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FACTDROP: China says West stirring up civil war in Syria; security forces clamp down on Damascus


China says West stirring up civil war in Syria; security forces clamp down on Damascus

A demonstrator punches through a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a protest outside the Syrian Embassy in London

Πηγή: Al Arabiya News
Feb 20 2012

Western countries are stirring up a civil war in Syria with their wholehearted support for the opposition, a top Chinese newspaper said on Monday, slamming calls for the country’s leader to hand over power as an incitement to further violence.

As many as 27 people have been killed across the country on Sunday, including a doctor and a judge, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.

Police and militia patrols fanned out in the Syrian capital’s Mezze district on Sunday to prevent more protests like those that have threatened President Bashar al-Assad’s grip on Damascus, opposition activists said.

On the international front, China said it believed a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis was still possible but Britain’s foreign minister said he feared the Middle Eastern country would slide into civil war.

China and Russia angered Western and Arab states this month by blocking a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that backed an Arab plan urging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to quit amid his government's violent crackdown on opposition protests.

Stung by the criticism, China has since sent envoys to the region to seek a diplomatic solution, including Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun, who met Assad in Damascus on Saturday and backed his plans for a referendum and multi-party elections.

Large-scale civil war

Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, in a front page commentary in its overseas edition, said China must stick to its line in opposing any attempt to force regime change or intervene in Syria.

“If Western countries continue to fully support Syria’s opposition, then in the end a large-scale civil war will erupt and there will be no way to thus avoid the possibility of foreign armed intervention,” Qu Xing, who the paper identified as a foreign affairs expert, wrote in the piece, according to Reuters.

If the Security Council had passed the resolution backing the Arab League for Assad to step down, that would only have led to more violence, Qu wrote.

“Assad would have had his back up against the wall with all means of retreat cut off, and the opposition would have been encouraged to press steadily forward. Clashes would have been even worse than they are now.”

Over the weekend, thousands of Syrians demonstrated in the heart of the capital in one of the biggest anti-government rallies there since a nationwide uprising started nearly a year ago.

The latest unrest took place as Chinese envoy Zhai met Assad and appealed to all sides to end the violence. Zhai also met opposition members.

Zhai also expressed Beijing’s support for Assad’s plan to hold a referendum and multi-party elections within four months -- a move the West and some in Syria’s fragmented opposition movement have dismissed as a sham.

Chinese state media has published numerous commentaries in recent days on Syria, warning against armed intervention, forced regime change or sanctions, in a reflection of government thinking on the issue.

China and Russia have been Assad’s most important international defenders during the crackdown which has killed several thousand people and divided world powers. The United Nations, the United States, Europe, Turkey and Arab powers want Assad to step down and have condemned the repression.

Police fanning across Damascus

Meanwhile, police and militia patrols fanned out in the Syrian capital’s Mezze district on Sunday to prevent more protests, opposition activists said.

Samer al-Khatib, a young protester killed when security forces fired on Saturday’s rally, was buried in Mezze on Sunday amid a heavy security presence to prevent the funeral from turning into an anti-Assad demonstration, opposition activists contacted by Reuters from Amman said.

Fifteen pick-up trucks carrying security police and armed pro-Assad militiamen, known as ‘shabbiha’, surrounded the funeral as Khatib was buried quietly, they said.

Police cars and militia jeeps patrolled Mezze while secret police stopped men at random to check identification cards, they said. “Walking in Mezze now carries the risk of arrest. The area is quiet, even popular food shops in Sheikh Saad are empty,” activist Moaz al-Shami said, referring to a main street.

The Damascus protest indicated the movement against Assad, who has ruled Syria for 11 years after succeeding his father Hafez on his death, has not been cowed by repression and embraces a wide section of Syrian society.

Assad, who belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, in a majority Sunni country, says he is fighting foreign-backed terrorists.

The United States, Europe, Turkey and Gulf-led Arab states have all demanded Assad quit power.

Egypt has recalled its ambassador to Syria, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported on Sunday, citing Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr. It has joined the Gulf Arab countries in seeking to isolate the Assad government. The Gulf Cooperation Councils six members announced on Feb. 7 that they were expelling Syrian ambassadors from their capitals and withdrawing their envoys.

Libya-style intervention

The West has ruled out any Libya-style military intervention but the Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia, has indicated some of its member states were prepared to arm the opposition.

British Foreign Minister William Hague reiterated that view on Sunday, telling the BBC: “We cannot intervene in the way we did in Libya ... we will do many other things.”

“I am worried that Syria is going to slide into a civil war and that our powers to do something about it are very constrained because, as everyone has seen, we have not been able to pass a resolution at the U.N. Security Council because of Russian and Chinese opposition.”

In Washington the top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, said intervening in Syria would be “very difficult” because it was not another Libya.

“It would be a big mistake to think of this as another Libya,” Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

Syria’s army is “very capable,” with a sophisticated, integrated air defense system and chemical and biological weapons, Dempsey said.

He also thought it was premature to arm the opposition movement in Syria, because “I would challenge anyone to clearly identify for me the opposition movement in Syria at this point.”

Sanctions ruining the country

Leading Syrian businessman Faisal al-Qudsi said the government was slowly disintegrating and sanctions were ruining the economy.

He told the BBC in London military action could only last six months but Assad’s government would fight to the end.

“The army is getting tired and will go nowhere,” he said. “They will have to sit and talk or at least they have to stop killing. And the minute they stop killing, more millions of people will be on the streets. So they are in a Catch-22.”

Qudsi, who was involved in Syria’s economic liberalization, told the BBC the apparatus of government was almost non-existent in trouble spots like Homs, Idlib and Deraa.

Government forces bombarded Homs on Sunday. The western city, strategically sited on the road between Damascus and commercial hub Aleppo, has been under siege for more than two weeks and a humanitarian crisis is unfolding as food and medical supplies are running short.

Rockets, artillery and sniper fire have killed several hundred people, according to activists, but security forces have held back from a full assault on opposition-held districts. Residents fear a bloodbath should that take place.

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