U.N. Observers Attempt To Visit Alleged Massacre Site, Syrian Forces Shell Homs
United Nations observers attempt for a second day on Friday to enter the Syrian site where a massacre was reported on Thursday, after the Syrian authorities barred their way the day before amid calls from the international community for more drastic steps against the regime in Damascus, which has been confronted with a popular uprising for the past 15 months.
The activists on Thursday had reported an unconfirmed massacre in Mazraat al-Qubair village, in the Hama province, and the U.N. observers operating in Syria wanted a confirmation of the facts but were not allowed yesterday to enter. The activists said that as many as 78 people had been killed, 40 of which were reported to have been women.
The people were said to have been shelled by the artillery and then shot, stabbed or burnt alive by the militia called shabbiha, a paramilitary organization composed mostly of Alawite people, members of a Shiite offshoot to which the president and his cronies also belong.
The United Nations announced that on Thursday the unarmed observers were shot upon as they were attempting to enter the village to verify whether the reports of the activists were accurate.
The traditional allies of Syria, China and Russia, on Friday demanded both sides in the conflict to end the bloodshed, but did not express any support for more drastic action against the regime. On Thursday, Russia said that it was more than ever necessary to support Kofi Annan’s plan, though the western countries already consider it failed and push for more serious measures, such as economic sanctions against the regime in Damascus, or the diplomatic isolation of the country.
At the beginning of the week Syria responded to the closing of many embassies in the European Union by informing the ambassadors of the respective countries that they must leave the country.
The decision of many countries around the world to close their embassies in Syria is seen as a form of pressure meant to determine the Syrian authorities to comply with the request of the international community to end violence and engage in talks with the opposition.
On Thursday there was a report in the media that the United Nations may approve the creation of a contact group which would include the permanent member states of the Security Council, including Russia and China and local players like Turkey, Iran, Qatar or Saudi Arabia.
The purpose of such a plan, forwarded by the same special envoy Kofi Annan, is said by UN officials who speak on condition of anonymity to determine Assad to leave power and go.
On Thursday, U.S. State Department Hillary Clinton said that Bashar al-Assad must relinquish power and go. She did not say where should Assad go, but there are reports that say that Russia is seen as a possible place where he could go into exile, or even Iran, the regional ally of Syria.
The sources at the United Nations said that a plan that would resemble the deal with the Yemeni leader Abdullah Saleh could be convened with Assad family, and that he could go to Russia and escape prosecution for his action as it happened to Saleh, who left office last year and went into exile, after making sure he had U.S. and European written promise not to be prosecuted.
So far, no decision to this effect was made in the case of Bashar al-Assad, as Kofi Annan on Thursday addressed both U.N. General Assembly and the Security Council, telling them that it was enough violence in Syria as it was and no escalation was to be sought after.
He blamed both sides for the violent reactions and warned that violence could not become a everyday fact in Syria, because this would only lead to chaos, sectarian violence, and eventually to all-out war.
Annan did propose the contact group, whose main purpose seems to be attracting Russia and China on the side of the countries which are looking for an end to violence in the Arab nation.
A plan for an Alawite state?
There are many Syrians who believe that the attacks on Houla and Mazraat al-Qubair are meant to drive the Sunni population out of the region to the purpose of establishing an Alawite state in this part of the country, as a possible refuge for the government and the president in case the situation can no longer be kept under control.
The possibility was evoked by Turkish daily Today’s Zaman in May when concern was expressed that the embattled Alawite president and his cronies may attempt to create a state along the Mediterranean coast next to Lebanon, which would include about 2 million Alawite people living in today’s Syria.
Zaman said that the regime may attempt to push hard toward the dismemberment of Syria between Sunnis, Kurds and Alawites, which would make it possible for the Alawites to avoid being placed under Sunni rule, which would happen under normal circumstances, if the current crisis finds itself a peaceful solution.
The establishment of a state the size of Lebanon next to Lebanon, under the patronage of the world powers, would maker sure the Alawites, which had been in power for the last 50 years, do not suffer reprisals at the hand of the Sunni majority.
Zaman also believes, from analyzing the moves of the Republican Guard, the Alawite security forces in Syria, that Assad is preparing the contingency plan by “mopping out” all Sunnis from the territories he thinks will belong to the future Alawite state.
According to the Turkish daily, the territory of the Alawites would cover the mountainous areas along the Mediterranean coast, with the cities of Latakia, Tartous and Banyas, where Russians have their only military base outside Russian territory, but also the plains of Idlib, Hama, Homs and Daraa, near the Jordanian border.
According to this geo-strategic analysis of the Turkish daily, if Assad wants to establish a state for the Alawites, the control of the city of Homs, which is a corridor between the largest Syrian states, Damascus and Aleppo, is vital. This is, in the opinion of Zaman, the explanation for the intense pounding of Homs over the last year.
The same can be said by Latakia, which was shelled from the sea last year by the navy, prompting many Palestinian refugees to flee and the Turkish PM to say he could no longer support someone who is pounding his people from the sea. The attack on Latakia was resumed on Monday. It is considered that in case of an Alawite state, Latakia, with its port to the Mediterranean, would be vital for the new state.
Today’s Zaman said that the National Security Council of Turkey discussed the possibility of the partition of Syria in the first days of May, determining that they would prevent in any way they can this thing from happening. The demand made by Turkey to be allowed to create humanitarian corridors are intended at helping the Sunni population to hold their ground in the areas where Assad may want to displace them, Zaman explains.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is said to have spoken of the possibility of establishing an Alawite state in Syria in February, and that he has increased cooperation with Alawite people, by receiving those who defected from the army or by increasing the numbers of the Alawites in the Syrian National Council.
An Alawite state existed in Syria, on the same territory evoked by Today’s Zaman, from 1922 to 1936, during French mandate, and the population is known to have sided with the French, whom it helped govern the new state.
The establishment of an Alawite state, the Turkish analysts consider, would have good and bad influence in the region, as it would cut off Syria from the Mediterranean Sea, and the Iranian access by land to Lebanon and Hezbollah, as a Sunni state would stay between them.
It would lead to the breaking of Lebanon as the Alawites in Lebanon would want to be part of the new state while the Sunnis would unite with Syria. Israel would have a common goal with the Alawites, that is looking over the shoulder to the common Sunni enemy state.
Turkey would be prejudiced the most by the breakup of Syria, as it has both Alawite communities and Kurds, and the Alawite, which according to Zaman are about 300,000, would want to unite with the Alawite state, given that the province Hatay, where they are located in Turkey is close to Syria. The 2 million Kurds in Syria could want to proclaim independence, which would make things harder for Turkey, which has its own Kurdish community.
In a report published in March by Al Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman, Jordan, the author, Oraib al Rantawi said that even in case of a military intervention in Syria, the regime of Bashar al-Assad would not be destroyed, as it would proclaim an Alawite state, causing other minorities to proclaim their own states.
Rantawi, who is the head of the center urged the Syrian people to return to their traditional attitude toward unity of the country, and the backers of the opposition not to exploit the situation for the purpose of breaking Syria up.11