Syrian Settlement Hopes Fade as Fighting Escalates

By Ines Novacic

Jul 17, 2012 2:58pm

Obeida Nahas works from a decent-sized desk in a colorless office. Hidden within the maze of an industrial complex, a short train-ride from central London, it’s a far cry from the bloody guerrilla battlefields that he concerns himself with each day.

Nahas is a founding member of the Syria National Council, and director of the Levant Institute, a UK-based Syrian think-tank, and he fears that any chance of a peaceful settlement in Syria is being battered by the rapid escalation of violence.

“The diplomatic path is fading away. For me, as a politician there is not much left to say. The SNC is considering providing more support for people on the ground, to try change the balance. We are turning to military options,” he told ABC News.

A pacifist, Nahas said he had some trouble adjusting to the shift he described as currently happening within the Syrian opposition movement.

“The only exit that the opposition is offering the regime is to allow (Syrian president) Bashar al-Assad and his generals to run for their lives. No Yemeni-style agreement, not even an Egyptian-style agreement,” he said.

Fighting has reached the streets of Damascus this week and activists are calling fighting in the Syrian capital a “turning point.”

And Turkish officials have reported that several high level defectors, including a Syrian general and “several other officers” crossed the Turkish border in the past week.

“I think momentum is with the opposition,” John Chalcraft, a Middle East expert and Reader at the London School of Economics, told ABC News. “The defections are extremely important.”

“But I’m not optimistic about the diplomatic side,” said Chalcraft, including diplomatic efforts by the U.S., Russia, U.N. envoy Kofi Annan and the Arab League in his evaluation.

The Syria National Council, the opposition’s largest umbrella-group, operates mostly from outside the country, but comprises prominent Syria-based networks like the Local Coordination Committees, and Nahas said it’s working in tandem with the Free Syrian Army.

“About 39 percent of our current members come from inside Syria. The military wing, the Free Syrian Army, was the result of defections seeking the support of the opposition. And they got (that support,)” he said.

“Given the massacres we have seen, we can’t blame people for trying to defend themselves,” Nahas added.

Others appear to have lost patience with the diplomacy of the SNC.

“The people feel that the political groups such as the SNC and others have betrayed them, and the Free Syrian Army are basically the only ‘bright light’ of this revolution,” Abdullah Aldahhan, a U.S.-based medical student who worked with Doctors Without Borders in Syria last month, and whose parents come from Syria told ABC News.

Asked to compare opposition networks outside of Syria to those within, Aldahhan said, “The movement on the inside (of the country) was one that was organized, dedicated, and more accomplished. And for the regime to fall…it would be because of the efforts of the movement on the inside.”

Aldahhan’s view is echoed by academics like Chalcraft, who view the series of meetings held by the international community, like the one today between Arab League and U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as inconsequential to the outcome of the conflict, in comparison to the uprising on the ground.

Despite escalating violence on both sides, humanitarian organizations like Amnesty International maintain that the fight is not yet an equal one.

“At this stage the armed opposition is still limited in terms of weapons,” an undercover Amnesty Syria researcher, who asked to remain anonymous, told ABC News.

“But with an unclear structure and undefined chain of command among the opposition militia, human rights violations are now increasingly taking place on both sides.”

SHOWS:
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus