Mustafa Amin writes from Damascus: Another massacre in Syria. This time in the village of Taramseh where over 200 villagers were killed in an aerial assault by helicopter gunships, followed up by artillery fire and tanks. The Free Syrian Army defending the village fled. Shabiha (Ghost) hit squads then entered and slaughtered many who were still alive. Taramseh is a predominantly Sunni village.
This scenario is being played out increasingly in Syria. The shabiha are composed of Alawite men. They are the minority that rules the country. It is now a straight fight between the Sunni and Alawite for power. No wonder some analysts see this civil war as a Sunni uprising against the Alawites. The minorities, Christian, Kurd, Circassian and Armenian, to name a few, are caught in the murderous crossfire. When the shabiha take a village, they often expel Christians who have been living there for centuries. Circassians are making their way to the North Caucasus to join their fellow nationals. Armenians are seeking refuge in Armenia. Christians are leaving for Lebanon and the West.
Syria is supported by Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. All Shia dominated. On the other side are the Saudis, Qataris and Gulf States Sunnis. Despite the wealth of the Sunni supporters it is not an equal fight. The lightly armed insurgents are no match for the Syrian forces. Damascus is paying a heavy price for the conflict. The state is going broke. The struggle is gradually destroying a once beautiful country.
So what can the United Nations and the Arab League do? Kofi Annan, their representative, floats around the Middle East urging an end to the violence and a beginning of dialogue between President al Bashir and the insurgents. He was in Tehran recently but his message fell on deaf ears. Damascus has no intention of negotiating away its power. Anyway, negotiate with whom? There is no obvious successor to the President. The Sunnis are split into various factions. There are those, like the Muslim Brotherhood, who would like to follow the path of Egypt and accept for the moment that the military hold the upper hand. There are others who would prefer an Islamic republic and Sharia as the law. Al Qaeda is spreading its influence there. The Syrian National Council, based abroad, consists of exiled Syrians who cannot agree among themselves.
So the bloodletting continues. The defection of the Syrian ambassador to Iraq was a blow but does not affect the fighting on the ground. More and more senior officers are opting out. However the hard core of Alawites who rule will fight to a finish. It is an existential struggle for them. The Sunnis believe that they will prevail in the end because they make up the overwhelming majority of the population.
The UN is helpless. Russia has hardened its position and resolutely opposes any UN sanctioned violence or economic sanctions against Damascus. The Friends of Syria conference in Paris last week emphasised one thing: the opponents of President al Assad are long on words but short on action. Syria has the military hardware to resist an invasion.
There will be more Taramsehs. It is a war of attrition between Sunnis and Alawites. The shabiha kill without mercy. Their aim is to terrify the Sunnis into submission. For the moment they have the upper hand. They are better armed than the insurgents. They can call on aerial and artillery power to soften up the enemy before they move in. So far the insurgents have found no answer to these tactics.
The conclusion? More and more bloodshed. The Alawites will pay any price to retain power. This includes destroying the country. What a prospect!