11/16/2011, 00.00
SYRIA

Syria increasingly isolated as Turkey and Saudi Arabia inch closer to a Libya-style intervention

Ankara threatens to cut off power supplies, predicting a tragic end for Assad. Arab League summit in Rabat is set to suspend formally Syria. Some 500 League observers arrive in Damascus to monitor the situation of civilians. Rebels attack military base in Harasta.
Damascus (AsiaNews/ Agencies) –Turkey and Arab countries are turning against the Syrian government, urging President Assad to give up power and put a stop to anti-opposition violence. Today, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan threatened to cut off cross-border electricity supplies to his old ally. "Bashar al-Assad should see the tragic ends of the ones who declared war against their own people," Mr Erdogan said. Turkey has already stopped most economic flows with Syria. Ankara has also backed Syria’s suspension from the Arab League, not excluding military aid to the opposition. Meanwhile, rebel soldiers today attacked a military base in Harasta, southwestern Syria.

The Arab League decided last week to suspend Syria, but the decision will only be formally adopted at the meeting in the Moroccan capital Rabat. Meanwhile, a delegation of 500 Arab League observers has started to arrive in the Syrian capital. Although not attending the current League meeting, the Syrian government had agreed to the observers’ presence to monitor and coordinate the Arab peace plan it had agreed to on 2 November.

In an apparent show of goodwill ahead of the summit, Syrian authorities freed 1,180 people who had been arrested during protests. However, for Prince Turki al-Faisal, former chief of Saudi intelligence services, it is clear that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not prepared to halt the violence and accept reforms. "In that context, there will be growing popular opposition to him, and killing every day. I think it's inevitable that he will have to step down in one form or another,” the prince noted.

In fact, despite international pressures, Syrian security forces continue to kill, 70 civilians in Deraa yesterday. The UN reports that more than 3,500 people have died, since the start of the protests against President Assad in March, 300 in November alone.

If the violence continues, Turki al-Faisal said, the matter might reach the United Nations Security Council and bring about a resolution similar to the one that allowed for intervention in Libya to protect civilians.

Many observers now believe that the clashes between government forces and opposition are coming close to civil war. More and more, soldiers are defecting and joining a force calling itself the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Commanded from Turkey, the latter claims to have 10,000 men.

According to local sources, the FSA has already conducted a number of sabotage operations, including the attack against a military base in Harasta.

However, the Syrian situation is different from Libya. Unlike Libya, where the armed uprising that began in Benghazi had the support of a united opposition in the form of the National Transitional Council, Syria’s opposition is ideologically divided. Some extremist groups are pushing for open rebellion, whilst more moderate groups want a political solution under international supervision. Many of Assad’s enemies are even more afraid of a power vacuum, deemed worse than continued repression by the Baa’thist regime.

A full-blown civil war, even with NATO support, could spill over Syria’s borders, and cause greater loss of life and destabilise the entire Middle East.
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