A number of different opposition groups have come together in Istanbul to form a new political coalition against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The groups said their yet unnamed coalition would act independently from the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition coalition that was set up in August to challenge Assad’s rule.
The SNC has emerged as one of the main voices of the opposition, but is often criticized by activists inside Syria who say the mostly exiled leadership has little connection to protesters on the ground.
The SNC was dealt a blow earlier this week when three prominent members resigned in frustration.
Al Jazeera, March 18
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So far, the Syrian case has differed from every other Arab Spring example, from the scale and brutality of the regime crackdown to the willingness of Syrian civilians, after all the bloodshed, to keep up their protests.
“Not only has Assad absorbed the first shocks of the uprising, in fact he is on the offensive,” says Fawaz Gerges, a Mideast specialist at the London School of Economics who has done fieldwork in Syria in the past year.
“He can mobilize half a million men, skilled, active, healthy men who can fight,” says Mr. Gerges, noting that Assad has barely deployed any of his hundreds of planes and helicopters.
“You’re talking about a regime that has been preparing itself for 40 years for the worst-case scenario,” adds Gerges. “Assad seems to be in charge of how and when he’s using force…. He’s really acting, of course, in a very brutal way, but as a man walking tall – not a man scared. Acting decisively. Yesterday it was Idlib, today it is Deraa. This is a systematic, concerted effort; he is going for the kill.”
Christian Science Monitor, March 17
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Assad is fighting back, re-imposing harsh rule at the point of a gun. First was a month-long bombardment of Homs, then the indiscriminate shelling of Idlib, and now Assad’s troops are moving back into Deraa, where the uprising began in March 2011. More than 8,000 Syrians have died since then, according to the United Nations.
While most observers echo President Obama in stating that Assad’s “days are numbered,” some also look at how Saddam Hussein, in 1991, crushed a Shiite/Kurdish uprising, and then ruled over a cowed population for 12 more years. Assad’s father, Hafez, himself crushed an Islamist revolt by destroying the city of Hama in the early 1980s.
Christian Science Monitor, March 15
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The Guardian revealed on March 14 that it is in possession of more than 3,000 private emails purportedly written by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle. The emails were allegedly leaked to the newspaper by members of the Syrian opposition. But the content of the emails is rather trivial, says the liberal-conservative daily, Die Presse:
“Put together, the pieces of the email puzzle don’t reveal the mosaic of a monster but of a man who buys music and apps at the Apple iTunes store and doesn’t forget to compliment his wife by sending her a song by Blake Shelton: “Cos God gave me you for the ups and downs.” When you read the text of the song, it’s difficult to reconcile this picture of the man with the images of the horrors of Homs for which Assad bears direct responsibility. The question of “cui bono” therefore appears to support the claims that the emails are genuine.”
Die Presse, March 15
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“It’s high time Europe remembered its anti-totalitarian foundations and supported all those people who today seek to emulate the examples it gave them in the past.
“What form should help take? And how can we help each other? By starting to voice our opinions loud and clear, by exposing false excuses and pretexts on decisive matters. Today’s paradox: the despot arms himself to the teeth and his friends supply him with all he needs. Meanwhile the oppressed are being denied any means to defend themselves.
“Can we allow their protection to depend on a non-intervention resolution? Must we accept that the murderers should avail themselves of the free market while their victims are forced to submit without resistance? …Once more we must say with calm resolve that these two major powers are trampling the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and with it the United Nations – underfoot.”
André Glucksmann, quoted in Der Standard, March 15