Fears over Syria's future as threat of civil war looms

Thursday 07 June 2012 12.24
Syrian rebels take positions as they prepare to attack Assad's forces
Syrian rebels take positions as they prepare to attack Assad's forces

As many declare Kofi Annan’s peace plan for Syria a failure, RTÉ News’ Deputy Foreign Editor Anthony Murnane examines the conflict in the country.

There are concerns that Syria is on the brink of an all-out civil war, while a fragmented opposition has raised questions over the future of the country if the Assad regime was overthrown. 

It is over 14 months since fighting began, with demonstrations and brutal violence now a daily occurrence. However Bashar al-Assad is still in control and the country is still a very dangerous place.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 civilians have been killed in the violence so far, but who is fighting who?

Government forces have been pounding the opposition for over a year now. Alongside them is the Shabiha armed militia and members of al-Assads minority Alawite sect.

Against them is an opposition that al-Assad claims lacks a clear leader or any cohesion, a view echoed by many independent observers of the conflict.

At its helm is the Turkey-based Syrian National Council. It is a coalition of groups with hundreds of members which is accused of not co-ordinating with activists on the ground. One of its members is the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which is accused of wielding too strong an influence.

Fighting on the ground is the Free Syrian Army - a group of army defectors numbered in the thousands. Comparatively they are poorly armed but are capable of deadly attacks; they have also been found guilty of torturing and executing suspected Shabiha members.

Sectarian tensions have already led to tens of thousands of deaths like those in Houla - its villages are predominantly Sunni Muslim but ringed by towns of the minority Alawite sect which supports Assad.

There also is concern that violence could escalate further should money and arms start to come in from Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, which believes the Alawite is in league with Shia Iran.

The big fear is that should this weak, multi-layered opposition succeed in overthrowing Assad, it will be unable to protect minorities like the Alawites and Syria will become another Iraq, with areas of ethnic cleansing and sectarian warfare.

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