After seven months of pro-democracy demonstrations and violent government crackdowns, the League of Arab States has brokered a deal to mitigate the escalating crisis. More than 3,000 people have been killed in the Syrian “Arab Spring”, according to the United Nations, most of them civilians killed by President Bashar Al Assad’s security forces.
A committee formed by the League of Arab States to find a solution to the increasingly violent situation proposed a road-map to peace for Assad’s government to consider on Sunday. According to a translation by Crisis Action, the proposal included the following conditions:
1. “Halt all acts of violence from any source to protect the Syrian citizens.
2. Release all those who are detained because of the current events.
3. Remove all armed manifestations from the cities and the residential neighborhoods.
4. Grant field access to designated organizations of the Arab League and to the Arab and International media to move freely across all parts of Syria to see the reality of the situation and to monitor the current events.”
Two days later, on Tuesday, November 1, Assad’s regime agreed to the Arab League proposal, including withdrawing his security forces from city streets where tanks and snipers have targeted civilian demonstrators. The conditions in the road-map to peace were announced publicly on Wednesday.
The plan sparked outrage from Syrian opposition committed to regime-change. They felt that the Arab League plan was a conspiracy to help Assad stay in power and the conditions would only allow President Assad more time to consolidate power. The opposition expressed doubt that the regime would keep to the conditions that would ensure the protection of protestors from deadly crackdowns by security forces.
Unfortunately, recent events lend support to the oppositions’ skepticism. On Tuesday, the same day that Assad’s government agreed to the deal, it was reported that nine civilians were killed in protests across the country. In addition, 60 schoolchildren were arrested for rallying for regime-change in their schoolyard. On Thursday, 25 civilians were killed when tanks shelled the Bab Amro area of Homs. On Friday, opposition leaders urged protestors to take to the streets to test the government’s resolve in sticking to conditions of the Arab League peace deal. At least 15 civilians were killed across Syria by security forces on that day.
In the city of Homs, the violence is getting even uglier as army defectors and security forces clash in the streets. Even more concerning are the two incidents in Homs that occurred earlier this week that point to a possible ethnic dimension to the escalating violence. On Tuesday, nine Alawites were reportedly pulled off a bus and shot on the side of the road. Alawites are a minority sect of Islam in Sunni-majority Syria, but they dominate the Assad regime. In an apparent retaliation for this incident, Syrian security forces tied up and executed 11 Sunni civilians.
If the regime does not take immediate action to comply with the conditions of the League of Arab States proposal, President Assad risks further isolation from the international community. The risks to Syrian civilians are obvious; the violence over the last three days gives plenty of evidence of what Syrian citizens can expect from their government if it refuses to honor its agreement with the League of Arab States.