Following the “Day of Dignity” protests in Syria on 15 March 2011 (a peaceful demonstration against authoritative rule, inspired by, and part of the chain of Arab Spring revolutions), the Syrian government headed by President Bashar al-Assad has, over more than 16 months, rained missiles and unleashed tanks into various Syrian cities, to silence the protesters and maintain its power. The bloody crackdown on protestors, which has involved not just the shelling of cities, but also the torture of civilians, has claimed more than 20000 lives as of 28 July 2012.

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Videos of civilians wounded and/or killed by government artillery continue to surface on the internet. Children, women and elderly have not been spared.

While the opposition accused the government for causing the deaths, the authorities have instead blamed the killings on “armed terrorist gangs”[1]. Casualty figures are hard to verify because the Syria regime placed tough restrictions on foreign media from entering Syria.

Arab League leaders and increasingly more members of the international community have called for Assad to step down. Assad rejected the calls, and called them a “conspiracy against Syria”.

Assad has also been continuing to push for a number of reforms. These include an end to Syria’s 48-year old emergency law[2] (which allows people to be arrested without warrants and imprisoned without trial) and the pluralizing of Syria’s political scene (which means the licensing of other political parties in Syria, a change that would end the one-party rule of Assad’s Baath party, and introduce democracy to the country). However, critics have argued that Assad was slow in implementing them, and with the wrecked state many Syrian cities are in, such reforms are pointless.

Among all the conflict, a major question that troubles many is: what caused the conflict? While there is certainly no



Should the Syrian opposition receive foreign aid?

The Syrian National Council (SNC) is Syria’s chief opposition coalition. It runs the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a paramilitary which composes of many defectors from the Syrian military. They regularly attack Assad’s troops in a bid to halt their brutal crackdown on dissent[3]. The FSA is poorly equipped and loosely organized, and there is debate on whether the international community should render help to FSA.

Pros:

1) Providing the internal Syrian opposition forces with advanced weapons, communications, and other support would even the military balance and give them a fighting chance against the Assad regime.

2) It would give them the means to defend their cities and protect the population from security forces

3) Many Syrians on the ground are asking for such assistance

Cons: (adapted from The ‘Arm the Syria’ Bandwagon, FP)

*1) The FSA is largely unorganized, and remain as deeply divided, independent local fighting groups. It is still a question who exactly has to be armed?

2) Arming the fragmented opposition may exacerbate their divide as they compete over limited military assets

3) Arming the FSA may only strengthen Assad’s proposition that the initial protests are a result of foreign conspiracy against his rule. He is likely to retaliate with escalated attacks

4) Once the international community steps in to arm FSA, it is very difficult to withdraw support. They could be obliged to pour in more resources, and another Libya-style intervention will be near in sight.

5) If Assad falls, the armed FSA will find itself to be in a position to rule the new Syria, but they are not likely to demobilize and disarm that soon. With Syria in the hands of a fragmented power operating in a political vacuum, Syria’s future is uncertain and bleak.
Those grappling with the Syria crisis too often do not take seriously enough that Syrians remain sharply divided over the crisis. Many Syrians continue to support the regime, some out of genuine fear of the future, some out of true commitment, some out of sectarian solidarity, some because they believe the narrative which the regime has crafted about foreign conspiracies.[4]

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A Brief Timeline for 2012 events [9]:

February 4: For the second time, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the violence in Syria. This was met with widespread criticism, with diplomats openly declaring that they are “disgusted” and “appalled” at Russia and China’s decisions. Many see it as a condoning of their ally’s actions (Syria is China and Russia’s ally), and they fear that Assad will see the double-veto as a green light to continue his massacres.
Russia claims that the UNSC resolution sends an unbalanced signal to the Syria parties. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, says Russia could not support any resolution that “took sides” in a civil war. He requested to amend the resolution, such that it put equal blame on the “armed elements” of the opposition for the violence in Syria[5].
Beijing's ambassador to the UN, Li Baodong claims that the resolution could be counter-productive. "China maintains that, under the current circumstances, to put undue emphasis on pressuring the Syrian government... or impose any solution will not help resolve the Syrian issue," he said[6].

February 22: The Syrian unrest was brought to greater attention after Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and photojournalist Remi Ochlik are reported killed in shelling in Homs' Bab Amr neighbourhood.

February 26: Syrians have mostly voted in favour of a new constitution which dictates that a multi-party system would replace the old monopoly of power enjoyed by the ruling Baath Party[7]. However, critics say that such a change is mostly cosmetic, as much power will still be in the hands of Assad. Under the new charter, the president would retain broad powers, such as naming the premier and government and, in some cases, could veto legislation[8].
The legitimacy and purpose of the vote were questioned by many. In the first place, many civilians were unable to vote as they had no access to voting stations. They also had to fear for their safety as there were continued shelling of the cities even on the voting day itself. Secondly, many Syrians boycotted the vote. Many of those who have voted in favour of the new referendum did so because they hope that it may encourage Assad to end the bloodbath earlier.

March 10: Kofi Annan, who was appointed the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, meets Assad in Damascus in an attempt to find a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis. Annan, speaking to reporters in Ankara after meeting with Syria's opposition, said he was "expecting to hear from Syrian authorities today since I(he) left some concrete proposals for them to consider."

March 27: A UN spokesman says the Syrian government has agreed to accept the six-point plan by Kofi Annan on ending the violence. These include a ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops from affected areas.

April 2: second ‘Friends of Syria’ conference (Syria blasted the meeting and called it the “Enemies of Syria” gathering). While there are reports that Syria has agreed to a ceasefire, shells continue to slam into the central Syrian city of Homs on Sunday.

April 12: The date President Bashar al-Assad agreed to end his bloody year-old crackdown by. He has promised the UN that he will abide to the ceasefire deadline, at 12 April 0300 GMT. However, Assad troupes continue to attack major Syrian cities hours before the deadline, and itis unsure

May 7: Parliamentary elections in Syria. Large amounts of voters reportedly turned up, but the opposition regards this as a sham elections

May 25: Scores of people are killed in the town of Houla, in Homs province. UN observers touring the area say 92 people, including more than 30 children, died in the assault.

June 22: Syrian troops shoot down a Turkish warplane. Damascus says it was self-defence, Ankara calls it an "act of aggression".

July 6: "Friends of Syria" meet in Paris and agree to increase aid to Syrian rebels.

July 18: State media say Defence Minister General Rajha and his deputy, Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad, are among those killed after an explosion struck the National Security building in Damascus.


[1] Telegraph: Syria: Bashar al-Assad calls parliamentary election on May 7
[2] Bloomberg: Syria's Cabinet Endorses Draft Decree To Lift 48-Year-Old Emergency Law
[3] ST/ Damascus (AFP): Outrage as Russia, China veto UN move on Syria
[4] http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/02/20/helping_syria_without_war
[5] Telegraph: Russia and China veto UN resolution on Syria
[6] BBC: Russia and China veto resolution on Syria at UN
[7] BBC: Syria votes on new constitution referendum amid unrest
[8] ST: More bloodshed as Syrians vote on a new constitution
[9] AJE: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2012/02/201225111654512841.html