The Syrian regime bombed its own people again on Thursday, this time sending fighter jets to bombard the old district of Deraa in the south. The bombings killed 18 persons. It wasn’t the first time the regime has deployed aerial bombardment against civilian cities, but it was the first such strike at Deraa (the place where the Syrian uprising began in 2011).
A spate of bombings ripped through Damascus on Thursday. The largest, near the ruling Baath Party HQ and the Russian embassy, killed 53 and wounded 200, mostly innocent passers-by, including students. The Russian embassy was slightly damaged. Another bombing struck key intelligence offices in the capital, killing 22, and mortar shells hit a military facility. The bombing near the Baath headquarters was so deadly and costly in lives of non-combatants that the Syrian opposition condemned it, aware that it made them no friends in Damascus.
Still, the blast did underline how weak the regime has become. In the past its powerful secret police were vigilant and might have prevented a big bombing right in the capital (such bombings in Damascus are not unprecedented but are rare).
Meanwhile, in the past week the Free Syria Army has come into direct conflict with the Hizbullah party-militia in Lebanon in the past few days. The FSA announced that it had attacked Hizbullah positions in Syria and in Lebanon, threatening a spill-over onto Lebanon of Syria’s civil war. Hizbullah, a Shiite group, supports both Iran and the Baath government in Damascus. The Syrian opposition is largely Sunni and accuses Iran and Hizbullah of propping up the Baath regime, which is dominated in its upper echelons by the Shiite Alawite sect (which accounts for about 10% of Syria’s population). Hizbullah denies that it is actively fighting in Syria.
In other developments, divisions have deepened in Syria’s Christian community (some 10% – 14% of the population) over taking a stance on the revolution. Many Syrian Christian leaders have announced their neutrality, and ordinary Syrian Christians often feel that the secular Baath Party is better for them than might be a revolutionry Sunni government influenced by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.
Nevertheless, some Christians support the opposition, and some of those are becoming organized and vocal. The USG Open Source Center translates from al-Sharq al-Awsat [The Middle East] for Feb. 21:
“Syrian oppositionist Michel Kilo announced the formation of a political grouping consisting of Christians opposed to the Syrian regime. Kilo affirmed to Al-Sharq al-Awsat : “The grouping consists of a number of businessmen and intellectuals and some men of religion that do not support the church’s stand on situation in Syria”. Most prominent among these are Samir Sattuf, Michel Sattuf, Father Ispiridon Tannus, Bassam al-Bitar, and woman activist Ruba Hanna. Kilo said: “The aim of the grouping is primarily urging the sons of the community to participate in the revolution and back the stands calling for freedom and democracy. When we learned that there is a registered and administratively independent organization that is working for this purpose called “Christian Syrians For Democracy”, we immediately proclaimed our joining it”. Kilo went on to say: “The members of the grouping intended to tour the Syrian villages close to the borders with Turkey. However, the tense climate at the Bab al-Hawa crossing point that was the scene of a blast recently made us change our mind. We will later receive representatives of revolutionaries inside the country from the sharia court as well as activists from the Idlib countryside”. Kilo added: “The members of the grouping discussed with the revolutionaries the situation on the ground and how to extend humanitarian aid. The grouping will be active in various fields pertaining to the reconstruction of schools and houses, providing water and medications, starting scholastic courses for the children of the displaced, and opening mobile clinics. All this will be done in the name of the Christian community in Syria. We think it is the duty of this community to participate in the revolt against the Syrian regime”. Regarding accusations labeling the grouping as a “sectarian bloc,” Kilo said: “Had this grouping been of a sectarian nature we would have asked for a share to the Christians and defended their narrow interests. What we are seeking is integrating the Christians in the revolt to become a bridge for contact and interaction among all the Syrians”. Kilo emphasized: “The Christians are not a sect; they are part of the people. They have to shoulder responsibility and take a firm stand on what is happening in the country”.”