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Time, it appears, is on Assad's side

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TEL AVIV -- Amid continuing bloodshed and brutal massacres, the Arab League has taken the Syrian file to the UN Security Council.

Tabled by Morocco, and supported by the U.S., France and Britain, the Arab League is seeking regime change in Syria as the only way to stop the massacres there.

The 10-month uprising has claimed close to 6,000 dead and many more wounded. The Arab League's resolution calls for a two-month transition to a Syrian national unity government and for Syria's President Bashar Assad to transfer power to his deputy, Faruq al-Shara'a.

The new government would be based on a multi-party system, instead of the single Baath party.

Syria rejected the Arab League proposal, saying it is an interference in its domestic affairs. Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin echoed the same position.

This is not surprising. Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, the UN Security Council has been unable to deal with the situation. On Oct. 5, Russia vetoed a French draft resolution that condemned the Syrian bloodshed and threatened to impose sanctions on Syria. Since then, no further action was sought in the UN.

Last November, the Arab League suspended Syria -- a league founding member -- because of continuing bloody assaults on civilian demonstrators. With the agreement of Syria, they also sent a team of 153 observers to monitor the implementation of a ceasefire, to report on the release of political prisoners and report about the progress on the movement toward democratization.

It was all in vain, as Syria used the presence of the monitors as a cover for continued violence.

At that stage, Saudi Arabia suspended its participation in the observers' mission and decided to move to the UN. Other Arab countries joined, which caused the Arab League to endorse the Saudi position and assign Morocco to table the draft resolution.

As expected, Syria, China and Russia opposed the Arab move, Russia making it clear it will veto the resolution if the language is not balanced and does not assign the blame to both sides.

Syria is certain time is on its side. Despite minor defections, the Syrian army stands firm behind the Assad regime. The rebel Free Syrian Army announced on the weekend a brigadier-general and 300 of his soldiers joined their ranks.

This is an encouraging development, but these numbers are small and are still insignificant. There is no mass defection of Sunni soldiers and many Sunni senior officers remain loyal to the regime.

Hence, the only solution to the Syrian crisis remains political.

In the preliminary consultations between the Security Council members, both Russia and China said that they will oppose any regime change in Syria if it comes as a result of "foreign intervention."

Both countries want the head of the Arab League's mission to Syria to go to New York and testify about the current situation in Damascus.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Arabi, who went to New York, turned down the Russian-Chinese proposal.

In the meantime, Russia has tabled its own draft resolution, assigning equal blame for the violence on both Bashar Assad and his opponents.

Needless to say, the Arab delegation and the three western permanent delegations to the Security Council -- the U.S., France and Great Britain -- rejected the Russian proposal.

For its part, Syria is claiming what is going on in Damascus is a "western conspiracy" backed by some of the Arab states and implemented by armed gangs that are being funded by "the pillars of western conspiracy."

Syria claims arms are being smuggled to the rebels from Lebanon and Turkey, which proves the "conspiracy is larger than what was thought and has regional ambitions."

In light of the ongoing impasse, and because of the continued killings, Qatar is quietly working behind the scenes on a proposal of its own. It calls for a Security Council resolution, supporting the dispatch of Arab troops to Syria to restore order in Damascus and to stop the killings of innocent civilians.

It is doubtful Russia, or China, will support such a proposal. From their point of view, its aim is to create conditions for eventual Western military intervention in Syria -- a repetition of the "Libyan Syndrome."

Western and Israeli scholars are unanimous in their analysis that the Russian position is motivated by politics. Much has been said that Russia does not want to lose its base in the Syrian port of Tartous, which is the only Russian base on the Mediterranean.

But now they add a new argument: Russia is determined to assure for itself a role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. According to this new theory, the U.S. -- after the presidential elections in November -- will renew its efforts to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Vladimir Putin, who by then will again be president of Russia, has never abandoned his proposal to host in Moscow a peace conference, with the participation of the all the parties and the big powers.

If it occurs, it will be a real Russian coup. The question, however, is whether the continued killings in Syria justify such a scenario.

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free

Press Middle East correspondent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2012 A10

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About Samuel Segev

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in the Middle East. He is based in Tel Aviv.


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