying to get aid into the country, but have encountered every imaginable bureaucratic snafu the al-Assad regime could throw up. John Ging, executive director of the UNOCHA, said in Geneva, “Today marks a step of progress, in that there is now an agreement with the Syrian government on the scale, scope and modality for the humanitarian response in Syria. Whether this is a breakthrough or not will be evident in the coming days and weeks and it will be measured not in rhetoric, not in agreements, but in action on the ground.” Field offices are supposed to be opened in the four provinces, but Ging stated that “Freedom of movement, unimpeded access for humanitarian action within Syria, is what it’s all about now. The good faith of the (Syrian) government will be tested on this issue today, tomorrow and every day.” It is estimated that a half-million Syrians are displaced within the country.
Meanwhile, back in Damascus, Western diplomats are being expelled, that is, those who haven’t left already. The expulsion is purely symbolic since these Western embassies have been closed for months already. The regime had to do something to respond to having their diplomats kicked out of a dozen Western countries after the Houla massacre, so they made a show of “expelling” the ambassadors of the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Switzerland, France, Italy and Spain, along with certain diplomats from Germany, Canada, Bulgaria and Belgium.
And, meanwhile again, over on the Mediterranean coast, the province of Latakia was attacked with helicopter gunships.and infantry assaults on rebel forces. The attack on Latakia is a surprise, since the province is most known for two distinct populations – the Alawite minority that the al-Assad family and most of the regime’s leadership belong to, and a large Palestinian refugee camp. The people of Latakia have not been supportive of the Sunni-led uprising. Reports of the second day of combat say that the assault is concentrated on the Sunni town of Haffeh.
Heavy gunfire was also reported around Homs, again.
On the international scene, everyone is still debating the efficacy of the Annan peace plan, with Russia and China advocating for its continuation and the rest of the interested parties saying “Are you guys nuts? It’s a failure already!” Bashar al-Assad continues to claim he is fighting foreign terrorists and will carry out his own reform agenda – the one he promised fifteen months ago and did not act on until a couple of months ago. He still hasn’t carried out any of the reforms that were on the ballot with the referendum vote, so no one knows when these reforms might actually happen. The regime claims 2,700 soldiers and security personnel have been killed, and the opposition says over 13,000 civilians and rebels have died.