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Friday, June 08, 2012 

Syria: as much a proxy war as a civil war.

As the media as a mass come to the conclusion that Syria is descending into civil war, something that has been apparent for a couple of months now, less well reported is that it's reached this point because of the various proxies supporting the two sides. Just as Assad has been dependent on Iran for advice and training and received moral support from Russia, so has the so-called Free Syrian Army relied upon the backing of Saudi Arabia and Qatar for money and weapons. As the video posted online yesterday of a Syrian heavy vehicle exploding spectacularly showed, the FSA is starting to pose a real threat to the military's movements. It's not surprising that as a result they're increasingly using artillery.

This Saudi support comes at an especially high cost. As much as the Saudis are determined to isolate Iran, and removing Assad would heavily dent the theocracy's influence in the region, they won't provide funding without being sure that their particular bent of Islam is represented. For all the denials of the FSA, there is plenty of evidence of extensive jihadi involvement. Some of this is to be expected when Syria was the main transit point for fighters travelling to fight against the Americans in Iraq, but it's also clear that the traditional Salafi tactic of attempting to turn Shia against Sunni is being put into practice. Almost entirely unreported in the West is that FSA cadres kidnapped a group of Lebanese pilgrims travelling through the country, in the hope that doing so would enflame Shia opinion in the country and prompt intervention by Hizbullah, the Iranian-backed group having so far stayed out of the conflict over the border. A blog post by Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News, detailing how the FSA led his vehicle into a free fire zone, apparently in the hope his group would be killed so his death could then be used as further propaganda against the regime shows the depths they're willing to descend to.

This said, the depravity of the regime is unsurpassed. Any doubts about the perpetrators of the Houla massacre have been dispelled by the pathetic cover-up at al-Qubair, where the UN and reporters were today allowed in, the village having been emptied of any survivors, the scene of the crime impossible to clean. The hope has to be that Russia can be persuaded to dispense with Assad, and that a Yemen type "solution" can be put in place. One suspects though that the conflict has now reached the point of no return, where so much blood has been shed as to make compromise impossible. And sadly, the FSA is only slightly less vile than the Ba'athist regime.

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