24 Hours in Syria
Developments in Syria gather momentum
Former SNC chief Burhan Ghalioun visited Syria’s northern province of Idlib yesterday to offer support to opposition fighters, in a move that was considered to be the clearest indication of FSA control in that region.
The violence and death toll in Syria continued to rise after fighting erupted on Tuesday between Syrian troops and rebel forces near Republic Guard bases in Qadsaya and Al-Hama. The close location of the bases to the centre of Damascus suggests a growing confidence among the rebels.
Meanwhile, Turkey—which has announced multiple defections to their country by high-ranking Syrian military figures including a general, two colonels and two majors—is reported to be amassing troops on its Syrian border. Addressing parliament in Ankara on Tuesday, Prime Minister Erdogan said that the rules of engagement for its military with Syria have now changed and warned that it should keep its forces away or risk an armed response. His furious speech, backed by NATO, comes after the downing of a Turkish military plane last Friday by the Damascus regime.
In a dramatic change of rhetoric on Tuesday, speaking to his newly appointed cabinet Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad said “We live in a real state of war from all angles,” adding “When we are in a war, all policies and all sides and all sectors need to be directed at winning this war.” Hours later an explosion attack by gunmen on the pro-government Ikhbariya television’s offices, located 20 km south of the capital, reportedly killed seven journalists and security guards.In a dramatic change of rhetoric on Tuesday, speaking to his newly appointed cabinet Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad said “We live in a real state of war from all angles,”
Tensions between Syria and Turkey reached new heights last Friday when a Turkish reconnaissance plane was shot down by the Syrian air defences. Controversy remains as to exactly how close the plane was to the Syrian border and to exactly what the Turkish mission was trying to achieve. Some US and allied officials privately raised questions about whether the Turkish warplane had been on a spy mission.
Michael Codner of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) spoke to The Majallaon this issue “The fact that a Turkish military aircraft intruded into Syrian airspace whether unarmed as claimed was certainly a challenge for the Syrian government, bearing in mind that Turkey is one of few countries that could have the capability or the will to lead any military intervention.”
He added “Turkey has provided a haven for rebel Syrians and could attempt to impose air control of the north of Syria for some protected rebel enclave in the future. To allow free flight in Syrian airspace would indicate weakness and increasing air control by Turkey. The Syrian government understandably would feel the need to endorse the perception that they have military capability to defend and protect on a scale and capacity that is on a different level to Libya and typical failed and failing states.”
The international community have come to the agreement that irrespective of Turkey’s mission or range within Syria’s borders in a situation like this, a warning should have been given before the plane was fired at.
“To shoot down the aircraft in international air space was a foolish decision,” Codner says.
“It crosses that inter-state violence threshold that could give NATO in particular the excuse or justification in support of a member to use violence on the Libya model to aid the rebels. It limits the opportunities for an internationally negotiated future for Syria.”
Syria vows no act of hostility was intended and says that though the jet was inside its airspace, when the military discovered that it was a Turkish plane, Syrian forces joined in with the rescue mission. Turkey however, has claimed that Syria shot at a second Turkish plane during its operation to rescue the first, though this plane was not brought down.
“The better military response from Syria” says Codner “would have been fighter escort of the Turkish plane followed by a diplomatic initiative identifying Turkey’s breach of international law and a warning that Syria would have to protect its airspace by combat as necessary in future because of the intrusion.”
In an effort to form a strong international alliance Turkey has stayed within international law and followed a determined diplomatic response. Turkey called a meeting on Tuesday under article IV of NATO’s constitution, which states that any member can request talks if it feels its territorial integrity has been threatened. NATO have publicly condemned Syria’s act and says it is representative of its blatant disregard for international norms, human life, peace and security.
“This is indicative of a general rise in tensions within the region,” says RUSI’s Mark Phillips “It could also be that Syria was signalling to neighbouring countries, and the wider international community, in response to growing calls for different, perhaps harder, forms of intervention: the message is that the Syrian state has military capabilities which will make any intervention much more difficult compared to operations seen in places like Libya.”
On Tuesday Herve Ladsous, the head of the UN’s peacekeeping operations said that the monitoring mission in Syria would continue to remain suspended due to the increased violence. This further bodes poorly for the six-point peace plan determined by the UN-Arab League envoy and Kofi Annan that was announced in April.