What do Israelis think of Assad?

Background current

On March 15, 2011, the protests against Syria's ruler Bashar al-Assad began. The initially peaceful conflict has turned into a civil war. President Assad still refuses to resign and tries to break the resistance by using all military means. There is no end in sight to the bloody conflict.

Protests against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are forming in many European cities, such as here in Vienna. (& copy AP)

March 2011: The Arab Spring has already forced the governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to resign or at least shaken them badly. For months, demonstrators have networked via the Internet and jointly called for the democratization of their countries in protest actions. In the same month the first student protests against the regime in Damascus also broke out in Syria. Students had previously written freedom slogans on walls and were arrested for it. At the end of March, the scope and intensity of the protests increased. Thousands of people are arrested and imprisoned.

The government no longer reacts to the demonstrations exclusively with violence, but also with promises: The state of emergency that has existed for almost 50 years is to be lifted and political, economic and legal reforms implemented. At the end of March the president announced the resignation of the government and announced at the same time that "foreign conspirators" were behind the protests.

In July 2011, the Syrian cabinet passed a law that for the first time allowed parties other than Assad's Baath Party. In August, the US government and EU call on Assad to resign. A little later, the Arab League suspended Syria's membership and sent an observer mission to the country, which failed. In October the opposition founds the Syrian National Council. Military clashes between Assad's army, armed militias and the opposition "Free Syrian Army" (FSA) first broke out in autumn 2011.

In the course of 2012, the conflict between the government and the opposition intensified. In March, Assad approves a peace plan by UN special envoy Kofi Annan. However, the Syrian army breaks the agreed ceasefire in May. A second ceasefire collapsed in October 2012 due to renewed attacks by Assad's army.

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Syria after four decades of Assad

The family of President Assad has ruled Syria for over four decades. Bashar Al-Assad inherited his father in 2000. In 2007 he was elected in a referendum for a second seven-year term; there was no official opponent. Syria is one of the most repressive countries in the Arab world and is characterized by the coexistence of different religions and ethnic groups. All key positions in the Assad government are held by Alevis, the same Shiite minority to which the Assad family themselves belong. The majority of the insurgents are Sunni Muslims.

Current situation

The number of troops in the Syrian army has now halved. Nevertheless, the regime is still overwhelming. Assad uses cluster bombs and long-range missiles against insurgents and civilians. The infrastructure in the liberated areas is being deliberately destroyed - even the food supply for civilians is the target of the attacks. In March 2013, the United Nations assumed a total of 70,000 deaths.

Industrial and agricultural production in Syria is paralyzed, partly due to the war and partly due to the sanctions imposed. Several areas in the northwest, southeast, and southwest of the country are now under the control of the FSA. A major problem facing the opposition is that it is deeply divided. A central command hierarchy has not yet been established. For example, some of the Islamist militias refuse to obey orders from the FSA. The share of radical Islamic units in the group of armed rebels as a whole is highly controversial. The largest coalition of the opposition forces is the "National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces". The organization is demanding more financial and military support from the international community. She is planning an alternative government and the election of a prime minister. Since December 2012 the alliance has been officially recognized as a representative of the Syrian people by the USA, Great Britain and France, among others.

A UN report published in March 2013 describes massive human rights violations by the Syrian government as well as by the opposition forces. Among other things, the report names around 20 massacres in the country; many of the mass murders were directed against specific ethnic groups. Kidnappings are also widespread. The government, various militias and opposition fighters were stuck in a "destructive stalemate," according to the report's authors. None of the warring parties show consideration for the civilian population.

Yesterday evening (March 14th) the United Nations Security Council was able to jointly pass a declaration condemning the violence in Syria for the first time. A resolution by the UN body has so far failed due to resistance from China and the Russian Federation. In 2012, the reason given by Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was that other countries wanted to use the resolution to achieve regime change in Syria, if necessary through military intervention on the part of NATO.

International handling of the civil war

Since May 2011, the US and EU have imposed sanctions against President Assad and members of his government. There has also been an EU oil embargo since September 2011.

In March 2013, Britain was publicly considering arms deliveries to the rebels. A war that dragged on for years and destabilized neighboring countries could not be ignored, said Foreign Minister William Hague. France, too, is now talking loudly about arms deliveries and the lifting of the embargo. Hollande even announced that if necessary he would want to arm the rebels in Syria without his EU partners. So far, the West has not complied with requests from the Syrian opposition for arms deliveries. One reason for this is the fear of inadvertently supporting radical Islamist fundamentalists. However, money is already flowing from Arab states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia for weapons that are smuggled through Jordan and Turkey to opposition forces in Syria. Turkey is also supporting the rebels in their attempts to overthrow al-Assad.

At a conference of the "Friends of Syria" in Rome in February 2013, decisions were made on concrete help. Among other things, the US wants to give the coalition 60 million dollars to build state structures in the occupied territories.

Military intervention is also still being discussed. The UN and Arab League's special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Bramini, continues to plead for a diplomatic solution.

Relations between Syria and Israel were characterized by mutual cooperation for many years, despite the war, which was never officially resolved. In the event of a change of power in Syria, the Israeli government fears the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic regime. Nevertheless, Israel's President Shimon Peres called on the EU Parliament on March 12th to intervene militarily in Syria.

Fears of an expansion of the conflict

Several incidents in areas bordering Syria are fueling fears that the war will spread to neighboring countries. The United Nations estimates that over a million Syrians are now on the run. The destination is the neighboring countries Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The reception camps set up there have long been unable to accommodate the mass of refugees. In order to stop refugee movements and prevent the smuggling of weapons and relief supplies, the Syrian army has laid mines along the country's borders. After fighting on the Turkish-Syrian border several times since June 2012, Turkey asked its NATO partners to station patriot defense systems near the Syrian border.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article stated that the Security Council had passed a resolution on Syria. This information was based on an agency report and is incorrect. Declarations by the UN Security Council are of less importance than resolutions.

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