By Tim Marshall
There’s a lot of talking around Syria this month, but there’s even more fighting, and these two things are probably connected.
There are signs that the outside powers realize that no-one can win in Syria and so are edging towards trying to put together a deal. However, inside the country, those that have done the fighting appear to be in no mood whatsoever to limit the violence to help give space to the talking.
The airstrikes by government warplanes on Douma was the most terrible example of this. It is a mark of how inured governments and media around the world are now to the daily slaughter that even a death
toll possibly exceeding 100, including many children, in a single incident, no longer makes the front pages of newspapers.
The government said the attack on Douma was targeting insurgents from the Islam Army (IA) group. IA is one of the more powerful opposition forces which has been threatening the capital, Damascus, which lies just 10 miles south of the town. Opposition sources said the war planes bombed a market and then when rescue workers came rushing to help the wounded, they attacked it again. There were further air strikes on the town on Monday.
If President Assad’s intention was to further ensure that talk of peace is untenable amid such slaughter he succeeded. As the W&Y has written, moves are afoot to work out a deal for a post Assad Syria, it is in this context that the response to the attack from the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces must be seen – “Any talk of political and peaceful solutions in the shadow of massacres and excusing the criminal from punishment will have no meaning in realizing stability in Syria.”
But the opposition are also doing their bit to undermine the idea of peace talks as well. Last week saw more shelling of civilian areas of Damascus in which 13 people died. The UN issued a statement saying “”Hitting crowded civilian markets killing almost one hundred of its own citizens by a government is unacceptable in any circumstances…… the indiscriminate shelling of Damascus last week by armed opposition groups and the cutting of water supplies, are also unacceptable”
A rare ceasefire between the warring sides fell apart a few days ago when fighting again broke out in Zabadani which is close to the border with Lebanon.
Further north the coastal city of Latakia, which has been spared the levels of violence elsewhere has been hit by several barrages of rockets fired by opposition forces. Several people were killed in what is a government stronghold. President Assad is from the Alawite sect of Shia Islam and the Alawites mostly hail from the Latakia region. If Assad was ever to lose control of the capital the route up to city of Latakia is one of several escape routes he might have.
Despite the fighting the talking is still going on with a flurry of diplomatic visits taking place in various capitals. They did not seem to making much progress, the level of fighting is hardly conducive to success, but the talks have not yet run out of steam.