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Issue #1542      4 April 2012

Taking Issue – Steven Katsineris

On Syria

While I agree with much of what Finian Cunningham says in his article about the Arab League and the Western powers (Guardian March 21), I think there are further important issues that need to be raised about Syria. Despite the meddling of the US and its western and Arab allies it still does not alter the reality that the regimes in Syria and Iran are tyrannical and very repressive. Syria strictly controls its people through fear, which is backed up by the sort of brutal army crackdown we have witnessed the past year or so. That they have opposed the USA and other western powers and supported the Palestinians and Lebanese resistance (at times) doesn’t change that.

This support depended mainly on pursuing Syrian interests at a specific period and it didn’t stop Syria bargaining and cooperating with the USA, the West and Israel when it suited its government’s interests. For instance during the first Gulf war against Iraq and maintaining a passive situation in the Golan Heights.

Furthermore, Syria has also continually meddled in the affairs of the Palestinian and Lebanese movements. Moreover the support of the Syrian government has mainly been to pro-Syrian factions of the Palestinian and Lebanese Resistance and Syria has used its aid to constantly try to weaken and defeat the independence of these movements.

In Jordan in the 1970s Syria did nothing while the Jordanian army massacred the Palestinian people and fighters. This led to the defeat of the Palestinian resistance in Jordan and a secure eastern front for Israel.

Later, in civil war in Lebanon, Syria used its army and proxies, such as Amal to besiege and bombard the Palestinian refugee camps and attack the Lebanese and Palestinian national movements. The military intervention of Syrian forces came at a crucial time in the war, when the Lebanese left and progressive forces and their Palestinian allies were on the verge of winning the war against the fascist Phalange forces, armed and backed by Israel.

This Syrian invasion not only killed many hundreds of Palestinians and Lebanese people, but also forced the leftist forces to fight on another front. This took the pressure off the Phalange and saved them from utter defeat. In this situation the Lebanese and Palestinian national movements were battling on several sides and became severely weakened.

Faced by being crushed by superior forces the war bogged down into a stalemate and the Syrian army imposed a “peace” on Lebanon. The direct result of this was the chance to install a truly progressive government in Lebanon was lost. And in areas under their control of the Phalange and Syrian forces the people suffered a lot and thousands more Palestinians and Lebanese civilians were displaced.

Syria used various means to pacify Lebanon and enforced restrictions on the Lebanese and Palestinian national movements’ political and military activity. This included destroying the Lebanese left and other dissidents by arrests, jailing and killings and the suppression of Arab nationalist and leftist groups. The War of the Camps was another vicious attempt by Syria to crush the independent Palestinian resistance by using the Syrian-backed militia Amal to overrun the Palestinian refugee camps. The heroic struggle of the united Palestinian forces foiled this, but the Palestinian resistance and Lebanese left were further weakened and hundreds more Palestinians and others were killed.

While Syria has at times played a progressive role, such as its support of Hezbollah, its policies have been very inconsistent, depending on the regime’s desires and interests. In the succession of Israeli invasions of Lebanon the Syrian army either stood by and watched or withdrew, leaving the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance to fight on alone against the might of Israel.

The Syrian regime is not progressive or left, its corrupt and cruel. And despite many years of talk Assad has done nothing to change the situation and give his people the human, political and civil rights they want and deserve. While we should oppose the meddling of the Western countries in Syria and the Middle East, let’s not take the side of the Syrian regime against its people.

The government of Syria won’t stop the peoples yearning for real change by brutal force or massacres. In fact this policy is alienating more people and turning them against the regime. And the longer the Assad regime continues to resist the will of its people the more Syrians may turn towards the West for support. We ought to oppose the Syrian regime’s policies and US meddling and seek to encourage the left and progressive parties in Syria; they represent the hope of a positive change for Syria.  

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