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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs