The Syrian government claims it wants to respect an international peace plan. The country's foreign minister says Syria has already drawn down troops, yet fighting there rages on.
Over the weekend, the Syrian government gave the impression that international mediator Kofi Annan had misunderstood something if he expected Syrian troops to withdraw from the country's cities and provinces without any preconditions. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Syrian troops were in the process of withdrawing. But at the same time, he accused the rebels of escalating violence. For their part, the rebels said government forces were not in fact retreating.
The struggle went on at fever pitch. Hozan Ibrahim, a member of the Syrian National Council, knew of 23 people recently killed. As of Monday, there were more than 160 casualties reported by opponents of the Syrian regime.
What was behind the Syrian government's weekend announcement? Ibrahim said the regime was just up to its old tricks. According to him, it has sought to deceive the Arab observer mission for weeks.
"When they were in the country, the killing continued," Ibrahim said. "Now it's the same thing. Since telling Annan they want to recognize the peace treaty, more than 1,000 people have been killed. Either Assad wants to gain time, or the orders have not yet reached the army."
Hope for a diplomatic solution
In the face of continuing assaults in multiple cities and regions, the Syrian National Council rejected the Assad regime's call for the rebels to lay down their arms.
According to Ibrahim, the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army blamed the violence – and civilian deaths – on the regime. With government troops killing people, rebels would only put down their weapons if the regime also did so.
The Assad government's cautious attitude indicates how strong the Free Syrian Army has become. However, not all opponents of the regime support arming the rebels with weapons from abroad.
Syrians are seeing their livelihoods disappear under the Assad regime, says author Rafik Shami
Syrian writer Rafik Shami, who has lived in Germany for nearly 40 years, is still hoping for a diplomatic solution. He welcomes the fact that the international community, with the exception of a few countries, has not armed the opposition so far. In his view, doing so would only worsen the situation. That is why he is arguing for the opposition to count on international support.
"70 countries have recognized the Syrian National Council under the leadership of Bozzurhan Ralioun," Shami said.
He pointed to German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle's recent meeting with members of the Syrian National Council.
"Such recognition […] helps more than putting members of the Syrian leadership on a blacklist," Shami added.
Effective boycott measures
Many opponents of the Syrian regime see foreign sanctions as a particularly effective tool. They have proven to be a painful measure so far. A trade boycott by numerous countries and the collapse of tourism to Syria have also battered the Middle Eastern country's economy.
Since the European Union initiated an oil embargo on Syria, EU member countries have bought 90 percent less crude from Syria. Sanctions by other Arab countries have also cost Syria many business partners.
The dire ramifications for Syria's economy can best be gauged by the performance of its currency, the Syrian pound. Since the start of the rebellion, the currency has lost 40 percent of its value. Shami said this development alone has likely cost Assad a massive loss of support within Syria.
According to the author, everyone who has seen their fortunes increase through joint ventures with Assad find their wealth in danger. Shami said these groups will sever their ties with the Syrian president when they see how much the regime will cost them in the long run.
"These people will cut their ties to Assad the moment they notice their merchandise boycotted and their market shares contracting," he added.
Ibrahim is also counting on outside support, even though the international community is yet to reach a united stance. He reiterated that sanctions by individual countries have weakened the regime.
"Every little action helps end the violence and pushes the regime toward a political solution," the opposition member said.
Not long ago, it seemed like the optimists among diplomats were right to expect the Assad regime to look for a political solution to the crisis. Now, it looks like the pessimists have been right all along. That is only to the detriment of the Syrian people, who see their country sliding further into the abyss every day.
Author: Kerstin Knipp/srs
Editor: Gregg Benzow