Syrian Revolution Darkens Further, with Damascus Bombings and Hizbullah Involvement

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).

Aljazeera English reports:

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”.”

9 Responses

  1. I live in Michigan and a lot of the Arab Christians I talk to (not all, particularly those Lebanese with LF leanings) are passionately against the opposition. Shia tend to be more so, occasionally hysterically when they have family there. Don’t know any Alawaites. Correctly or not, a lot of them think that a rebel victory will mean their communities will be destroyed and their relatives killed or driven into exile, its very personal. This is why I don’t think the conflict will be over quickly or easily. If they are like some of the people I have met, they think they are fighting for their lives and societies, and so they will fight to the last bullet and shell. I don’t think they reckon they have a choice.

    And yes, I also know pro FSA people, mostly Sunni. They are also quite passionate, which is why there is a war.

    • The president/chairman of the Syrian National Council, the long-time exile group based in Istanbul, is George Sabra, an Orthodox Christian. The Syrian National Coalition, the umbrella organization for Syrian opposition to the Baathists, has a significant number of Christians. A number of Alawites opposed to Assad are supporting of the Syrian National Council.

      The Syrian-American community in Michigan numbers about 10,000 (out of 192,000 nationwide) with a significant percentage being Christian. There are a number of Syrian-rite Orthodox Christians living in Metro Detroit who have been politically influential – including former U.S. Senator Spencer Abraham.

      A recent Detroit Free Press Sunday edition article on the front page covering the attitudes of the Michigan residents of Syrian descent indicated the vast majority support the opposition to Assad. One member of the Syrian National Council is from Flint, Michigan. The Free Press has reported that 17 million dollars was raised in Michigan to assist those opposing the Baathists.

      Arab Christians living in Detroit, in my opinion, overwhelmingly want to see the Baathists leave power as they are viewed (correctly) as a repressive and anti-democratic regime. There is a great deal of concern, however, about who will replace the Baathists once Assad is gone and whether extremist elements, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, will be fighting the FSA afterwards.

  2. Dear Professor Cole

    To think that the UN HQ has a tapestry of Guernica at the entrance, and the Nuncio can still accuse us of indifference.

    ASIA/SYRIA – Endless slaughter in Damascus. Rumours of plan to strike Papal Nuncio

    Damascus (Agenzia Fides) – The Papal Nuncio to Syria Archbishop Mario Zenari is still shocked by reporst and images of fresh violent attacks this morning in the centre of Damascus, beginning with the attack in al-Shahbandar Square, site not only of the Baath headquarters, but also the ministry of Finance, the ministry of Education and, not far away, the offices of the Central Bank: “It is a massacre; bodies charred and torn to pieces, strips of human flesh, fire fighters struggling to put out the flames” the papal representative told Fides. Walls and windows of the Nunciature rocked with the explosions. In the face of yet another slaughter, Archbishop Zenari confirms the impression expressed in recent statements : “We continue to walk on the dead. At this pont, wherever you go in Damascus, you come to places where innocent blood has been shed: civilians, women and children. The number of 70,000 war victims is even more appalling when we think how these people die. They die not in their beds, not with euthanasia. Their bodies are torn apart and it is difficult even to collect enough fragments for a funeral”.
    According to Nuncio Zenari, in the face of the sacrifice of the Syrian people “the international community continues to play the part of Pontius Pilate”, whereas the only way to stop the spiral of death and destruction would be to “force the sides to find a negotiated and peaceful solution to the conflict”.
    Nuncio Zenari expresses surprise at rumours – taken up by Alef Agency – about a possible attack on his person which is said to be planned in Syrian military and intelligence circles, in retaliation for recent statements of his regarding the conflict: “I have no idea how much credibility is due to these rumours. Usually people planning an attack would not first leak the intent to the press. My appeals are prompted by what I see, the suffering the conflict inflicts on the Syrian people. Suffering which is prolonged by the indifference of the greater part of the international community “. According to the rumours, picked up by various Syrian blogs, the criminal plan aims to attack the Nuncio when he moves around in his car.
    Archbishop Zenari says it is better to avoid alarmism in reports regarding the situation of the local Christians: “The Christians” says the Papal representative “in this tragic situation suffer like all the rest of the population “. (GV) Agenzia Fides 21/2/2013)

  3. Some time ago, the Syriac community formed its own militia, mainly to protect its members from harm by anyone. Many have moved to Turkey but most to the Europe and the US. I was startled last year to read about opposition signs in one demonstration that were written in Arabic, Kurdish and Syriac.

  4. Why is it, Juan, that whenever an actual act of American aggression is at issue you always support it and repeat the propaganda. It is only when it doesn’t matter and nothing would be done anyway, like fair treatment of the Palestinians, that you take a stand. In my mind, there is no doubt, just as in Libya, that this is armed American aggression and slaughter of third world people. You are supporting it.

    • “there is no doubt…that this is armed American aggression and slaughter of third world people.”

      Where on earth are you getting your information? Are you seriously stating as a categorical fact that opposition to the Assad regime is “armed American aggression and slaughter of third world people”? Did you not hear that Obama’s previous national security team favored arming the opposition, but Obama vetoed the idea? And even if America did provide arms to the opposition, why would you think it would be “armed American aggression”? The Russians provide arms to the Assad regime. Do you consider Assad’s slaughter of his own Syrian people “armed Russian aggression” because the Russians provided the arms?

      Nevertheless, let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you know something that we do not. Please provide evidence that America is committing “armed aggression” in Syria. Please provide evidence that Americans are on the ground in Syria slaughtering “third world people.” Please provide evidence that American arms are in the hands of the opposition slaughtering “third world people.” In other words, you have made a categorical statement accusing the United States of an act of aggression in Syria. Back it up with evidence.

    • He’s really got you there, Perfesser.

      Why don’t you ever criticize, say, the drone war, or the war in Afghanistan? And just once, I’d like to see you tell us how you feel about the Iran sanctions.

  5. Juan- Your stance on this “uprising” is risably distorted by your fealty to the Democratic Party line. That’s a shame in a writer like yourself, who was so brave in opposing the US invasion of Iraq & other matters. So, what’s up with your shift in tenor? The Syrian rebels aren’t even primarily Syrian, but are rather agents of several foreign powers who have absolutely no interest in “democracy”.

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