Tanks rolled onto the streets of Homs last night killing seven Syrians only hours after the Bashar al-Assad-led government agreed to the terms set out by Arab League to end the violence sweeping the Arab nation. Before yesterday’s announcement, 11 people were killed in Homs on a day where 24 died across the country.

The increasing efforts to quash the uprising comes as no surprise to many Syrians, with many remaining sceptical of al-Assad’s commitment to the Arab League agreement, and raising further speculation on foreign intervention and a no-fly zone.

Syrian protesters have called for the UN and NATO to enforce a no-fly zone in belief it would end the regime’s violent attacks. Many believed the similarities between Libya and Syria meant a no-fly zone would be effective and as the calls for international intervention continue is has been asked why NATO and the UN have so far refused to intervene in Syria.

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Unfortunately for the Syrians, their situation is quite different. Muammar Gaddafi waged a military campaign with armoured tanks and the air force against his people, making targeted invention an easier task. In Syria, al-Assad has ordered snipers to attack his people in sporadic circumstances. Alas, stability within Syria is of the utmost political importance to the Arab world and for international relations with the West.

In the eyes of the United States, Gaddafi’s Libya was an unpredictable regime. So when the time came, the US chose to back the rebel’s armed militia because it had a good chance of overthrowing the dictator, and after backing a winner it could now pay dividends for the US.

With Syria, the US is too concerned about could happen if there was uncertainty in the Arab nation, says Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh, deputy director of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies at Melbourne University. Syria has played a role in the Israel-Palestine peace process and its participation is essential for any credible treaty between the two.

Syria and Israel are also in dispute with each other over the Golan Heights, an area annexed by Israel in the 1967 war. But Syria has kept its issues with Israel contained, says Professor Akbarzadeh, and a new government could be less accommodating towards Israel.

“The reality is that Assad has been more or less a predictable leader internationally in relation to Israel and the US. It hasn’t always been a partner, it hasn’t always worked for the US, it has been a pain, but it has been predictable,” he said. “Removing the government in Syria would open Pandora’s box.”

The targeted area of a no-fly zone in Syria is also strategically questionable. Unlike Libya, Syria hasn’t used a military-style campaign in its attacks on protesters. Nor has there been any use of tanks or the air force such as was seen in Libya.

Rather, Assad’s efforts to oppress the uprising have been “personalised through armoured vehicles and snipers on the roofs of buildings”, says Matt Hardy, of the School of International and Political Studies at Deakin University.

“The question is where would the no-fly zone be, in Libya you could localise the no-fly zone but with Syria the unrest is in different places,” he said.

Professor Akbarzadeh says there is also no guarantee that intervention will have the same result as in Libya.

But if  there is not strategic intervention in Syria then what is the international community suppose to do? Does it really stand by and let Syria sort out Syria while thousands are massacred in the process? Well not quite.

“The best thing that can be done is continue diplomatic pressure on Syria and use of violation of human rights in international spotlight, in the Arab media spotlight,” Professor Akbarzadeh said. “It is important to have Arab public opinion on our side especially if it needed more muscular intervention.”

The death toll of the Syrian uprising was reported to have surpassed 3000 last month.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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