In recent months, the uprising in Syria has become bloodier and bloodier. In the beginning, in spring and summer of 2011, the crowds were largely peaceful. The Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad responded by placing snipers on rooftops of tall buildings and having them fire randomly into the protesting crowds. They would kill 5-10 people in each city, to raise the cost of the protests. If they were hoping that this official sniping tactic would tamp down the demonstrations, the Baath security officials were wrong. Sometimes they would pull up tanks and use them as pill-boxes, peppering the crowds with live ammunition. These techniques would kill 50-80 people a day fairly regularly, if you added up deaths in all the small towns and cities.
In response to the regime’s militarization of its repression of civilian protest, Syrians (including defectors from the army to the opposition) began using firearms themselves, against the regime. In order to root out the elements of the Free Syrian Army, which began basing themselves in some city quarters, the regime began last winter heavily bombarding those districts, risking large losses of civilian life in hopes of clearing the area of opposition fighters.
Then in spring, the regime began sending Ghost Brigades into small Sunni towns and villages aligned with the revolt, and committing massacres of men, women and children. The massacre at Houle, which a UN investigation determined had in fact been carried out by pro-regime militias, was a turning point. It encouraged more Sunnis to defect from the Alawite=dominated regime.
The rebellion in Syria has often been fiercest in Sunni working-class suburbs. One of these in Damascus, Daraya, had become a center of opposition. Last week the Baath army launched an attack on Daraya and over-ran it. But over the weekend, it appears that either the victorious troops or the Ghost Brigade irregulars accompanying them committed reprisal atrocities against the people there for daring defy them. Over three hundred bodies were discovered in the aftermath, according to opposition sources.
A British official condemned the Daraya killings as an atrocity on a new scale, which captures the reality pretty well. The UN secretary-general expressed shock and called for an investigation.
On Monday, regime forces pounded dissident neighborhoods around Damascus with artillery killing dozens, including innocent civilians. They also continued shelling in Homs and in the north.
The escalation in the loss of life has impelled some outside countries to a new sense of urgency. French President Francois Hollande announced that he would recognize a government in exile if one were formed by the Syrian revolutionaries. The US declared that approach premature.
As killing escalates to hundreds a day, that datum will put pressure on the governments of the world to act.