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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level 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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid