Assad takes fight to Syria’s western front

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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The massacres recently committed in Syria’s western suburbs of Homs, Qusayr and other towns are a result of several attacks from Lebanese and Syrian forces. The organized attacks are launched by regime forces which use warplanes to shell. Hezbollah and Syrian Nationalist Party militias as well as people from the towns, who support the regime on a sectarian level, partake in these attacks.

What is behind this violent mobilization occurring in suburban areas, consisting of towns and farms? President Bashar al-Assad explained to a Lebanese delegation which visited him a few days ago that his strategy for the current fighting phase is focused on cleansing the area of Homs and its suburbs.

Western Syria

Heading towards the west reflects how the fighting is developing in Syria. The rebels have seized plenty of areas in southern and eastern Syria, and they are now fighting the regime in the capital Damascus. The case is either of two scenarios. The first suggests that in the event of the capital’s falls into the hands of the rebels, Assad plans to flee to sectarian areas which support him - that is towards the west coast, as well as Homs. The second one is that he plans to stand his ground and control almost one third of Syria particularly holding his grip on Damascus, Homs and the coast on the Mediterranean. And therefore, his troops are fighting to seize the Homs-Damascus route towards the northern coast to open up routes between Latakia, Banyas, al-Qaradha, Tartus, Homs and Damascus.

All we can do is imagine the gravity of the upcoming tragedy for millions of Syrians in these areas - whether the ones intentionally targeted with massacres or forced evacuation

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The repugnant meaning of the word “cleansing” which Assad uses means getting rid of unwanted groups. It means that the regime is about to commit new massacres and thus commit premeditated murders and burn towns in order to terrorize citizens and drive them to flee - a move similar to what the Serbs did in the 90's in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

By evacuating hundreds of thousands of unwanted residents from towns and cities, Assad would have “cleansed” the land to announce his upcoming republic which he thinks he is capable of forming of Alawite, Christian, Druze and Shiite minorities in addition to Sunni categories affiliated with the regime.

Theoretically, Assad’s alternative republic only requires burning the land and cleansing it of its people so “eligible” residents flee to this land from Damascus and the rest of the cities that will later fall in the hands of the rebels. Practically, his republic paves way for a project of a longer war and graver massacres. It is the dream of the dictator who holds on to power even if he only rules a remote town on top of a mountain. This is why he wants to divide Syria and establish his state.

Does it make sense that his chosen citizens will really accept this rule in the shadow of an evil, corrupt regime? It is too early to speak of the future that comes after the current war because what is more important now is maintaining people's lives and stopping these hideous massacres that we have not known ones similar to except in Cambodia. Unlike today, the world back then did not see or hear of what happened in Cambodia.

Qusayr massacre

The world has not addressed the pleas of the people in Qusayr. This will grant Assad and his military leaders the confidence to implement the “cleansing” project in Homs and all the way to the coast. It will also allow the entry of Hezbollah militias and probably the participation of armed Iraqi and Iranian groups that have been fighting with Assad’s forces since last year.
All we can do is imagine the gravity of the upcoming tragedy for millions of Syrians in these areas - whether the ones intentionally targeted with massacres or forced evacuation. The tragedy’s repercussions will exceed the world’s ability to address them due to their gravity and to the great number of people who will flee.

We call on Arab governments and international organizations to put an end to this massacre in Qusayr, to insist on deterring this criminal regime by supporting the opposition and Syrian people and to insist on deterring Assad’s air and field forces and heavy weaponry. The genocide in Syria has taken a frank path, and several forces are participating in this genocide against people who are mostly unarmed. The other armed opposing groups do not have enough weapons to defend their areas and people. The regime dares commits more massacres because it has seen that no one has even attempted to stop it. So far, all condemnations were only made by humanitarian organizations which have nothing more than a conscience to voice rejection.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 23, 2013.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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