The popular uprising against
Syrian President Bashar Assad is still spreading. Tuesday, April 12, one of the
Assad family's own Alawite tribes and the key Sunni city of Aleppo joined the
movement demanding the president and his kin's removal. Assad fought back
against the expanding threat to his survival by mobilizing all his military and
security resources, including the loyal young thugs of the shabbiha gangs.
They have orders to shoot to kill and not permit ambulances to collect the
wounded. Tanks seal the most restive towns of Teraa, Bania,s Latakia and
Alawite unrest centres on the
impoverished Knaan tribe centered in the village of Bhamra in the mountains of
northern Syria. A second immediate danger to the regime comes from Aleppo,
Syria's commercial hub, where for the first time more than 10,000 protesters
marched. The Druze mountain inhabitants are up in arms. So too are the Kurdish
towns of the north such as Kamishli and the Shammar tribes of southeastern Syria
around the border town of Abu Kamal.
Damascus University has been
under siege for four days, although security forces have not been able to breach
A grave humanitarian crisis is
spreading with the unrest. Army outposts and roadblocks have cut off main roads
linking the north to southern and central Syria, as well as telephone and
internet services and even food deliveries in many places. Mass arrests of
thousands take place nightly including, according to debkafile's sources,
members of the Syrian ruling establishment for the crime of appealing to Assad
to abandon his violent methods of repression and meet some of the protesters
demands for reforms. Some are journalists who support the regime but who wrote
articles to this effect. They were not published.
For the first time, debkafile's
sources report that the protesters began returning the fire against security
forces on Monday, April 11, in a number of places, especially Deraa in the south
and Banias in the north. A well-laid ambush was laid on the main coastal road
linking Latakia and Banias and nine Syrian officers and troops killed.
debkafile's Middle East and
intelligence sources report a three-way shooting war currently in progress in
Syria, in which the army and security forces, the protesters, and the shabbiha
gangs are taking part. The and bloody mayhem is such that the number of
casualties is almost impossible to assess.
The troops open fire at
protesters as soon as a few people gather in the street without waiting for a
demonstration to form. The wounded are denied medical care and allowed to die in
the streets as a deterrent to protesters. Tuesday night, the White House finally
issued a harsh denunciation of the Syrian "government."
The statement read: "We are
deeply concerned by reports that Syrians who have been wounded by their
government are being denied access to medical care. The escalating repression by
the Syrian government is outrageous, and the United States strongly condemns the
continued efforts to suppress peaceful protesters. President Assad and the
Syrian government must respect the universal rights of the Syrian people, who
are rightly demanding the basic freedoms that they have been denied."
debkafile's sources in
Washington say that the language used in this statement from the Obama
administration continues to skirt the protesters' most pressing demand for the
Syrian president to step down, because of the still unresolved internal debate
on how to handle Assad.
Despite the mounting brutality
of the Syrian ruler's methods to crush the revolt against his regime, some White
House circles in Washington are warning that Assad's fall would open the door
for radical Muslim elements to take over, even suggesting that this would put
Israel in "mortal danger."
This argument was never heard
in Washington when Hosni Mubarak was toppled in Egypt. And it by no means
relates to the Assad regime's eight-year long record as primary accomplice and
abettor of radical Muslim organizations such as Al Qaeda, the Lebanese Hizballah
and Palestinian Hamas. Starting from the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Damascus
gave sanctuary and launching-pads for Muslim groups to strike American forces
fighting in Iraq, including training camps and logistical aid for smuggling
weapons and explosives for that purpose. Syria also facilitates the passage of
arms and other support to the Hizballah radicals.
The extreme measures to which
Assad has resorted as the revolt against him enters its fourth week have led to
firefights within the army. Many cases are now reported of Syrian officers
opening fire on other Syrian officers, killing them when they refuse to shoot
protesters. There have been incidents of Shabbiha gangs shooting two ways – on
demonstrators and at times on army forces. In one such incident in Ras al-Naba'a,
a quarter of Banias – the irregulars appeared to be goading the soldiers into
using more force to disperse the protesters. In others, these pro-Assad street
gangs appear to be shooting from demonstrations to make it look as though the
protesters were killing the soldiers.
Contrary to the image the
Assads have always presented that "the Alawites are the ruling class in Syria,"
it is worth pointing out that they in fact rule Damascus, while the rest of
those minority tribes, which number 1.4 million (8 percent of the 26 million
population) live in abject poverty with no electricity or running water in their
villages and no ties to the Assads. The paradox is that though lacking influence
in the capital, their revolt against the regime could be the last straw for Asad.
These villages are now rising
up for fear of being stigmatized, however unjustly, by the Sunni majority of
collaboration with the Assads and targeted for revenge. In any case, they are so
penurious and neglected that they have little to lose by the regime's fall.
The Shabbiha: This well-armed,
roughly organized group derives most of its 9-11,000 members from Assad clans
within the Alawite community and its allies. Their fighting skills were imparted
by the Lebanese Hizballah or Iranian Revolutionary Guards instructors, but their
loyalty to the Assad family is undivided. As smugglers, their strongholds are
mostly along the coastal region, some of whose communities rely on the Shabbiha
for their livelihood.