Revenge killings show death squads out of control
DURING Syria's 15-month uprising, President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of many things. Being too soft on his opponents was not one of them.
But as the corpse of a fighter was buried in a loyalist suburb of Homs last week, mourners denounced him for just that, chanting: "Bashar has become a Sunni." They were the Syrian leader's most ardent supporters, members of his Alawite Shia minority, who for centuries were persecuted by the Sunnis.
Fearful of losing their privileged status, a growing number of Alawites believe the president should show the remorselessness of his father. In 1982, the last time the Sunnis rose up, Hafez al-Assad oversaw the slaughter of as many as 20,000 people.
There are growing signs that the Shabiha, the Alawite paramilitary and criminal gangs that spawned in the 1990s under Assad family supervision, are taking matters into their own hands. In recent weeks, they have twice been accused of attacking Sunni villages, shooting, garrotting and burning alive nearly 200 people.
They have probably committed many of their atrocities with the blessing of Damascus. But even many in the opposition believe the latest were carried out without reference to the regime. If true, Mr Assad may have lost control of his death squads, an alarming development.
To counter the Shabiha, Sunni rebels are believed to have set up militias of their own. One such group executed 13 Shabiha fighters in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, while Alawites in Damascus report being told to leave or face death.
Unless the sectarian cycle of hatred can be halted, a full confessional war in Syria looks inevitable. (©Daily Telegraph, London)