Middle East

Support builds for military opposition in Syria

The rallies followed a decision by the largest civilian opposition group to back the Free Syrian army.

DAMASCUS/BEIRUT/MOSCOW: Support for military opposition to the Syrian regime appears to be gaining momentum, with thousands rallying in support of armed rebels across the country Friday, while the Arab league chief voiced fears that the unrest could degenerate into a civil war.

Moscow, meanwhile, kept up its opposition to calls for tougher action against ally Damascus, calling them flagrant attempts at regime change.

Friday’s rallies in support of the rebel Free Syrian Army came after the largest civilian opposition group decided to boost cooperation with the group.

Burhan Ghalioun, head of the Syrian National Council, an umbrella group that initially opposed the use of force in the uprising, met Thursday with rebel army chief Colonel Riad al-Asaad.

They agreed to “formulate a detailed plan, to include the reorganization of FSA units and brigades, and the creation of a format to accommodate within FSA ranks additional officers and soldiers, especially senior military officials, who side with the revolution,” the SNC said.

Formed of deserters from the regular army who mutinied over the regime’s deadly crackdown, the group say they now have over 40,000 men.

As on every Friday over the past 10 months for the main weekly protests, security forces deployed in strength. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said they killed at least 10 people including a 6-year-old girl.

It said five people were killed in Homs, one in Hama, two in Damir near the capital, including the little girl, and two more in Idlib and Aleppo.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who was in Lebanon Friday, called for the world to stand together to address the crisis.

In an interview with Lebanon’s Al-Nahar daily, Ban said he had repeatedly appealed to Assad to stop the bloodshed and listen to his people but that he had received only empty promises.

He said the Security Council must speak with one voice in seeking an end to the crisis, but Moscow renewed its opposition to Western calls for tougher action by the world body.

In October, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution that would have condemned the Assad regime. Russia later offered an alternative that would single out the opposition for criticism as well.Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov rejected Friday Western-proposed amendments to that draft.

“Unfortunately, the West’s approach radically differs from ours,” Gatilov said. “Judging by the contents of their proposed amendments, their goal is clearly aimed at removing Assad’s regime in Damascus.”

And Dmitry Rogozin, Moscow’s departing ambassador to NATO, warned the West against any foreign intervention in Syria. “You shouldn’t interfere in Syrian affairs. This is very dangerous,” he told reporters in Brussels.

Cameron, who was in Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah on regional tensions, told Al-Arabiya television that Britain stands ready to take a fresh resolution on Syria to the Security Council.

The step would dare “others that if they want to veto that resolution to try to explain why they are willing to stand by and watch appalling bloodshed by someone who has turned into such an appalling dictator,” he said.

“This is appalling bloodshed, appalling murder on the streets of Syria. The whole Arab League has come together and said it’s unacceptable and others need to listen to that and act on that at the U.N.”

The opposition has called for the Arab League to pull its observers out of Syria or at least seek U.N. tactical support, saying they have been ineffective in ending the violence.

The mission has been plagued by problems, including accusations that the Syrian government is interfering with the team’s work. This week, one of the observers resigned and told the pan-Arab TV channel Al-Jazeera that the monitor mission was a “farce” because of Syrian government control.

Adnan al-Khudeir, head of the Cairo operations room to which the monitors report, told reporters Thursday that two more observers, from Algeria and Sudan, would be returning to their home countries. But the League said observers would see the mission through until its initial one-month term finishes on Jan. 19.

The deal, signed with Damascus, called for an end to violence against civilians, the withdrawal of the military from cities, the release of detainees and free access for foreign media.

The Arab League chief, Nabil Elaraby, told the Associated Press that Assad’s regime was either not complying or only partially complying with an Arab League plan that Syria signed last month to end its crackdown.

“We are very concerned because there were certain commitments that were not complied with,” he said in Cairo. “If this continues, it may turn into civil war.”

Armed clashes, now punctuating what began as a non-violent protest movement, have raised fears of a full-scale conflict in Syria, a Sunni Muslim-majority country of 23 million which also has Alawite, Druze, Christian and Kurdish minorities.

Meanwhile, a Russian-operated ship carrying a cargo of ammunition reached conflict-torn Syria after being temporarily halted during a refueling stop in Cyprus, sources in Russia and Cyprus said Friday.

A source in Cyprus, where the ship made a stop to refuel late Tuesday, said the ship had given written assurances to authorities its destination would not be Syria but Turkey. It was allowed to sail a day later, whereupon it dropped off conventional tracking systems, switched course and reached Syria Thursday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 14, 2012, on page 1.

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