Saturday 20 January 2018

Europeans 'must lead in struggle with Syria'

Patrick Cockburn in Damascus

As violence in Syria intensifies with an attack by anti-government forces on an air defence intelligence complex near Damascus, a senior Arab diplomat in London says Middle Eastern states opposing the Syrian government need West European leadership similar to that seen in the Libyan war.

He said that what was needed was "a team captain" to co-ordinate moves to put pressure on Syria, and only the Europeans could do this. The US is preoccupied by domestic politics and "in the Middle East everybody is driven by ego. How can you have a regional policy when they (local rulers) can't talk to each other?"

The diplomat added that a crucial turning point would come in Syria if the anti-government forces succeeded in establishing an independent enclave, similar to Benghazi in Libya.

The existence of such an enclave would raise the possibility of setting up a no-fly zone.

The crisis has reached a crucial stage inside and outside Syria. The attack on the Harasta intelligence complex is the first such reported assault on a major security facility in the eight-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which purports to be a band of army deserters set on ending President Assad's rule.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Ammar al-Wawi, a commander in the FSA, said: "Our only goal is to liberate Syria from Bashar Assad's regime. To put it simply, we carry out military operations against anyone who targets the peaceful protesters."

Their claims cannot be independently verified because the government has excluded most foreign journalists.

President Assad is increasingly isolated as the 22-member Arab League yesterday confirmed the suspension of Syria from the organisation and gave its government three days to halt the violence and accept an observer mission or face economic sanctions.

The protocol agreed upon yesterday calls for an observer mission of 30-50 members under the auspices of the Arab League to ensure that Syria is following the Arab plan, an end to attacks on protesters, pull tanks and armoured vehicles out of cities, release political prisoners, and allow journalists and rights groups into the country.


The extent of Syria's isolation is underlined by the presence at the meeting of the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu for a meeting on Arab-Turkish ties.

Of Syria's neighbours, Turkey is the one best placed to move decisively against the government in Damascus. It could declare a wide buffer zone on the Turkish-Syrian frontier which would become an enclave for the opposition.

Middle East leaders are now concluding that President Assad cannot survive for, at most, more than a year or two because the loyal units in his army will be worn down by constant use in suppressing protests.

Irish Independent

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