Friday, November 11, 2011

Syrian Protestors Request No-Fly Zone

Anna Mahjar-Barducci

After seeing Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi toppled, the Syrian people apparently want to be the next to be freed from dictatorship. Since the uprising started seven months ago, the Syrian regime has killed more than 3,000 innocent civilians, including 187 children; now the Syrian people are asking for a NATO foreign military intervention. Protestors decided to go to the streets on October 28 to urge the international community to help them by imposing a no-fly zone. A No-Fly zone would not cost the West as much as ground intervention, and would seriously limit Assad's capabilities. "Stop Barking Bashar, the people want a no-fly zone," thousands of people, again defying the regime, were chanting. Anxious about foreign intervention, Syrian President Bashar Assad declared on November 3rd that Syria accept a plan offered by the Arab League to end the unrest and and reach an agreement with the protestors. If the demonstrators had doubts that Assad's announcement was just a manoeuvre to buy more time, they were right. The regime broke the cease-fire agreement with its own people in less than a day.

Although the Syrian regime is perceived as secular, and a staunch enemy of the Islamists, in reality it supports and gives logistical help to the Islamic Jihad, to Hama, and mainly the Islamic Republic of Iran which is currently endangering the whole Middle East as well as the West.

A No Fly zone is important for the stability of the Middle East and the West. If this alliance can succeed in toppling Syria's President, Bashar Assad, Iran will be severely damaged; left isolated, and will lose its strategic corridor for support to Hezbollah.

The protestors advocating it come from the entire political spectrum of the Syrian society: leftist activists, secular movements, Islamists, refugees, human rights activists both inside Syria and in exile, and mainly the Free Syrian Army, formed by soldiers who defected the Syrian Army. In the meantime, they fear that Assad will continue to fight to stay in power, and do not want to be unprepared for the battle; so the debate over the no-fly zone is still on the table.

The Kurdish media outlet Rudaw reports that Syrian opposition activists maintain that a no-fly zone over Syria would "not only protect civilians but also army defectors who are reportedly taking up arms against the government." Many soldiers are reported to be moving over to the protestors' side. The Associated Press stated that ---according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights -- a clash took place in Homs on October 29th between soldiers and gunmen believed to be army defectors].

Tim Hawi, a Syrian activist based in Saudi Arabia, also argues that many soldiers, still fearing an aerial bombardment, are still reluctant to defect, but states that, "if there were a no-fly zone then the army would rebel to topple the regime." Salam Hafez, Iraq editor for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, also writes that, "tens of thousands of regime soldiers would be prepared to jump ship but are holding back because they fear they will be wiped out by government loyalists in the absence of protection from the international community." Ammar Abdulhamid, a U.S.-based Syrian writer, explains that army units and militias loyal to Assad are "on a country-wide hunt for defectors, perpetrating atrocities in every nook and cranny, from removing the wounded from hospitals, to indiscriminate shelling of residential neighborhoods, to mass execution of detainees."

Syria Threatens to Destabilize the Middle East

The Syrian army is trying to do anything it can to remain in power, and is threatening to destabilize the entire Middle East if the West should decide to intervene militarily. Damascus is warning that, with the help of Iran and Hezbollah, it can transform the region into a battlefield. In an interview with the British Sunday Telegraph, Assad announced that a Western intervention would cause an "earthquake" that would "burn the whole region." "Syria is the hub now in this region. It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake … Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?" he said.

Moreover, in a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmad Davutoglu, Assad threatened to set fire to the Middle-East, especially Israel: "If a crazy measure is taken against Damascus, I will need not more than six hours to transfer hundreds of rockets and missiles to the Golan Heights to fire them at Tel Aviv," he said, adding that he will also call on Hezbollah in Lebanon to launch an intensive rocket and missile attack on Israel. "All these events will happen in three hours, but in the second three hours, Iran will attack the US warships in the Persian Gulf, and the US and European interests will be targeted simultaneously."

Nevertheless,, the UAE-based paper, The National, wrote that Assad's threats are not based on reality: "Assad's power to foment trouble beyond Syria's borders is much diminished. It is no longer certain that even Hizbollah or Hamas would dance to Damascus's tune."

Protestors Ask the International Community to Help

Unlike the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Syria's Assad has not yet used the air force against the protestors -- precisely not to give the West a further justification to intervene militarily. In case NATO should impose a no-fly zone on Syria, however, Reuters argues that the area could be used as a platform for strikes on ground forces and military bases to help the population.

The West does not yet know what to do. Many leaders fear to involve their army in another conflict with unknown consequences. Several Syrian bloggers are also writing that they do not want a foreign intervention. People in Syria, however, continue to be killed every day, and protestors in the streets wave placards that show they are hoping the international community will listen to their request for a no-fly zone. Abdulhamid reports that demonstrations organized on October 31st were meant to protest Assad's latest threats to set the entire region on fire and transform Syrian into a new Afghanistan; and to demand that the Arab League freeze Syria's membership.

Ahmed Qurabi, a Syrian opposition leader based in Turkey, wrote that the Syrian people are still hoping for the active involvement of Turkey to create an area like Benghazi, the city used as a base for the Libyan uprising. The idea would be to create an area on the border between Turkey and Syria, protected by Turkey or by NATO, from where to start liberating the whole of Syria from Assad. Other suggested locations are in the south between Syria and Jordan, where the revolution originated, or else in the region between Iraq and Syria. In the meantime, the Syrian population, saying that the revolution will end only when Assad is defeated, is continuing its fight. "Now no one is afraid, because everyone realizes that this revolution cannot stop; it will continue until the end," Qurabi stated. "We speculate about months or maybe years, because we have paid the price and we are ready to give more. The [Assad] regime has now shown the whole world that it is a bloody regime, so now we have no choice, we have finish what we started."

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