The UN is debating whether to withdraw its observers from Syria, given that there is no point in deploying observers if they are just going to witness the violence. The point of the observers was to enforce a cease-fire by moral suasion, but there is no ceasefire. Meanwhile, the UN has found evidence of a further massacre, this time at Deir al-Zor, with 15 bodies surfacing, executed as though by criminal gangs.
The BBC has obtained satellite photographs of the central Syrian town of Houla at the time of its siege by Syrian artillery. Analysts confirm that the Syrian positions are consistent with their being in control of the scene. The artillery likely gave cover to the Shabiha paramilitary thugs deployed by Damascus, who infiltrated the town and massacred the inhabitants with knives. Others were killed by punitive artillery strikes. The faintly absurd denunciations of the massacre by the Baath spokesman as the work of ‘armed gangs’ are given the lie by the photographs. How likely is it that armed gangs could operated with impunity under the nose of the Syrian artillery corps?
As I predicted, the Houla massacre knocked some Syrians off their fence. Earlier this week, Sunni merchants of some quarters of Damascus staged a general strike, declining to open their shops. These Sunni merchants are a backbone of the regime, and they were risking government contracts by this protest. The regime is losing more and more of the country.
A dark cloud on the horizon is the possibility of direct intervention in Syria, or on the Lebanon-Syrian border, by Israel. Any such Israeli action would destroy the uprising, making it impossible for Syrians on the fence to oppose the Baath regime, since that would make them de facto allies of Israel.