Earlier today several thousand residents of Damascus participated in a funeral procession as an act of defiance aimed at the Assad regime. As of 0600 (Eastern) there are several breaking news stories of mourners being killed. According to the Associated Press:
Syrian troops have fired on mourners taking part in a massive funeral procession in the capital… Several people were wounded by gunfire in the Damascus neighborhood of Mazzeh. Tear gas was also fired on the Saturday procession mourning three people killed by security forces following protests in the area a day earlier. An eyewitness who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals said the procession numbered around 15,000.
Thursday the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn human rights violations by Syrian authorities. The resolution was passed with 137 nations in favor, 12 against, and 17 abstentions.
According to a UN statement:
The Assembly called on Syria to abide by its obligations under international law, and demanded that the Government, in line with the 2 November 2011 Action Plan of the League of Arab States, and its decisions of 22 January and 12 February 2012, without delay, stop all violence and protect its people, release all those detained during the unrest, withdraw all armed forces from cities and towns, guarantee peaceful demonstrations and allow unhindered access for Arab League monitors and international media.
The language of the resolution closely mirrored that of a text vetoed by China and the Russian Federation in the Security Council two weeks earlier…
By other terms of the text adopted today, the Assembly expressed its full support for the Arab League’s decision to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system, including through a “serious political dialogue between the [Syrian Government] and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition”. Reaffirming its strong commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity, it further reaffirmed that all Member States “should refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State”.
Perhaps in response to the United Nations action, on Friday Syrian forces seemed to step up their action. According to The Daily Star (Lebanon):
Syrian troops intensively shelled rebel-held neighborhoods in the restive central city of Homs Friday and killed at least five people, activists said… Activist groups said tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets after Friday prayers from Daraa in the south to Aleppo and Idlib in the north and Deir el-Zour in the east to areas around the capital Damascus. The Local Coordination Committees said security forces opened fire on some protests.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), “Syria has become a magnet for foreign fighters, with al-Qaeda aligned jihadists streaming across the border from Iraq and rebel soldiers from the Libyan city of Misrata crossing in from Turkey…”
In testimony on Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said, “We believe that Al Qaeda in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria.”
During a British-French summit held in Paris on Friday there was considerable nostalgia for the entente cordiale that contributed so much to toppling Qaddafi. But Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy were also clear on preconditions to any military intervention in Syria. According to The Guardian, “Cameron said the situation in Syria was “appalling” and said the government was “butchering and murdering its own people”. He said that Syria was different to Libya in three ways: in Libya the west had a UN resolution, the Arab League was calling for action, and the opposition represented the whole country, he said.”
They did not rule out joint military action in Syria but said the current circumstances were not right. “The main obstacles are not to do with such and such country’s attitude at the UN,” Mr Sarkozy said. “The fact is we cannot bring about a revolution without the Syrian people. We cannot bring this about if the Syrian opposition does not unite and organise to help us help them.”
There is increasing international discussion of a “protected zone” in Northwest Syria to incubate a more unified opposition. Many are pointing to Idlib province immediately adjacent to Turkey. The Free Syrian Army has had more freedom of movement in Idlib than in most other venues.
But Turkey — essential to the survival of any such enclave — has made it clear it prefers what it calls a “Mediterranean corridor.” According to the Sabah newspaper (Turkey):
Foreign Affairs Minister Davutolu has already relayed his concerns to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Ankara is in favor of a humanitarian aid corridor being established via the Mediterranean and suggests that instead of designating a route through Turkey, the British base in Cyprus be used for this purpose.
One of the biggest obstacles preventing the international community from giving a decisive outside push to overthrow Bashar al-Assad is its inability to see a viable, unified alternative for the post-Assad period… The U.S. in particular has played a significant role in attempting to unify the Syrian opposition, by conditioning their recognition of the SNC as the legitimate government of Syria on providing more assurances towards minority groups. The U.S. has been engaged in facilitating talks to unify the Syrian opposition since before the SNC’s formation, and it was the main organizer of the talks between the SNC and KNC last month. The U.S. appears to be the only power with interest in pulling this off in a non-sectarian manner, as especially Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in one way or another, have interests in supporting Sunni Islamist groups.
On February 24 Tunisia will host a meeting of the “Friends of Syria”. Much will depend on how effective these friends are in convincing the various Syrian enemies of Assad to be friends with each other.