The situation in cities besieged by the Syrian army is getting bloodier, while the political situation gets more confused and muddled by the day. A UN peace plan being pushed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, first accepted by President Bashar Assad and the rebels, is in the process of failing, as once again, the Syrian dictator has reneged on implementing the terms. As Syrian tanks and artillery continue to attack several cities, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups are beginning to flex their muscles in the councils of the political opposition, while radical Sunnis form independent battalions to fight the Syrian army — and the Alawite minority running Syria — declaring jihad on the Syrian dictator while fighting under the black flag of radical Islam.
The failure of the peace plan is leading to increased calls to arm the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main military force fighting the Syrian regime. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Istanbul on Sunday, said that if Assad doesn’t stop his attacks on civilians, the US will not stand in the way of countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar from arming the rebels.
The peace plan offered by Annan was agreed to last week by both sides. It calls for “a ceasefire, military withdrawals from towns, prisoner releases, humanitarian and media access and above all a Syrian-led political process to negotiate transition to a new government.” After giving his agreement, Assad almost immediately altered the terms by demanding that the “terrorists” give up their arms first. The FSA rejected Assad’s proposal which has left the entire plan teetering on the edge of failure, if not already dead.
Assad agreed to a similar plan presented by the Arab League back in November, but refused to carry out important parts of the agreement. It was after that failure that the Syrian military launched its most brutal campaign of the war, pulverizing civilian neighborhoods in Homs and Hama, killing many hundreds of innocents. Indeed, following Assad’s ostensible agreement to the UN plan, the Syrian army escalated its violent crackdown to include towns and cities in the provinces of Idlib, Daara, Deir Ezzor, and in the city of Homs. Three soldiers tried to defect during fighting in Daara province, but were recaptured and shot by an officer, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. All told, more than 70 soldiers and civilians were killed on Sunday alone.
The imminent failure of the Annan plan has stirred the ad hoc organization “Friends of Syria” to action. More than 70 countries and representatives of the Syrian opposition met in Istanbul over the weekend, and while rejecting calls for unified action in arming the rebels, the group agreed to supply money to the FSA so they could pay the troops under their control, while calling on Kofi Annan to set a deadline for Syrian compliance with the terms of the UN peace plan. Annan will address the UN Security Council on Monday. But any deadline would have to be approved by the Security Council – an unlikely event given the strong opposition by Russia and China to any kind of action by the world body directed against their client Assad.
In addition to warning Assad that the US would allow the arming of rebels unless he agreed to the cease fire, Secretary Clinton also said the US would be supporting the SNC with “direct assistance” in the form of communications equipment and other non-lethal aid. The US pledged up to $12 million in aid while making it clear that “[o]thers are going to be supporting fighters associated with the SNC.” The conference pledged in excess of $100 million to pay salaries to FSA fighters.
The Friends of Syria also recognized the Syrian National Council (SNC) as the sole, legitimate opposition group speaking for the Syrian people. This is easier said than done, given the state of the Syrian opposition and the fact that there is little the group can agree upon.
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