BY KALEN TAYLOR, inContext—
The Syrian Army slammed Haffeh with mortars, tanks, and helicopter gunfire yesterday, burning and looting buildings and wounding over 50 rebels. Forced to flee from the heavy fire, anti-government forces withdrew from the town on Wednesday. The conflict also reached the Syrian capital of Damascus yesterday morning as rebels began to infiltrate the city, attacking military checkpoints and storage areas. As the conflict spreads across the country, more cities are affected by the violence.
Following last week’s massacres in the Hama province, the uprising continues to escalate. Sunni Muslims in particular, face the regime’s wrath as Alawite “ghost” militias known as the Shabbiha seek to impose a cordon on the western coast of Syria. Consequently, many Sunnis are taking up arms against the regime to defend themselves. Insurgent forces continue to grow stronger as weapons from Turkey, Iraq, and Lebanon flow into Syria. The use of children as young as nine years old as human shields by both sides highlights the increasingly desperate nature of the conflict. Amnesty International described the ongoing violence against Syria’s people as “crimes against humanity” and renewed their calls for Asad to be tried by the ICC.
Noting the regime’s brutal tactics, the UN issued yet another condemnation of the violence, but has no plan to act on the issue. Though the UN urges the international community to “act with one voice” on Syria to halt the violence, three nations block any sign of “interventionist” legislation. Russia, in particular, continues to support the Asad government’s brutal crackdown by shipping attack helicopters and other military equipment into Syria even as it negotiates with the United States on a possible transition. Russian military aid is crucial to the survival of the regime since they provide maintenance for Syria’s helicopter fleet as well as armaments.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out against Russia’s actions in the region, stating that the shipment “will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.” Russia countered that the United States provides arms to the rebels while their own arms deals with Asad do “not violate international law.” The U.S. has denied the allegations, stating that it wishes to avoid further “militarizing” the conflict. Though America and Russia will not likely intervene militarily in Syria, the idea of a proxy war becomes increasingly possible, echoing the Cold War.
With both the rebels and the regime escalating the conflict, many see an all out civil war as a distinct possibility if not the current reality. A UN official stated that the conflict resembles a civil war, but the rebels and Asad denied that is the case. The evidence seems to back the UN official’s account as arms pour into war torn Syria and violence continues along sectarian lines. Without American leadership, the conflict will continue to escalate.