Banias is a small coastal city with a population of 50,000. It is a city consisting of a sectarian mix of Sunnis, Alawites and Christians as well as of an ethnic mixture of Arab and Turkmen.
Banias became a topic in the news twice before.
We first repeatedly heard about it during the 90s when many were discussing Iraqi petroleum exports during the days of economic sanctions on the country. Petroleum was being pumped through the Kirkuk-Banias pipeline which was built in the 50s.
The second time was when it made headlines two years ago at the beginning of the revolution against the Assad regime. Its people were among the first of the revolutionaries. And just like it did to Aleppo’s people, the regime punished them by disconnecting the city’s neighborhoods and areas by establishing security checkpoints. And thus Banias’ people were imprisoned at their own houses for almost two years.
Amid the tension, it is no surprise that the coastal city is a sectarian demarcation line; especially that it is an extension of the areas of the president’s sect. It has been alleged that it is intended to establish an Alawite state from the mountainous area until the coast. This scenario would mean that committing genocide and pushing towards mass displacement of people is being planned in order to get rid of the Sunnis residing in the area.
Assad’s plan for Banias
It seems that we have begun to witness this hideous phase as Assad’s sectarian militias and “Shabiha” (thugs) have committed two massacres in the city of Banias and the town of al-Bayda. Hundreds of families have fled due to these massacres after it turned out that women and children were intentionally slaughtered and that young men were executed by being shot in the head in the town’s square. These hideous massacres aim to spread fear and push Sunni residents to leave their houses, cities and towns and flee to faraway havens. Purging Banias and al-Bayda is a sectarian act similar to what Assad’s militias are committing in other areas. The act also confirms the regime’s scheme to establish a mountainous coastal state where it enjoys majority support and absolute governance.
The people of this city have been the victim of sectarian politics for 30 years. This is why Sunnis and Alawites have lived in a state of isolation and silent tension. And this is why each party resorted to its sect with extreme fanaticism. Thus it has become easy for the regime to ignite strife to manage the battle and “purge” cities and towns of the people who have lived there since their grandfathers have.
What can be done to save people’s lives and deter this regime, which no longer cares about international opinions? It now knows that murdering thousands of unarmed civilians does not fall within the red lines it has been warned on. What pains us all is not the West’s carelessness or Russia’s and Iran’s bias towards Assad. They are after all people who are not physically close to the crisis. But apparently, Arabs watch what happens with pain and anger. However, they do not do much. They have made headlines across the world due to the abusive caricatures of the prophet, but we see nothing similar regarding what is happening in Syria!
The Free Syrian Army can be further supported. It is also possible to make the demand of toppling the Syrian regime a political demand, to which Arab governments can be held accountable. We are aware that the public is angered to the point it may explode because of the massacres and crimes the Assad regime is committing. But one day, it will explode in a manner which is far more extreme than we imagine.
And that’s exactly why we say these massacres must be confronted with what suits the extent of the crime.
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.