Turkey: Syrian situation may become Libya-style civil war

Assad regime reportedly hounding dissidents abroad as ‘Zionist’ agents; Former US official: Expel Syrian ambassador from Washington.

August 18, 2011 02:07
3 minute read.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan

Erdogan 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Syrian troops raided houses in a Sunni district of the besieged port of Latakia on Wednesday, residents said, arresting hundreds of people and taking them to a stadium after a four-day tank assault to crush protests against President Bashar Assad.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared the situation to that in Libya, where rebels have been fighting forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi since February.

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“We have done our best on Libya, but haven’t been able to generate any results. So it’s an international issue now. Gaddafi could not meet our expectations, and the outcome was obvious,” Erdogan told reporters.

“Now the same situation is going on in Syria. I’ve sent my foreign minister, and personally got in touch many times – the last of them, three days ago on the phone. In spite of all this, civilians are still getting killed.”

Michael Singh, a former Middle East director at the US National Security Council (NSC) and now managing director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said America needs to speak clearly about its position on Syria.

“I think the administration has been strangely reluctant to speak in the active voice about this,” said Singh. “We’ve heard a lot of words of almost indifference from this regime, such as ‘We have nothing invested in his continued rule’ and ‘We think Syria would be better off without him.’ “But these are not the firm statements you would expect from a country trying to exert some kind of leadership in the region,” Singh told The Jerusalem Post by phone. “At the end of the day there are many countries in the region that look to the US still for leadership, and take their cues from US policy.”

Singh, who was also the NSC director responsible for Syria from 2005 to 2006, said the US “has been sort of hanging back, as part of this ‘leadership from behind’ philosophy. It was hoping Turkey and Saudi Arabia would be out front, and those two have been forward-leaning, especially for them.

“But it’s unrealistic to expect Turkey to lead an international coalition to ratchet up pressure on Syria... Only the United States can play that role – not Europe, not Asia, not the UN Security Council. That’s what we’re not seeing.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Syria is taking its war against Assad’s political opponents global, using diplomats in Washington, London and elsewhere to track and intimidate expatriates who speak out against the regime.

Quoting Syrian activists and US officials, the paper reported Syrian embassy staffers are tracking and photographing regime opponents and sending reports back to Damascus. Syrian diplomats, including the ambassador to the US, have reportedly fanned out to Arab expatriate communities to brand dissidents “traitors” and warn them against conspiring with “Zionists.”

Singh said that if true, the reports are grounds to expel Syria’s ambassador from Washington.

“This is pretty outrageous stuff – about as outrageous as diplomats can be,” he said. “We simply can’t tolerate this kind of activity on US soil.”

Citing witnesses in Latakia, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday that a force of around 700 security personnel fanned across al- Raml, a Palestinian refugee camp, with houses being demolished in the neighborhood “on the pretext they lacked construction permits.”

Latakia is of particular significance to the Assad family, which is from Syria’s minority Alawite community and controls the city’s port and its finances. The 45-year-old president, a self-declared champion of the Palestinian cause, comes from a village to the southeast, where his father is buried.

Some Palestinians in Syria have even joined the demonstrations, although Assad hosts Hamas’s exiled leaders and other Palestinian terrorist groups.

A security official cited by Syria’s official state news agency said security forces backed by an army unit had completed a mission in al-Raml against “armed terrorist groups who have terrorized the citizens.”

Unlike most of the rest of Syria, which is predominately Sunni, Latakia has a large Alawite population, encouraged to move there by offers from the ruling minority family of cheap land and jobs in the security apparatus and public sector.

Reuters contributed to this report

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