Sixteen months, 17,000 dead, 100,000 internal and external refugees….and it may all be coming down to one battle.
With at least 20 generals having defected, at least three ministers dead and more wounded, the al-Assad regime is now fighting for their very lives, not just control of their country. The war is now raging inside Damascus, not in the rural provinces, not in the mountains, the war has come to Bashar al-Assad. He can keep claiming that he is fighting foreign backed terrorists or he can admit that the people he has been killing are those he swore to serve and defend. He can wait until they capture a few tanks and start shelling the palace, probably killing or injuring his wife and children, or he can surrender now and ask only to be allowed to send his family into exile. In the spirit of humanitarianism, Great Britain should allow Asma and the children to go to her family.
Rebel have seized two crossings into Turkey, at Bab al-Hawa and Jarblus. Around 20,000 people from Damascus and its suburbs fled across the Lebanese border in the past few days, and the Lebanese did nothing to stop the flood. Officials in Iraq confirmed that the rebels have control of the Abu Kamal checkpoint on the Euphrates River highway into Iraq.
Inside Damascus, the Province Police headquarters was a smoking, blackened ruin and the headquarters of the elite 4th Armored Brigade was hit with explosions. The security forces and the Shabbiha militia are being hit with IEDs and sniper fire, just as they used snipers to shoot at funerals during the protests.
The government has responded with helicopter gun ships, tank shellings and artillery based in the mountains around the city, firing at random on the city. For over 24 hours, no one knew if President al-Assad was even alive. He was finally shown on official TV swearing in the new defense minister, Fahad Jassim al-Freij. When Yemen President Ali Adbullah Saleh was injured in a bombing 13 months ago, the extent of his injuries was not acknowledged for several days, so the speculation about al-Assad was legitimate. Now, it’s a question of where al-Assad is and where his brother Maher, head of the 4th Armored Brigade might be.
The operations at the border are the ones that can be verified by outside journalists. The rebels were highly co-ordinated in their assault and the government’s forces withdrew with little resistence. The rebels dismantled computer systems and seized security records. There were at least 30 government tanks nearby.
The United Nations Security Council has been blocked from any real action by the Russian and Chinese vetoes. The situation never lent itself to the type of intervention that took place in Libya because there were no clear lines separating the combatants as there were between Tripoli and Benghazi. There was also no clear leadership of the opposition.
It was believed that as long as the regime held the support of the upper middle class in Aleppo and Damascus, they could survive. Once the civil war reached those two cities, once that urban, privileged, educated population had to confront what had been really happening around them, the regime could no longer pretend that it was tearing the country apart to protect “the Syrian people” from armed terrorist gangs with foreign backing. The people of Aleppo and Damascus could see for themselves that the rebels were fellow Syrians fighting for the fulfillment of the promises of political freedom that Bashar al-Assad made 16 months ago, the hope of reform that was attached to him from the moment he became president.
Bashar al-Assad may go down in Syrian history, not as a vicious, murderous dictator, but as the greatest disappointment the nation has known since the day the British reneged on their promise to let the Syrians create their own nation in 1919. The Syrian people loved him. They loved his beautiful, educated wife. They believed that he would bring them into the 21st century. They believed in him. No one ever believed that Ben Ali in Tunisia, Qaddafi in Libya, Saleh in Yemen or Mubarak in Egypt were their countries’ greatest hope for the future. That may be the saddest part of all this….Syria believed in him and he failed them.