The Battle for Syria
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|Shlomo Cesana and Daniel Syrioti||December 24th 2012|
Hayom and agencies
Human Rights Watch reported a few weeks ago that at least ten instances had been recorded of Syrian military personnel murdering hundreds of civilians while waiting in line at bakeries for bread.
Witnesses told Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya that the death toll continues to rise and hundreds have been wounded. Videos made by opposition activists and uploaded to the Internet show intense images of mangled bodies, including children, and desperate citizens trying to rescue wounded survivors from rubble. "Where are the Arab countries," shouted one photographer as he filmed outside the recently bombed bakery. "How can the world remain silent and let Assad and his criminals slaughter us? We have no other hope than to pray that Allah will take revenge on Bashar and his family. Everyone has abandoned us. It is a disgrace for the international community. The U.N. and Arab countries have not lifted a finger to stop Assad from massacring his own people."
On Monday, U.N. and Arab League envoy al-Akhdar al-Ibrahimi is expected to reach Damascus to meet with Assad. He landed in Beirut on Sunday and will travel in a reinforced vehicle to Damascus. Due to the paralysis of Syria's international airport and because Assad's forces do not have control of the airport highway, he cannot fly.
Ibrahimi had previously announced that if Assad does not meet him, he intends to retire. His associates told Lebanese media sources on Sunday that "the U.N. and Arab League envoy is desperate to resolve the crisis in Syria. If no progress between the parties can be made to bring about a cease-fire soon, he will be left with no other choice than to resign from his role."
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi denied on Sunday claims that rebel forces have taken control of an additional military base near Aleppo and that they control 75 percent of Syrian territory: "Reports that terrorists occupy most of Syria are a fantasy perpetuated by the Western media and some of their Arab media collaborators in a plot to overthrow the Syrian regime. Our advice is that the rebels wake up from their dream of overthrowing the president and the regime so we can hold a dialogue that will allow for a political solution."
Zoabi also denied that Syria has chemical weapons, and said, "If Syria had chemical weapons, it would never use them, neither within or outside of the country."
In contrast to Zoabi's denial, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi, who defected to Britain a few weeks ago, said that Syrian chemical weapons had been secured and monitored.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said that Israel was preparing for possible repercussions on Syria's chemical weapons.
"We are also monitoring developments in Syria," Netanyahu told his Cabinet at their weekly meeting in Jerusalem. "There are dramatic developments there almost daily. We are cooperating with the United States and together with the international community, taking the necessary measures to be prepared for possible far-reaching changes in the regime that would have repercussions on sensitive weapon systems there."
Earlier on Sunday, a senior Israeli defense official said that Syria's chemical weapons were still secure despite the fact that Assad had lost control of parts of the country.
Defense Ministry Diplomatic-Security Bureau head Amos Gilad told Army Radio that the civil war between Assad and opposition forces fighting to topple him had become deadlocked, but that the Syrian leader showed no signs of heeding international calls to step down.
As Syria's southern neighbor, Israel has been concerned about chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamist militants or Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, warning it could intervene to stop such developments.
Western countries said three weeks ago that Assad's government might be preparing to use poison gas to repel rebel fighters who are encamped around Damascus, the capital, and who control rural Aleppo and Idlib in the north.
The rebels â€” mainly Sunni Muslims â€” are pushing southwards from their northern strongholds into the central province of Hama.
But Assad, who is from the Alawite minority linked to Shiite Islam, has responded with artillery, airstrikes and, according to NATO, Scud-type missiles.
Western powers and some Arab countries have called for Assad to step down, but Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that international efforts to persuade Assad to quit would fail.
Lavrov said Russia had rejected requests from countries in the region to pressure Assad to go or to offer him safe haven. If Assad did exit the political scene, it could lead to an upsurge in the fighting that activists say has killed 44,000 people since the uprising began in March 2011, Lavrov said.