A “coalition of the willing,” even if it only included a handful of countries, would prove enough to topple the Assad regime. But someone in the international community needs to take the initiative on this matter. Hint, hint, wink, wink, our neighbor in that big old White House!
Wednesday 18, 2012
Today’s death toll: 23. The Breakdown: 9 in Homs City, 2 defectors in Qseir in Homs Province, 2 women in Ma’arrat Al-Nouman in Idlib Province, 1 in Manbij in Aleppo Province, and 2 in rural Damascus who died of wounds received on prior occasions...
Steven Cook: “The conventional wisdom in Washington and beyond is that Bashar al-Assad will fall on his own and that an intervention would be counterproductive, but with thousands dying we need to reconsider those assumptions”
BY Ammar Abdulhamid and Ken Ballen: “The protesters and all Syrians who yearn for freedom are unambivalent in their call for international intervention. America faces a fundamental choice. It can stand behind democratic aspirations fully, or it can continue to rely on 19th century notions of power politics and influence.
After 5 days of shelling and foiled attempts at incursion, loyalist troops were forced to negotiate a ceasefire with local representatives of the Free Syrian Army stationed in the town of Zabadani along the borders with Lebanon. The terms of the ceasefire call for lifting the siege on the town and refraining from any further attempts at incursion, in exchange for maintaining a small security presence in town. Locals say the terms were negotiated by officers taking their orders from Assef Chawkat, Assad’s brother-in-law and the man believed to be responsible for orchestrating all current sweep operations in the country. The negotiations happened through the auspices of local dignitaries, that is, there were no direct meetings between defectors and loyalists. The occasional pounding that took place earlier on Wednesday came to a quick halt and the pullout to points further outside the town seems to have proceeded as agreed.
Still, there are legitimate concerns that the ceasefire in Zabadani was made because the regime intends on carrying out major sweep operations in the restive region of Eastern Ghoutah to the East of Damascus. But even if this were the case, the fact that the regime needed to negotiate a ceasefire in order to ready itself for the alleged operations, is a major indication of how embattled its troops are at this stage.
With this in mind, the arguments that Ken Ballen and I made in our column in CNN international website earlier today were pretty much on the money: small groups of “ragtag defectors from the Syrian Army, joined by civilians… have fought Assad's loyalist troops and militias nearly to a standstill with only light arms, obtained locally.” As such, all that Syrian rebels need at this stage is some support, and they can take care of the business of bringing down the Assad regime on their own. This is what Ken and I recommended as far as measures that the U.S. can take:
“Providing [the rebels] with more sophisticated gear, including RPGs, night vision goggles and better communication equipment, would likely enable them to neutralize Assad's tanks and possibly free entire towns. Implementing a no-fly zone could also prevent Assad from laying these towns, once free, to waste. A naval blockade of Syrian ports would help prevent arms shipments to the regime… If Russia persists in threatening a veto at the U.N. Security Council, the United States should call for an international conference on Syria, with the Arab League, the Islamic Conference, NATO, Japan, India, Brazil and all concerned states. This would be a viable path to legitimate multilateral intervention while circumventing the Russian veto.”
In other words a “coalition of the willing,” even if it only included a handful of countries, would prove enough to topple the Assad regime. But someone in the international community needs to take the initiative on this matter.
Meanwhile, unless the Assads have reconciled themselves to surrendering power and negotiating a way out, the ceasefire won’t hold for long and it will definitely not be expanded to include Homs, Idlib and other restive parts of the country. Zabadani remains under siege, and the situation remains tense.
Rallies took place in protest communities throughout the country. The following videos highlight the most important developments that took place on Wednesday January 18, 2012.