Bashar al-Assad is watching the end of Gaddafi’s regime – and he must be terrified; By Michael Weiss
Now that portraits of Muammar Gaddafi have been perforated with rebel bullets, it’s worth asking how Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, must be feeling this morning. Like Gaddafi, the Syrian dictator has spent the last five months waging war on own his own population, albeit to an even more gruesome degree: Assad has made good on the threats which the Mad Dog only muttered about.
Like Gaddafi, he now faces credible charges of crimes against humanity matched by an almost total diplomatic isolation on the world’s stage. (Only Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah remain the Syrian state’s stalwart defenders; Iran has reportedly cut off funds to Hamas for failing to stand up for their tottering patron.) Also like Gaddafi, Assad’s engaged in a risible propaganda campaign attended by hollow calls for “reform” and democratisation. New elections, Assad said in response to President Obama’s call for him to go, will be held next year. They may well be, but not at his prompting or orchestration. If he’s been watching Al Arabiya or Al Jazeera this weekend, Assad has likely soiled himself in the knowledge that he’s next.
According to the Syrian opposition, the regime is hoping turn the mountainous north of Syria into a heavily fortified Alawite stronghold, essentially bifurcating the country into sectarian halves. The ethnic cleansing in Lattakia is already well attested: 5,000 Palestinian refugees went missing from the port city a week ago, as other residents have either fled or had their ID cards confiscated. In order to get the cards back, they’ve had to check in at a sports stadium where they’ve been held hostage, forced to pose for photographs and videos as cheerleaders of the regime.
Assad’s desperation will no doubt manifest in even greater acts of barbarity. But now he’ll have Western witnesses to contend with. As I write, a UN delegation, consisting of 6 different agencies including UNRWA and UNICEF, are currently headed to Syria to see for themselves what’s happened not only in Lattika but Deraa, Homs, Hama and Jisr al-Shughour. As one Western diplomat told the Los Angeles Times today, “In Latakia they are literally sweeping glass and stones up and scrubbing blood off the streets.” Eyewitnesses on the ground describe other acts of Potemkin refurbishment: “Some residents, including children, were forced to put flowers on the tanks and were filmed by the Syrian state-run TV and the private TV station Al Dunya saying that they asked the army to intervene in the camp.”
However, the regime’s efforts are unlikely to fool anyone at this stage. The same day that Obama called for Assad’s ouster, Navi Pillay, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, published a crucial and devastatingreport which corroborated many of the claims made by independent human rights monitors and the Syrian opposition. Based on a previous fact-finding mission to Syria, and drawing from eyewitness interviews, the report confirms the execution of Syrian soldiers who refused to fire on unarmed civilians.
Thanks to Pillay’s report we now have a more plausible account of last June’s bloody siege of Jisr al-Shughour, the town in the Idlib governorate, whose former denizens are now living in tents in Turkey. Contrast the following from the UN report to the widely circulated – and often uncritically treated – Damascus propaganda about how 120 security forces were killed by “armed gangs,” which then led to the army to move in to restore law and order:
On 3 June, a crowd of some 30,000 protestors marched in Jisr al-Shughour. According to witnesses, security personnel used tear gas and fired in the air to disperse the crowd. The following day, 4 June, some 20,000 people gathered at a public garden in the town, close to the post office, for the funeral of Basel al-Masri, a protestor killed the previous evening. He was found dead with three bullet wounds, and a friend with him at the time was injured. After the funeral one of the participants, Hassan Malesh, was killed as he made a speech from a platform in the middle of the crowd. According to witnesses, he was shot dead by snipers positioned on the roof of the nearby post office.
This was quickly followed by more shooting with live ammunition coming from the direction of the post office and adjacent security buildings. Witnesses said helicopters were also used in the operation to fire at the crowds. The Mission obtained the names of 14 people killed on that day. One witness stated he took seven of the bodies in his car to his home village and placed them in the fridge of a vegetable shop, as the hospitals were under the control of security forces. According to a witness, 17 soldiers who refused these orders were killed by a senior security official. Some witnesses told the Mission that this official was later killed together with several other Alawite security personnel following their capture by protestors, while others said he was killed by a soldier.