As violence escalates, Syria conflict gains new dimensions
A spate of violence over the past week has the international community searching for ways to prevent civil war.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 14/06/12
As the international community scrambles to revive a joint UN-Arab League peace plan for Syria, the head of UN peacekeeping operations has described the spiraling violence as a civil war.
"Clearly what is happening is that the government of Syria lost some large chunks of territory, several cities to the opposition, and wants to retake control," Herve Ladsous, UN under-secretary for peacekeeping operations, said on Tuesday (June 12th) in New York.
On Thursday, the human rights group Amnesty International accused the regime of war crimes and of conducting a scorched earth policy, and called on the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
This week, UN observers reported government helicopter gunships being used in the rebel stronghold of Homs, which along with several other cities, has been pounded by mortar and artillery fire. The town of al-Haffeh, a rebel stronghold and supply route 25km from the Turkish border, is under heavy attack, prompting renewed fears of massacre and refugee flows to Turkey.
More than 29,000 refugees have fled there to avoid the conflict that has claimed over 13,000 lives in 15 months, according to the UN. Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru told state-run TRT television Wednesday that "we are disturbed by the possibility that it could spread to us."
The escalating violence comes amid intensified international diplomacy in recognition that none of the six-points of the joint UN-Arab League plan, led by special envoy Kofi Annan, have been put in place by the Syrian government or armed opposition.
Annan is expected to propose a "contact group" of powers with influence in Syria to rescue his failing peace plan. The group would include the permanent members of the UN Security Council, Turkey, Iran, the Arab League, Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the EU.
"The objective of creating this group is to give teeth to the plan, to convince the parties to implement the plan in its entirety. It is not to create a new plan," Ahmad Fawzi, Kofi Annan's spokesperson, said on Tuesday.
Russia, which has shielded Syria with its Security Council membership, has backed the plan, and was accused this week by the United States of exporting arms to the region. Moscow denied the claim.
In Ankara, Russian diplomats visited the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday "to inform on the context of an international conference," Turkey's state-run Anatolian Agency reported.
The international diplomatic maneuvering comes as Syria's main opposition group, the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council (SNC), on June 8th elected Abdel Basset Sayda, a Kurd, as its new leader.
Sayda replaces Burhan Ghalioun, who was widely criticised for being ineffective in uniting the fractious Syrian opposition.
Sayda has vowed to make the largely Sunni Arab SNC more inclusive by working with all religious and ethnic groups in Syria, including Christians, Kurds, Druze and Alawites.
Divisions within the opposition groups both inside and outside of Syria have been a major setback for Turkey and other countries aligned against Syria President Bashar al-Assad.
Yasin Atlioglu, a Syria analyst at the Turkish Asian Centre for Strategic Studies, said the change in leadership gives Turkey more avenues to deepen its co-operation with the opposition.
"The change is of significant importance for the SNC's image," Atlioglu said, noting that the SNC has been viewed as a largely Sunni Arab and Muslim Brotherhood dominated group.
Turkey's support for the SNC left it subject to accusations it has supported only Sunni Arab and Islamic groups within the Syrian opposition.
"Sayda might also get support from Syria's Kurdish-dominated areas as well," Atlioglu added.
Until now, the Syrian Kurdish parties have not joined the SNC over mistrust of Turkey and the SNC's unwillingness to recognise Kurdish rights.