Speaking to the Syrian state-run Al-Thawra newspaper, Assad rejected the idea that what began more than two years ago was a revolution; claiming it to be a conspiracy by Western and opposing Arab states to destabilize his country. The Syrian President also declared that foreign intervention was the only remaining threat to his rule, but that such intervention was “…too big for them to attain.”
The armed revolt against the Assad regime began with peaceful protests in March, 2011 and rapidly escalated into a civil war-like situation. Rebel forces began making significant progress in pushing back the Syrian army and their ranks have been bolstered by Sunni Islamist fighters from a number of Arab states. Assad, meanwhile, received a much-needed lifeline from Hezbollah, who poured fighters into Syria from neighboring Lebanon and helped the teetering Syrian government roll back the rebel advance. Additionally, Iran sent in a contingent of its Revolutionary Guard to aid the regime.
The fighting, however, is far from over. The city of Homs – one of the hardest-hit – is still under siege from the Syrian army. Latest reports suggest the army now controls most of the city, with rebels still in control of neighborhoods in the central part of the city. The Syrian government has called upon the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to send aid to those residents besieged in rebel-held areas. United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called upon both sides to avoid harming the some 2,500 civilians that remain trapped by the fighting in Homs.
The Latest Syrian Army offensive against the rebels in Homs is now into its sixth day and heavy fighting was reported Thursday. Khaled Saleh, a spokesman for the Istanbul-based Syrian National Coalition (SNC), which represents the opposition to Assad’s rule, told reporters Thursday that the regime “has its mind set on taking Homs even if that means killing tens of thousands of people.”
The SNC, which has political divisions within its own ranks, has never been in full control over the armed rebel groups fighting the Syrian Army. These groups are mainly Sunni Islamists, including al-Qaeda affiliated factions.
Whilst US President Barack Obama, along with Republican Senator John McCain, have expressed desires to provide aid to the rebels, questions remain as to whether such a policy is wise, given that the rebels are being aided by anti-American interests. The recent overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi – who was strongly supported by the Obama administration – puts the United States in an embarrassing position. In addition to, effectively, declaring victory for his regime, Assad has praised Morsi’s ouster. The former Muslim Brotherhood-backed government of Egypt had severed diplomatic ties with Assad and Morsi had called for his overthrow; giving his blessing to Egyptians who wished to travel to Syria and join the fighter against Assad’s rule. Morsi was removed from power by the Egyptian Army, following days of protests by millions of Egyptians who had grown angry at the year-old government’s failure to deal with Egypt’s worsening economic situation and its attempts to replace locally-elected officials with members of the Brotherhood.
Syria has become a diplomatic, military and humanitarian nightmare for the international community. As Assad all but claims victory over the rebels, praises the overthrow of Muhamed Morsi in Egypt and vows to remain President, he appears, for the time being, to have wrong-footed his opponents.
Graham J Noble