Syria has been a nearly constant presence in the news recently, as the conflict between activists and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues to expand. But even as the country dominates international news coverage, the situation is becoming more complicated. Here are just some of the latest stories coming out of the conflict.
Homs under siege
Government forces increased their shelling today of Homs, where parts of the city have been under siege from troops loyal to Assad since being captured by rebel forces. Hundreds of people have reportedly been killed in the last three days under what rebel activists have described as "brutal shelling", and the worst assaults in days.
A looming civil war?
The continued violence has prompted renewed speculation that a civil war is imminent. While government forces continue to confront the anti-Assad opposition, the most violent clashes are between authorities and defectors from the Syrian army, who make up a significant part of the rebels' fighting strength. As the government attacks continue, many are worried that what started as a crackdown against protesters could soon turn in to a full-blown civil war.
The Arab League
There had been great hopes for the monitoring mission the Arab League sent to Syria last month, but the monitors were pulled out after apparently encountering repeated obstructions and difficulties and a perceived inability to hold Syria's government to the terms of the League agreement that sent them there. On Sunday, a League meeting in Cairo resulted in a resolution to end diplomatic co-operation with the Syrian government and for a joint United Nations-Arab peacekeeping force to intervene in the country. Included in this was the option for Arab League members to send arms to the regime's opponents, which could in theory increase the likelihood of civil war.
The United Nations
The idea of a UN-sanctioned intervention force, even one in partnership with the Arab League, is considered unlikely at this point in time, given the opposition of two permanent members of the UN's Security Council - Russia and China - to any action against Syria. Russia, in particular, is a staunch ally of the Assad regime, as well as a major seller of arms to the Syrian government. Meanwhile, Navi Pillay, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the UN General Assembly on Monday that the inability of the Security Council to develop a resolution against Syria has allowed Assad's regime to step up its assaults on opposition forces, increasing the amount of bloodshed in the country. She estimated that 5,400 people had been killed since the uprising began last March.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has released a video in which he calls for followers to help overthrow the "criminal butchers" of the Syrian regime. Being on the same side as one of the West's greatest ideological foes could possibly makes things more complicated for many governments.
Complaints about Canada
Yesterday, Syria's envoy to Canada held an interview with the Canadian Press in which he charged the Harper government with taking part in an international conspiracy to overthrown the Assad regime. Calling Canada's position "deplorable", Bashar Akbik accused the country of "helping to worsen the life of the Syrian citizens" through sanctions. He also denied that his government is responsible for killing civilians and blamed "Hollywood"-style videos for making it seem like that was the case.
The Syrian government's shelling of Homs has made communication difficult for rebels and activists still in the city. The UN has said that the assault has not only killed up to 300 people, but has cut off telecommunications and electricity. As a result, opposition members are relying on a more time-honoured method of correspondence: Carrier pigeons have been bringing messages between besieged rebel outposts in the city.
Jack Hayden's YouTube Letter Campaign
Appalled by the ongoing violence in Syria, 14-year-old Jack Hayden of Montreal recently sent a letter to Bashar al-Assad asking him to step down in order to let the "people of Syria live in peace." He also composed a letter addressed to "All the Young People in the World", asking them to write to the leaders of their own countries asking them to end diplomatic relations with Syria until the violence has stopped, and to put pressure on China and Russia to remove their veto on any UN resolution to intervene in Syria. In his letter, Jack points out that thousands have died in Syria "because they want freedom," and tells his fellow young people that many of those killed or tortured are "kids our age."
Here is Jack's YouTube version of the letter he hopes will inspire people around the world to help bring the violence in Syria to an end:
The fake pro-Assad interview
Syrian television recently rebroadcast what it said was an excerpt from an interview with French Middle East correspondent Olivier Roy on the French TV network France 2, in which Roy can be heard off-camera saying "There is no doubt about this, Bashar al-Assad will be the first Arab leader who will win against the West," along with statements praising Bashar. Roy has now released a statement in which he not only denies that any such interview ever took place, but that he hopes Assad's regime will fall - "the sooner the better."
The uprising on Twitter
Not everyone siding with the Syrian opposition has to rely on pigeons to communicate. There are a number of activists who provide an excellent perspective of the scene behind rebel lines (both literal and figurative) via Twitter. They include:
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