Syria′s long search for peace | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 11.11.2012
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Middle East

Syria's long search for peace

Peace is elusive in Syria. Neither the Assad regime nor the opposition want to negotiate, as seen most recently in the opposition talks in Qatar.

The situation is desperate in Syria: the death toll continues to mount, despite decisions and attempts to devise new strategies for peace.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), which has taken on the task of representing the majority of all opposition groups, has come under increased pressure to agree to an opposition unity plan amid the growing frustration among dissident groups at the latest talks in Doha.

The SNC's claim to represent the opposition has come under question among its previous supporters. The Council must engage with other factions of the Syrian opposition, otherwise it will lose its claim to leadership, warned US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week.

"What is needed is an opposition that can appeal to each group and region in Syria," she said.

Path to reform

Head of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) Abdel Basset Sayda (left) speaks with prominent dissident Riad Seif EPA/STRINGER +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

The SNC is trying to keep its role as the leading opposition force

Facing the danger of losing its role as the leading opposition force, the SNC responded at the Doha conference. "We want to involve more local revolutionary groups, including political parties in Syria," said Khalid Saleh, an official spokesman for the SNC, in an interview with DW.

"After initially representing eight of the larger groups, [the SNC] now represents 25 groups. Simultaneously, the percentage of active organizations within Syria represented in the SNC has risen to more than a third," said Saleh. In addition, membership numbers have increased from 300 to 480.

But is that enough? Barah Mikail, a senior researcher at the European think tank FRIDE, is doubtful. Due to its media presence and large financial support from Assad's international opponents, the SNC gives off the impression that it represents all of Syria and the entirety of the opposition. That, however, is not the case.

A closer look shows significant differences between the SNC and other Syrian opposition groups, with the lines of communication sometimes completely down between the two groups. "Ultimately, the Syrian National Council only represents itself," said Mikail.

Another Somalia?

The question of the SNC's efficiency extends far beyond internal rivalries and claims of validity. A united opposition front is a prerequisite for an end to the violence. But Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, has warned that the country could become a second Somalia.

A Syrian army tank is seen in the Khan al-Raslan neighbourhood of Syria's northern city of Aleppo STR/AFP/GettyImages)

The Syrian regime army has the advantage over the opposition

SNC representative Saleh wants to avoid that situation. In Somalia, many different groups of roughly equal strength fought amongst themselves. In Syria, however, he says the situation is different.

"The opposition Free Syrian Army is no serious challenge for the main Syrian army. But [President Bashar] Assad's forces have indeed shown some signs of weakness. But they still have chemical weapons and fighter jets which they use against civilians," said Saleh. And if Assad's army gets the impression that it isn't winning the fight, it might make even greater use of these weapons.

'I am Syrian'

All the more reason to find a way to end the violence. Against this backdrop, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that Assad be offered the chance for safe exile abroad - an idea that was immediately dismissed by the president. "I am Syrian," said Assad. "I was born in Syria. I intend to live and die in Syria."

Reacting as if it had anticipated such a response, NATO is now considering member state Turkey's request to station anti-aircraft missiles along the Turkish-Syrian border. Officially, they would protect the border region, the site of a number of recent military incidents. In addition, according to the thinking of the Turkish government, the anti-aircraft missiles could help NATO enforce a no-fly zone in northern Syria to ensure a safe haven for the rebels and the wounded.

Missile deployment, however, is risky. On the one hand, it could indeed save lives. But on the other hand, it could also provoke a violent response from Assad's allies. FRIDE's Mikail doubts that missiles could help bring an end to the crisis, and even a military intervention would be problematic. Missile deployment may be able to overthrow the Assad regime, but could in the end trigger an even greater crisis.

Turkish soldiers on the Turkish-Syrian border Bild: DW

Missiles along the Turkey-Syria border could be risky

"Whether we like it or not, the only solution for Syria is in negotiations between the regime and the key Western players of the opposition," said Mikail. But such a solution would be hard to bear, as the regime has lost much of its credibility and legitimacy. "But it's still strong, and still the main player, which is why nobody will be able to avoid negotiations with Assad."

Many paths, but no will

According to Mikail, these negotiations would best be conducted under the supervision of the UN. However, both sides would have to agree to serious talks. This is not the case right now, for both sides involved in the conflict. And so the standstill continues.

A number of initiatives are currently trying to overcome this deadlock. One such initiative is led by the Former Members of the European Parliament (FMA), which has called for both sides to "immediately stop all military activities, use of force and human rights violations, to work for a lasting peace and a political solution and to make every possible effort necessary for a transitional government to bring about a democratic and pluralistic system."

While there is no lack of proposals to resolve the crisis, there is yet no consensus to embark upon the path to peace.

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