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Death Toll in Friday Syrian Repression Spikes

(photo: by anj?i)

The initial reports on violence in Syria against peaceful protesters were significantly undercounted. Witness this horrific video, which I will note is incredibly graphic. This happened dozens of times throughout Syria on Friday. The latest death toll has been put at at least 70, including children and old men:

The rebellion that began five weeks ago over the arrest of schoolchildren in a tribal southern town has evolved into a nationwide popular uprising as Syrian protesters — like the Tunisians and Egyptians before them — say the time for concessions is over and nothing short of the regime’s demise would stop them.

Unlike the speedy revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, however, the Syrian opposition so far hasn’t recruited high-ranking defectors, and the military remains loyal to the entrenched Assad regime. That, analysts warn, is the recipe for a bloody and protracted standoff. Activists say the state violence only deepens their commitment to peaceful calls for a more democratic Syria.

“The snowball will be bigger until we have what we need,” said Haitham al Maleh, a prominent dissident in Damascus. Noting that state media ignored the protests that erupted in several cities, Maleh said: “They said nothing because we have no government. We have security services only.”

This analysis reads right on both sides: you have a determined protest movement that will only grow more defiant in the wake of this brutality, and a determined regime which will only use more and more force to put down the protests, following the examples of Bahrain and Iran. This was the deadliest day yet in Syria, and overall the death toll in the uprising is approaching 300.

The White House offered their most pointed statement yet, calling the repeal of the emergency law in Syria “not serious given the continued violent repression against protesters today.” There was a claim made in the statement that the United States has repeatedly “encouraged President Assad and the Syrian Government to implement meaningful reforms, but they refuse to respect the rights of the Syrian people or be responsive to their aspirations.” However, there was no call for Bashar al-Assad to step down, just to heed the words of his citizens. There was a statement of opposition to the Syrian regime “more generally,” and there was a tantalizing bit where Assad was accused of “seeking Iranian assistance” in the repression. I’m not sure if that refers merely to the copycat tactics or to actual assistance in arms or personnel.

But there has not even been so much as an attempt to sanction Syria at the United Nations to this point, despite the bloody nature of the repression. The Washington Post ed board described Washington’s inaction as shameful, eager to bog the country down in yet another Mideast conflict. But if Libya is seen as a model for humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect, I don’t know how Syria is all that different – other than the fact that the Arab League hasn’t ostracized them.

This is a decade in the making. Bashar al-Assad has been rounding up any and all dissenters since he came into power in 2001. The claim of the reform mantle has always been a pose. As the dissident quoted above says, it’s basically a security apparatus more than a government. The nods to reform that Assad has attempted during the uprising, from bestowing citizenship on Kurds to replacing the cabinet to increasing public sector wages to ending the emergency law, have been cosmetic at best.

Complicating this matter is the fact that there are over one million Iraqi refugees in Syria at the moment.

The crossroads moment for the international community to support democratic movements, to “align interests with values” as the President put it when referring to Libya, is with us again in Syria. So far, nothing has been done.

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David Dayen

David Dayen