Hanin Ghaddar

Abandon Annan

One day ahead of peace envoy Kofi Annan’s deadline to the Syrian regime, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces killed more than 160 people inside Syria and a cameraman in the north of Lebanon, and fired across the border into the Kilis refugee camp in Turkey, killing two Syrian residents and injuring four.

Today, instead of withdrawing troops from cities, Syrian forces started the day by shelling Marea, in the northern Aleppo province, after taking up positions around the village. Activists said that the government was also sending even more reinforcements into at least one other rebel stronghold, the besieged city of Rastan in central Homs province.

We don’t have to wait to see if Annan’s plan is going to work or not; the regime has sent a number of clear messages in the past few days. Assad will not stop his killing machine. Nor will the Syrian people stop protesting. The international community has exhausted all diplomatic efforts, and something needs to be done quickly.

The Friends of Syria Conference in Istanbul last week took place right after the delivery of Annan’s plan, which calls for a complete cessation of violence on both sides by this Thursday. In that light, the meeting’s official outcome was way below expectations. But the side meetings that occurred outside the official conference produced a number of scenarios in case Annan’s plan failed. These are to be followed up at the third Friends of Syria Conference to take place in Paris later this month. One of the most plausible scenarios is the creation of a buffer zone, according to some Syrian opposition figures.

On Sunday, the Syrian government announced it would not withdraw its forces from cities and towns without written guarantees from opposition groups that they will halt attacks and lay down their arms.

But Monday’s events escalated the sense of alarm, especially for the Turks. "Syrian citizens who took refuge in our country from the brutality of the current regime in Syria are under Turkey’s full protection," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We will certainly take necessary measures if such incidents reoccur."
The Turkish government did not specify which measures, or when and how they will be taken, but a number of Syrian activists believe that the shootings might give a push to Turkey’s plan to create a buffer zone along the border. For others, the recent events will encourage Qatar and Saudi Arabia to increase efforts to arm the opposition Free Syrian Army.

These two measures combined might change the balance of power and allow the rebels to get closer to the head of the snake: Damascus.

Turkey has its own reasons for wanting to decisively end the conflict in Syria; it certainly does not want to see more refugees entering its territory. About 2,500 Syrian refugees poured across border last week in a 24-hour period, bringing the total number of Syrians staying in southern Turkey to 24,300. Now that the Syrian regime violated Turkish sovereignty with the shooting, establishing a buffer zone looks like a very good idea.

On the other hand, the Syrian National Council, which has more or less been adopted by the Turkish government, needs to start gaining credibility if it is going to survive criticism from both activists inside Syria and opposition figures outside. Any serious step taken by the international community, especially Turkey, could add credit to the SNC and its political course, which so far has achieved nothing but issuing a series of statements and condemnations.

Unlike Turkey, however, the US seems to be less fixated on an urgent solution. During the Friends of Syria meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton countered Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hard-line rhetoric with a lukewarm statement. The US is doing a delicate balancing act by appearing to support Erdogan, while at the same time ensuring they did not undermine Annan’s more restrained efforts.

But now a new phase has started. Any diplomatic effort will not be acceptable anymore, especially if Assad is being considered as an interlocutor, or if the regime and rebels are put on equal levels.

Concrete measures are drastically required, and the opposition will not accept less than a buffer zone and/or humanitarian passages. The international community should act on these two levels: substantial humanitarian aid and serious political intervention.

Establishing a buffer will lead to more defections among the regime forces and will facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. Both would capture international attention and show those who are still silent that the balance of power is tipping against the regime.

According to opposition figures in Istanbul, the buffer zone is ready and is being controlled by the FSA; it only needs international, or at least Turkish, protection. However, the regime’s forces are already trying to contain the area around it. That’s why Tel Rifaat in Aleppo was almost destroyed today, with tens of people massacred.

It is no longer useful to be patient.

Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW Lebanon

  • Mick

    majd, u clown!!! The simple fact of Assad remaining in power will prevent the region from obtaining any stability for the foreseeable future. If u had any concerns, you would have advised ur shia friends, Hezbollah & al Sadr forces, to stop supporting the regime in it's terrorising of the Syrian people. There interference is deteriorating the situation even further. Why should Iran be involved in the crisis and not Qatar or Saudi Arabia. Syria does not belong to the Iranians, so why should they have a final say in the running of the country. Besides, the majority of it's inhabitants are sunni's, so its only natural that the Saudi's are obliged to help. U continue to equate the opposition with the regime. It is not a fair fight! They are short on weapons and the weapons they do possess are nothing compared to the regime. Assad has committed every possible atrocity and in return the opposition is excepted to hand him red roses for his tireless effects. This is what majd would want.

    April 11, 2012

  • samuel

    Majd... say your good byes to your 'Bashar'.. Sooner or later he will be gone. This disgusting, pathetic leader of yours. Yes some of the opposition has picked up arms and is fighting against this brutal repressive regime. It is the Syrian regime that in fact caused people to become more extreme, more radical. You can thank your Bashar for that.

    April 11, 2012

  • ali daoud

    Hanin Ghaddar, you are right Hanin, it is no more useful to be patient as you stated, i bet it is more useful for the Nato to invade syria and drag it into a civil war where the tragic warrying situation now available in Libya would look like a joke comparing to what might happen in syria. i wonder, how may a Lebanese person call for a scenario where he or she knows in advance that the end result will never be peace, will never be democracy, will never be freedom, however, the end result will surely be disasters and blood and wars not only in syria but also in fragile Lebanon. moreover, i doubt it is the human rights that you care about for the simple reason that you never raised your voice against the slaughter and the masacres being committed by the terrorist syrian opposition which was documented by the Human Rights Watch as well as by many press interviews such as the Der Schpiegel. Hanin may interview those criminals to make sure it is no more useful to be patient. Vive Bashar.

    April 10, 2012

  • Mick

    Excellent article and well written. Not only is the Syrian regime not content with the extreme voilence it is inflecting on its own people, with the help of Hezbollah and Sadr forces of cource, but now are targeting civilians in other countries as well. Tell me, did that cameraman have to die or those civiilians on the Turkish border. At this late hour, even a buffer zone will not be sufficient. When is the world going to realise that if it does not intervene sooner rather then later, many more thousands will die. Many more massacres will take place. And that lowest of the low, Assad will become bolder and commit even more lethal crimes that the world hasn't witnessed already. And the global community will lose it's humanitarian face.

    April 10, 2012

  • cue violins

    It is amazing how short people's memories are and how many can be fooled all of the time. When Aoun was against the Syrian regime he was accused of being a traitor, a Zionist agent, an embezzler, a coward but when he flipped and became pro Syrian he was transformed overnight into a patriot, an nationalist, a reformer, a hero. Now replace Aoun with anyone from Qarar to Al Jazeera to Turkey and you got the same thing. The moral of this story is, prepare to face the wrath of the fools if you dare oppose the Syrian regime.

    April 10, 2012

  • Someone

    Kofi Annan should have talked to Lakhdar Brahimi about how the Syrians keep their promises he would have stayed home with the same effect.

    April 10, 2012

  • What planet this guy on?!

    The tyrannies in Qatar, UAE and KSA should butt out - the last thing Syrian democrats and civilians need is their dirty corrupt money and ridiculous weapons - these actions hurt Syrians, strengthen the Apartheid Regime of the Baath Party. Turkey is the most important regional power in south west Asia. It will do what is in its own interests, and the interests of a majority of people in Syria. Intelligent, meaningful humanitarian aid plus diplomatic measures to isolate the apartheid regime - which is no better than the regimes in KSA, UAE, Qatar or "Israel" - all of them aggressive race-based states only surviving on violence and the threat of it.

    April 10, 2012

  • samuel

    I agree 100%. Any sane person would agree that this disgusting, brutal regime must be punished. Quickly.

    April 10, 2012