News / Middle East

Debate Rages: Is Syria Conflict Civil War?

Is Syria headed towards civil war?

With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continuing his crackdown on anti-government uprisings - and the opposition taking up arms - the bloodshed bears the hallmarks of a civil war.

But the question of whether Syria is indeed embroiled in a civil war is fueling debate not only in international diplomatic circles but also in the blogosphere.

There are no international guidelines that clearly define a conflict as civil war. And the Syrian government and opposition leaders do not describe their fight in those terms.

Syrian activists say they are battling a brutal government and trying to protect citizens.  Rebel fighters mainly stage hit-and-run attacks.

Syria's Main Opposition Groups

  • Syrian National Council:
    - Turkey-based coalition is Syria's largest opposition grouping.
  • National Coordination Committee:
    - Primarily based in Syria.
    - Wants government to enact reforms through dialogue.
  • Free Syrian Army:
    - Comprised of military defectors and claims to have at least 15,000 members. Claims have not been independently verified.

Media reports say the armed opposition - largely a group known as the Syria Free Army - has neither the training nor the firepower to conduct a full-fledged military fight against Syrian forces.

The government says it is defending itself against armed terrorists and outside agitators.

Civil war label elusive

Still, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, warned the General Assembly this week that the continued violent repression and sectarian tensions in Syria might soon plunge the country into civil war.

But Syrian activist Karam Nachar took to Twitter this week to quash that notion.

"Stop calling it civil war!," he wrote, "as if there's a symmetry of power btw the regime and the so called 'rebels'! This is a regime killing its people."

VOA posed the question to its Twitter followers: "Share your opinion:  Has the unrest in #Syria crossed the line into civil war? Where is the line?"

@AliChubby, a blogger and citizen journalist in Amman, Jordan, Tweeted:  "Syria situation been described as 'Getting into Civil War' but I don't think it did...bc not everyone has picked up arms yet."

Nachar told VOA via Skype from his New York City home that the fractured group of rebels around the country is fighting to safeguard the Syrian people.

"Now for the past several months we have seen military defectors that are trying to protect these people, but obviously they are failing," Nachar said.  "They are failing to protect themselves.  So I am really worried about this shift in discourse in the mainstream media, especially in the West, from talking about a Syrian uprising to talking about a civil war."

Opposition forces organizing

But there are reports that the Free Syria Army fighters, commanded by a senior defector from the Syrian Air Force, seem to be growing in organization. From bases in Turkey, rebels are reportedly gaining increasing outside support with money, arms and underground training.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that 5,400 civilians and about 2,000 Syrian security forces, as well as military officers who have defected, have been killed in the ongoing violence.

Omar McDoom, a lecturer in comparative politics at the London School of Economics, says the Geneva Conventions do not specifically define the term "civil war." They do, however, loosely describe criteria for conditions qualifying as civil unrest.

"This definition doesn't hold very well for many of the internal wars that we see that are being fought today," McDoom said. "As many of these civil wars are in fact very asymmetric, in which the governments are overwhelmingly powerful and, as a result, the opponents often use guerrilla or insurgent tactics where they don't' hold ground. They constantly move, which is the situation here."

McDoom says from an academic perspective, the situation in Syria is "unequivocally in a civil war."

In academia, McDoom says civil war is defined as "incompatibility between the government and the opposition." He says that in a civil war, the opposition is armed and the annual casualty count normally has to total around 1,000 people from both sides of the conflict.

Judging by those figures, the Syria situation seems to fit the civil war template.  So does some of the action on the ground.

In the besieged city of Homs on Friday, Syrian forces resumed shelling and bombarding opposition strongholds.

Media reports, gleaned from opposition activists, say that bands of rebels controlling some neighborhoods are returning fire.

Join the conversation on our social journalism site - Middle East Voices. Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

1 Billion People Used Facebook on Single Day

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg praised the accomplishment in a posting on the social media site More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs