Loy­al­ists rally on re­volt an­niver­sary

Fear­ing a catas­tro­phe, France re­jects weapons re­quest from op­po­si­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - World -

Tens of thou­sands of gov­ern­ment loy­al­ists poured into the streets of the Syr­ian cap­i­tal and other cities Thurs­day in an or­ches­trated show of sup­port for the regime as the mil­i­tary tight­ened its grip on re­bel­lious ar­eas for the one-year an­niver­sary of the up­ris­ing.

Ac­tivists planned marches across Syria and abroad to mark the day, but some were aborted by ar­rest raids and shelling by gov­ern­ment forces.

Some ac­tivists expressed re­gret that one year later their “rev­o­lu­tion” against Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s rule had be­come mired in vi­o­lence.

Mean­while in Paris, France’s for­eign min­is­ter re­jected weapons re­quests by the Syr­ian rebel forces, say­ing that arm­ing the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion could lead to catas­trophic civil war.

“The Syr­ian peo­ple are deeply di­vided, and if we give arms to a cer­tain fac­tion of the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion, we would make a civil war among Chris­tians, Alaw­ites, Sun­nis and Shi­ites,” For­eign Min­is­ter Alain Juppe said on France-cul­ture ra­dio Thurs­day.

De­spite widen­ing in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion and bit­ing trade sanc­tions, Mr. As­sad’s regime has re­mained in­tact, and in­tel­li­gence an­a­lysts say the op­po­si­tion has yet to pose a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to his large army and so­phis­ti­cated weapons sys­tems.

The Syr­ian op­po­si­tion is di­vided, and diplo­matic ef­forts to end the con­flict that has killed at least 8,000 peo­ple ap­pear to be stalling.

In ad­di­tion, Mr. As­sad has re­tained the sup­port of many in the coun­try’s busi­ness classes and mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties, who worry they would lose cer­tain pro­tec­tions un­der a new regime.

Some of that sup­port was on dis­play Thurs­day. Tens of thou­sands ral­lied in cen­tral Da­m­as­cus, wav­ing Syr­ian flags and car­ry­ing posters of Mr. As­sad. Syria’s state news agency posted pho­tos of sim­i­lar ral­lies in other Syr­ian cities.

“Syria is strong and we will win and un­der­mine this con­spir­acy,” said Da­m­as­cus shop­keeper Ma­jed Youssef, 30.

The ral­lies were or­ches­trated largely by the gov­ern­ment in an at­tempt to over­shadow op­po­si­tion plans to mark the an­niver­sary: Syria post­poned the ob­ser­vance of Arab Teacher Day — usu­ally a day off on the third Thurs­day of March — for one week, ap­par­ently so stu­dents could be brought to ral­lies.

An ac­tivist in the south­ern prov­ince of Daraa, where the up­ris­ing be­gan, said Syr­ian forces stormed the vil­lage of Nawa early Thurs­day to round up peo­ple.

“They put some of them on buses to take them to a demon­stra­tion,” ac­tivist Raed al-suleiman said by phone.

Many Syr­ian op­po­si­tion mem­bers are in Paris, but di­vi­sions have kept them from form­ing a sin­gle uni­fied force that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity can rally be­hind.

Mr. Juppe’s com­ments echoed those of Pres­i­dent Obama when he warned that an in­ter­na­tional re­sponse could lead to more deaths.

“Our nat­u­ral in­stinct is to act,” Mr. Obama said Wed­nes­day. “It’s very im­por­tant for us to make sure that we have thought through all of our ac­tions be­fore we take those steps.”

Rus­sia, a pow­er­ful ally of Syria’s, is op­posed to any new sanc­tions or in­ter­na­tional ac­tion in Syria but of­fered its sup­port Thurs­day to for­mer U.N. Sec­re­tary-gen­eral Kofi An­nan in his ef­forts to help end the vi­o­lence.

Syria re­tains strong ties with Iran, and the Syr­ian Arab Red Cres­cent said Thurs­day that it had re­ceived aid from its Ira­nian coun­ter­part and would dis­trib­ute it through­out Syria’s prov­inces.

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