Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The growing danger of a wider conflict over Syria (Updated)

The civil war in Syria remains a major concern as the conflict continues to widen. The now open intervention of Iran who are providing some 4,000 troops to back President Assad comes at a time when the terrorist organisation Hezbollah has already intervened on the regimes behalf. This has led to the rebels of all factions being driven back, endangering civilians already in dire need of humanitarian aid.

The West are now seriously considering arming the rebels but questions remain over the dangers of Islamist extremists getting hold of advanced weaponry.  The rebels are seriously divided and estimates put the number of Islamist fighters to be at least 5% of the FSA forces. The West will have to consider a wider problem as will indeed the Assad backers of Russia and China. The conflict is beginning to take on the nature of a regional civil war between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

The effect on Hezbollahs standing has already changed amongst the more "conservative" Sunni states. Bloomberg reports:
Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria has led to greater polarization between Islam’s two main sects, said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar. Without the group, it “would have been more of an inter-Syrian fight rather than being a sectarian one,” he said.
The result is a watershed in the 31-year history of Hezbollah, which seeks to portray itself as an anti-Israel resistance group and a champion of the downtrodden and oppressed, irrespective of their brand of Islam.
Its fighters are also likely to get mired further in Syria’s civil war to protect its central conduit of weapons and prevent the well-armed rebels from strengthening Sunni militias in Lebanon, said Torbjorn Soltvedt, senior analyst at Maplecroft, a U.K.-based risk consultant.
The report continues:
Hezbollah’s open alignment with the Syrian regime has triggered an escalation in the Sunni rhetoric, including from Saudi Arabia’s top cleric.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh called Hezbollah a “loathsome, sectarian” group in a statement carried June 6 by the official Saudi Press Agency. He also endorsed Egyptian-born cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s call on Sunni Muslims from his base in Qatar to fight a holy war in Syria.
A further effect will be felt by both the Lebanese and Egyptians:

One of the consequences of Hezbollah’s engagement in Syria is the possibility that Lebanese Shiites who work in Gulf countries and send money back home would be expelled, said Peter Harling, project director with the Middle East Program of the International Crisis Group think tank.

President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood is backing the rebels:

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who hails from the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, on June 15 suspended diplomatic relations with Assad. Egyptians stood by Lebanon and Hezbollah against Israel in 2006, and “today we stand against Hezbollah for Syria,” Mursi told a stadium packed with his supporters.

A huge conflict is brewing with violence already breaking out. The only real option is for all the major powers who are intervening in the region is to push for an immediate ceasefire. If nothing else to stop the killing which is reaching the 100,000 mark.

The world must address the growing humanitarian crisis. Ensuring balance by arming the rebels is a calculated risk but could lead to Assad being forced to negotiate. 

The time to act is now.


The Irish Times reports:

Violent sectarian spillover from the Syrian conflict reached across southern Lebanon today, with armed clashes by rival groups of Sunni and Shia militia members in the Mediterranean port of Sidon that left at least two people dead and forced the Lebanese army to seal off the area.
It was one of the most serious outbreaks of violence in Sidon, a mostly Sunni city whose population largely sympathises with the Sunni-led insurgency in Syria and has grown increasingly angry with members and sympathisers of Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia militant organisation that is fighting on the Syrian government’s side.
The Sidon tensions underscored the fragility of Lebanon’s patchwork of sects, which has further weakened because of the conflict in Syria and has raised the risk of destabilising the country and the broader Middle East.
Lebanese news agencies said the Sidon clash had pitted fighters loyal to a militant Sunni cleric, Sheik Ahmad al-Assir, who has called for holy war against Assad, against armed members of Hizbullah occupying buildings in theAbra district of Sidon, which al-Assir’s loyalists have historically controlled.
The sheik accused the Hizbullah fighters of provoking the Sidon fight by attacking a water truck belonging to his brother, and the anger escalated from there.
Automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades were fired in the clashes, which appeared to be the most serious in Sidon in months. “We will not remain silent over this criminal act,” the sheik was quoted as saying by Lebanon’s National News Agency.

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