The Baath regime in Syria is resorting to the most extreme and brutal levels of violence in the face of peaceful protests demanding reform. The confirmed death toll from the government’s crackdown has reached 450, in addition to thousands wounded and missing.
“The Syrian army’s only job now is to block the cities, not to deal with demonstrations, because the regime doesn’t trust the army,” says Syrian activist Tammam Al-Burazi in a statement to Ahram Online.
“A division in the army is very probable since it contains elements from the various components of society: Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Alawites, most of whom would refuse opening fire on the people,” added Al-Burazi.
It is noteworthy that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has announced several times the killing of officers and soldiers during the uprising, accusing what he called “armed gangs” for these deaths.
In contrast to Al-Assad’s allegations, Syrian activist and dissident Maan Hasbani says that “most of those were killed by the regime due to their refusal to fire on protesters.”
Hasbani added that the Syrian military is prone to splits.
Al-Burazi says that in facing all of this, the Syrian regime “fully depends on the Shabiha [a Syrian term for baltagiyya (regime thugs), informal groups who work with the security apparatus and are used by it to preserve the regime].”
Syrian political analyst Bashar Al-Issa views the Shabiha as more than hired thugs but rather a semi-militant militia comprising 10,000 members. Their loyalty to the regime is underlined by the fact they are centred in the Sahel region, especially Qardaha, President Al-Assad’s place of birth.
This point is made clearer by Al-Burazi’s description of the Shabiha as “a sectarian militia whose members are almost exclusively Alawite (the president’s sect), and who are armed, trained and funded by the regime, to use when needed; and I think that its time has come.”
Unconfirmed reports over the killings of the commanders of the division stationed on the border with Israel and that of a division close to Damascus, were attributed to “terrorist elements” by Assad’s regime.
Al-Issa believes that after the recent massacres and the subsequent international condemnation, high-ranking officers are being neutralised to prevent them – along with their divisions – taking the side of the Syrian people.
It is now common knowledge that the Syrian Republican Guard and the Fourth Division, led by Bashar Al-Assad’s brother Maher, perpetrated Monday’s massacres in Daraa, Gablah and Maadamiya.
“The first line of defence for the regime is the Shabiha, if they fail the Republican Guard and the Fourth Division will be used, and all of their elements are essentially Alawite,” says Issa.
Al-Burazi says that if clashes spread out, there is a possibility that the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which is known to have munitions stored around Damascus, and elements from Hezbollah may interfere.
“The regime has not erased Persian writing from military equipment until now,” Al-Burazi adds, in a sarcastic tone.