News / Middle East

Syria's Opposition Split Over Civil, Armed Unrest

Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun gives a speech during a Syrian opposition rally in Vienna, December 8, 2011.
Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun gives a speech during a Syrian opposition rally in Vienna, December 8, 2011.
Elizabeth Arrott

Syria's opposition has launched a new form of civil disobedience with a general strike, even as armed resistance escalates. The opposing tactics highlight a growing split among those who seek to oust the government, a divide echoed in the mixed signals of the international community.

Shop owners opposed to the Syrian government continue to keep their doors closed, despite reports that security forces have retaliated against some by burning down their stores.  

The general strike, which began Sunday, widens the campaign of peaceful resistance to the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which for the most part over the last nine months has been confined to demonstrations, vigils and protest marches.  

Tactical differences

But the strike coincides with an increase in the armed struggle against Assad's rule. Both sides agree on what they see as the inevitable downfall of the government.  

How to reach that goal, however, is causing a split. Amateur video has shown battles in the Daraa region, along the border of Iraq, while opposition forces report clashes along the border with Jordan.  

Witnesses describe it as some of the heaviest fighting yet between military defectors and government troops.  

Some experts, though, think the armed effort so far has its limits. Dr. Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Center in Jeddah, argues it has yet to reach a critical mass.  

"To reach the point of a civil war you will need a mass defection from the military and high-ranking [officers] at a large number to enter into that one," said Sager. "So far, we do not have that huge number that have defected from the military. Second, the type of weapons they have, still it is a light weapon, an AK-47 or sort of the light one they cannot fight or cannot be used against tanks and heavy military movements."  

Apparent shortcomings amid progress

If an armed struggle appears unlikely to dislodge the government in the short term, so, too, does the general strike.  

Syria's neighbors Lebanon and Iraq have shown support for the Assad government and the ability to move goods across those borders makes economic pressure, both internal through the strike and external through sanctions, potentially less powerful.  

But loose borders may prove a boon to the armed opposition. The increased fighting in recent days, and previously near the defectors' base in Turkey and on the outskirts of Damascus, suggest some heavier weapons are getting in.  

Neither Turkey nor any of the opposition's foreign supporters have overtly provided the defectors' Free Syria Army with weapons. That is in keeping with the opposition group the Syrian National Council, also based in Turkey, which adamantly rejects armed resistance and seeks to limit the FSA's role to protection of civilians.  

Yet protection of civilians is a hazy term; NATO used such a mandate from the United Nations to launch an air offensive in Libya earlier this year. That option, however, is considered unlikely, despite the vocal condemnation of Assad's government by western and regional governments.    

Assessing the tipping point

Establishing a no-fly zone involves bombing ground targets. Military and political experts point out that Libya, a relatively isolated nation, offered a less complicated target than Syria, which lies geographically and politically at the heart of the Arab world, and is an ally of Iran. In any case, another ally, Russia, likely would veto any U.N. military move.

The disconnect between rhetoric and action can be seen in the actions of the Arab League. The regional group came on strong last month, demanding an immediate end to the killing. Now, more than a month later, it finds itself in a back and forth with Syria over letting monitors into the country.   

The league plans to meet by the end of the week to address the issue once again. Khattar Abou Diab, a political science professor at the University of Paris, said the group is afraid to move quickly.  

Diab said that enforcing sanctions against Syria would damage the economic interests of league members. Moreover, he believes members are intimidated by Assad's government, which is dominated by minority Allawites, and its potential to spread sectarian strife across the region.

Despite the many splits in the anti-Assad movement, most political analysts believe that the tipping point in the battle already has been reached and eventually the opposition will prevail.  

Assad's government, they argue, cannot resist sustained civil and armed revolt forever. In the meantime, Syrian officials continued business as usual, holding municipal elections Monday, while security forces continued their crackdown.

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

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Crowdfunding Helps Save Neil Armstrong's Spacesuit

Smithsonian turns to Kickstarter to raise more than $700,000 to help preserve the spacesuit worn by the first man to walk on the moon More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf 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.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
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 Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs