Since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 16 months ago more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands have been displaced, according to United Nations estimates. The International Red Cross has now formally declared the conflict a civil war, which may have legal implications under the Geneva Accords for determining whether war crimes might have been committed. However, the reality is that the conflict has been a civil war for some time between the Assad loyalists and the armed opposition.
To date, the opposition has been outgunned and splintered. But they have now taken their fight to the heart of the Syrian capital of Damascus, with a devastating blow against the central command of the Assad regime’s repression machine.
An explosion was set off on July 18th in a national security building in Damascus, during a meeting of the government’s top security chiefs to discuss how to crush the uprising. The bombing took the lives of President Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, and Gen Dawoud Rajha, the defense minister, who was the most senior Christian government official in Syria. Hassan Turkmani, a former minister of defense who headed the regime’s crisis management cell, was also killed. Others were wounded.
Liwa al-Islam (translated as “The Brigade of Islam”), a rebel group, has claimed responsibility. Another group called the Free Syrian Army, according to a report in the Washington Post, said that its loyalists had planted bombs inside a room where the top-level meeting was being held. The Free Syrian Army is made up of defected Syrian armed forces personnel, which is an expanding number.
Col. Malik Kurdi, the Free Syrian Army’s deputy commander, explained the reason for the attack:
The Free Syrian Army carried out this attack in retaliation for the massacres committed by the regime and because of the international silence.We promised that we are going to hit the regime in its most sensitive axis. This was necessary for us.
On the very same day of this attack, and shortly before the United Nations observer mandate in Syria is due to expire on July 20th, the feckless United Nations Security Council was preparing to vote on a resolution offered by the United Kingdom that was supposedly designed to up the ante to deal with the Syrian crisis. The vote was postponed for a day at the urging of UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General.
The British resolution – which in its present form is virtually certain to be vetoed by Russia and most likely by China – contains authorization for economic sanctions against the Syrian regime under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
Russia has offered its own competing resolution that condemns all sides for the violence, repeats calls for the parties to comply with Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan, including a cease fire and steps towards a transitional government acceptable to the Syrian people, and extends the UN observer mandate in Syria. It pointedly stays clear of any Chapter VII enforcement measures such as sanctions.
The United States, United Kingdom and France all, not surprisingly, rejected the Russian draft as insufficient. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice went so far as to say that it would be wrong to keep any UN observers in Syria if the Security Council will not have their back by demonstrating a willingness to take more effective action against the Assad regime such as sanctions.
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