Mustafa Amin writes from Tripoli, Lebanon: Is the bloodshed in Syria a civil war?
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) maintains that there is no civil war in the country. What is really happening, it says, is an assault on the people of Syria by its government. The United Nations and the Arab League say there is a civil war going on. Mr Fix It, Lakhdar Brahimi, the new UN-Arab League envoy, also describes the mayhem as civil war.
So what constitutes a civil war? The normal definition is that of a ‘war between organised groups in the same nation state or republic’. The problem with this definition is that the FSA has no commander-in-chief and no command and control centre. It is made up of disparate groups following their own agendas. So the FSA can argue that it is not an organised group. Therefore the fighting in Syria cannot be designated a civil war. Does it matter?
The UN and others have admitted that both the government armed forces and the insurgents have committed war crimes. Both should be held accountable. Here is the crux of the matter. If there is a civil war, the FSA can be accused of war crimes. This is the Russian argument. The fighting should be stopped because there is no side which is in the right and no side in the wrong.
If there is no civil war, the FSA comes away pristine pure. Its argument is that the opposition to the regime initially was peaceful. It was the government that began the violence by shooting demonstrators. Hence, the state began a war against its own people. Its aim is to crush the opposition by military force. A dialogue is not possible.
How does the government answer this accusation? It maintains that it is fighting foreign terrorist groups that have entered the country to overthrow it. There is some truth in it. Jihadists from various Arab and Western countries are in Syria and are attacking the Syrian army. However, most of the opposition consists of native Syrians- mostly Sunnis – defending themselves and hoping that eventually the Alawi clan will be expelled from Damascus.
Rebels accuse government forces of carrying out a massacre the other day in Daraya, a predominantly Sunni town near Damascus. They say they have found over 200 bodies. The dead were executed in their homes. The town was a rebel stronghold. Whatever the truth it is clear that government policy is to punish any town or village in insurgent hands. This includes almost levelling it to the ground. These tactics are being deployed in Aleppo where it is virtually impossible to use infantry to regain control. The price of opposition is annihilation. Will this deter citizens siding with the rebels?
Kofi Annan, before he stepped down, said that the solution to the conflict was for Bashar Al-Assad to step down. This revealed that he was on the side of the opposition. No wonder the Al Assads did not take him seriously. Brahimi has been more careful. Needless to say he believes that the fighting should stop and the talking should begin. You have to be a supreme optimist to believe that his words will work miracles.
Revenge attacks are now more common by both sides. War crimes are being committed by both sides. How will it end? Given the determination of the Alawi regime -led by Maher Al Assad – to fight to the death and the Sunni rebels’ resolve to seize control of Syria, the future is clear. A continuation of this bloody, merciless conflict with horrible crimes becoming the order of the day.