Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu pledged that authorities will erect a fence along the Israel-Syria border amid concerns that radical Islamist members have infested the area.
So far, Israel has stayed out of the Syrian conflict that has claimed more than 60,000 lives, most of them civilian. However, there is rising concern that the continued violence and fighting could soon spill over to Israel.
Among the worries, Netanyahu expressed concerns that Syrian President Bashir Assad may try to lure Israel into the battle as a final act of desperation. Even more troubling is a possible scenario in which Assad is overthrown with Syria being overtaken by Islamist extremists who will ultimately locate and gain access to the county’s cache of chemical arsenal.
Netanyahu’s address came just as Assad made an international plea for reconciliation and condemned the Western nations for providing aid to the rebels, adding that most of them had direct ties to al-Qaida.
At a Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu emphasized a need for a fence along the borders that it shared with Syria. Such a barrier already exists along the border that the country shares with Egypt, which is in place to curb the flow of migrants. The new fence, still in its planning phase, will provide a barrier to prevent access from jihad forces, which have overtook areas once occupied by the Syrian army.
Since the uprising in Syria began in March of 2011, mortar rounds have occasionally landed on Israel’s side of the territory. While the stray fire is believed to be accidental, Israel nevertheless fired retaliatory shots as a stern warning.
So far, no estimates have been given about how long such a project would take to complete. Even the barrier built along the Israel-Egypt border is not yet complete as the border stretches for 125 miles.
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The unending onslaught of violence brought on by Syria’s regime has resulted in an unimaginable death toll of civilians. News has been surfacing of military generals and other high ranking commanders defecting from the regime and fleeing the country with their families.
There is now rumor that Syria’s Prime Minister, Riyad Farid Hijab, has packed up his bags and fled as well. If the news is true, then this will make Hijab the highest ranking administer to defect from President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The news of Hijab’s defection was initially reported by opposition forces. Syria’s government-run media, however, has denied all rumors of Hijab making an about-face. The media has insisted that Hijab was fired and did not defect as reported by the opposition. There are also reports that the country’s finance minister defected as well; this is also being disputed by the media.
Since the conflicts began about 17 months ago, Syria’s regime has consistently been fazed by the sudden defection of top military and civilian officials. According to an activist, while Hijab had close ties to President Assad’s brother, he appeared to be deeply disturbed by the atrocities committed by the government he was heading.
Aside from the defections, Iran’s role in the melee is also becoming more tangled. Rebel fighters have reported the capture of 48 Iranians in Damascus. Iranian officials have also called for an international emergency conference to be held in Tehran. According to the rebels, the captured Iranians are members of the country’s Revolutionary Guards. Iran has denied the claims and insisted the men were merely visitors embarking on a pilgrimage to a religious shrine in the city of Tadamon.
Iran has been an ardent supporter of President Assad and has continuously blamed Syrian rebels for the violence and civilian deaths. It has also blasted neighboring countries for siding with the opposition.
Syria has become a hotbed of bloodshed in the 15 months since the country’s people lead a revolt against the rule of their president, Bashar Assad. In total since March 2011, over 11,400 were killed so far, including 9,862 civilians, 3,470 soldiers and 783 army deserters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
No one, not even civilians, are safe from the shelling and gunfire that is taking place nearly on a daily basis. Some activists are now claiming that militia members supportive of the government are now targeting unarmed civilians. The latest massacre is believed to have taken place in the province of Hama where 78 people were killed.
The victims included women and children. Some of the bodies showed signs of stab punctures, while other bodies were burned. Blood is spilling on the street every day and all signs are pointing in the direction of civil war if nothing is done to put a stop to the senseless killings.
Just two weeks before, another mass killing took place in the city of Houla. A pro-Assad gang known as Shabbiha slaughtered 108 civilians; half of the confirmed dead were children. The town of Mazraat al-Qabeer and Maazarif have been heavily shelled by Syrian forces. After the shelling, that’s when members of Shabbiha entered the city and began the massacre.
The slayings have been witnessed by United Nation members who were sent to observe a ceasefire agreement set in place by envoy Kofi Annan. Both the government and rebel fighters have since called off the truce to ceasefire due to recent attacks.
The government has refused to comment on the massacres and has restricted ground access for the international media. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, is calling for an immediate investigation.
Until there is deeper international involvement, it looks like there are no plans for either the government or rebels to lay down their arms. This means that similar massacres will likely take place in the coming weeks and months. The death tally is expected to rise.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, spoke at a joint press conference alongside British Foreign Secretary, William Hague. In his statement, Lavrov openly condemned opposition forces, citing that they and Bashar al-Assad’s regime are responsible for the fighting that resulted in over 100 civilian casualties in the cities of Hama and Houla.
While Russia has backed the UN Security Council in criticizing the heavy artillery attack on the city of Houla by the Syrian government, it has also pointed out that Assad’s regime is not the only party responsible.
In the midst of the violence and fatalities, Lavrov did try to distance the Kremlin for Assad’s regime and added that its foremost priority is to put a halt to the bloodshed, so that Syrians can establish a stable government.
Lavrov and Hague called for both sides to agree to a cease fire and to return to the negotiating table. This ensures that plans for the six-point peace plan – which is vital for putting an end to the Syrian conflict – can move forward. Hague added that without the plan, Syria is doomed to bloody civil war.
While Lavrov emphasized that an end to violence is the main objective, he also directed the weight of the blame to outside forces, which he says have been encouraging opposition parties to fight in order to force other nations to intervene.
Lavrov admitted that the massacre at Houla was largely due to artillery shelling from the government. However, he also pointed to a number of civilian deaths that came at the hands of small arms gun fire, which he claims came from the opposition.
Russia’s position on Syria has put the country at odds with the West. Russia is opposed to direct intervention in sovereign nations and has reportedly balked at sanctions imposed against Syria by the West.
Almost a full year after the violence and clashes in Syria began, things seem to be moving very slowly. Again this week violence erupted in the region of Deraa, a city housing several rebel strongholds. This comes just a day after the country’s president Bashar Assad made an offer to hold a referendum about a new constitution, and bring new elections within 90 days. The offer drew a lot of criticism, and was rejected but by the rebel leaders and other countries. Meanwhile, it seems like the violence isn’t slowing down, and civilians remain trapped in the cross fire.
This is all happening while a recent UN Security Council resolution was rejected by Russia, and while France is said to be negotiating with the world power to bring a new resolution forward. One of the goals of that new resolution would be to create corridors so that civilians can flee the violence. Meanwhile however, it seems like Assad isn’t slowing down in trying to uproot the rebellion, with weapons mostly supplied from countries like Russia and China. This latest country published an opinion article in the newspaper People’s Daily, a government sponsored paper often used as mouth piece by the communist party, saying that Middle East conflicts need to be handled in a realistic manner. The paper said “The Middle East is the world’s most important fuel depot. If gripped by chaos, oil prices would skyrocket, shocking the stock market, financial systems and economies.”
Meanwhile on the ground, it’s hard to know exactly what goes on since Syria tightly restrict media access. The authorities there have no comments, but reports from another recent attack by the Syrian military against civilians in the region of Hama produced over 5 dead and 50 wounded within 36 hours due to heavy shelling and sniper fire. The military has been using artillery against the city for the 13th day in a row, attempting to drive out rebels. At the UN however, things seem to still be at a deadlock, with France arguing for a resolution that would call for humanitarian action, and Russia worried that the Security Council would call for a regime change, saying “If the plan is to use the Security Council and United Nations to adopt some language to help legitimize regime change, then I’m afraid international law does not allow this and we cannot support such an approach.” The Arab League wants a UN backed peacekeeper force on the ground, but that is also unlikely to happen until Russia and China change their minds.
There’s no question that a human tragedy is happening on the ground in Syria, and while the government in power there kills civilians by the thousands, very little is done from other countries, who spend most of their times in arguments and discussions, with national interests often blocking any progress towards a resolution. Meanwhile, people will keep dying.