News from Washington
This video shows massive protests in 10 Syrian cites on Friday April 8, 2011, less than a month since the outbreak of unrest across Syria on March 15. Despite Syrian President Bashar Assad's quick "reforms," such as forcing the cabinet to resign and giving Syrian passports to more than 100,000 Kurds, who live in Syria but without Syrian nationality, angry Syrians still took to the streets in several cities, including in the predominantly Kurdish Qamishli.
The footage from Latakia shows thousands of protesters shouting slogans calling for the toppling of the regime. In Homs the video shows heavy fire, most probably from security forces against demonstrators. The video from Douma shows one of the demonstrators shot in his back. Videos from the seven other cities show hundreds or thousands of protesters shouting all kinds of slogans demanding "freedom" and an end to Assad's rule.
Syrian television showed footage of alleged fifth column conspirators shooting at both security forces and demonstrators to instigate a confrontation. For some reason, the Syrian State TV did not call on security to arrest the presumed saboteurs.
Arab satellite channels dedicated more air time to Syria than in the previous weekdays. The first 30-minutes of Al-Jazeera's news coverage were dedicated to clashes in Syria. However, Al-Jazeera, which has been exceptionally silent on Syria, perhaps because of the good alliance between Assad and Al-Jazeera's owner the Sheikh of Qatar Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, cherry-picked its coverage of Syrian rallies. It did not show demonstrations that called for the toppling of the Assad regime, like in Latakia, while the satellite's anchors shaped most of their questions to guests in the following fashion: "What kind of reforms do you think the protesters seek?"
But interviewing witnesses cost Al-Jazeera some of its ability to censor Syrian events. A certain Abu-Yasser, speaking to the channel live from Daraa, said that the tribal chiefs of Daraa had held a meeting on Thursday evening with the following senior Syrian generals: Rustom Ghazaleh (the commander of Syrian forces in Lebanon before their withdrawal in April 2006), Assef Shawkat (Assad's brother-in-law) and Mohamed Nassif (a veteran security figure). According to the Daraa witness, the Daraa Sheikhs and the Syrian generals agreed that the residents of Daraa would hold rallies peacefully on Friday. But as the Daraans took to the streets, security broke their promise and started shooting at the crowds, killing a confirmed toll of 17 people.
In response, the people of Daraa burnt down one of the Baath Party headquarter buildings and toppled a statue for Bassel Assad, the late brother of Bashar.
In Homs and Douma, as evident in the video, security also shot live rounds at peaceful demonstrators. An unofficial toll put the number at 30 deaths (by Friday midnight Syria time, 5am ET).
The number of injured form Friday is reportedly in the hundreds. The injured Syrians refused to go to hospitals for fear of being arrested by security forces. The dead were also not taken to hospitals because Assad's security have been forcing low-profile funerals for fear that next day funerals would turn into anti-regime massive protests.
Unconfirmed reports also said that a few Syrian officers who refused to order there troops to fire on demonstrators were shot (or sniped) by "Political Security." These officers include Lieutenant Khazimeh in Homs in the north, and a captain in Daraa in the South.
In its third week, the Syrian uprising has so far forced a string of concessions on Assad, including giving passports to Kurds and deposing his government and the governors of Daraa and Homs. Assad's appeasement tactics are apparently not paying off with his people, given the event of Friday April 8. Rallies are growing bigger. There are no signs that the anti-Assad movement is losing momentum any time soon, despite the world's silence.
Because of his strong ties with Turkey, Qatar, France and Spain, among other countries, and his influence over Lebanon (currently member of the Security Council until September), the international community has looked the other way while the toll of Syrian civilian deaths has shot up high.
Former US diplomat and current President of the Council of Foreign Relaltions Richard Hass wrote in Time magazine: Israel [too] may not want regime change in Damascus either. The two countries are sworn enemies, and Syria is close to Israel's deadliest foes: Hizballah, Hamas and Iran. But for all that, the border between the two countries remains mostly quiet. While Israelis would welcome a European-style democracy for a neighbor, they fear Bashar would more likely be succeeded by radical Islamists. As they say in Tel Aviv, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't."
Given that the world is too involved with Assad and is therefore silent, and given that Israel wants Assad to stay, it is unlikely that the United States would take any meaningful stance that falls remotely in line with America's "principles" or that President Barack Obama would come to the rescue of Syrian civilians, not even politically, let alone like he did in Libya by stirring a NATO offensive against Moammad Gaddafi's forces.
As it stands, the anti-Assad Syrian movement will keep on growing, and Assad will keep on shooting his own people. Who will blink first and step down? No answer can be given at this point.