As United Nations observers began arriving in Syria to monitor a ceasefire between rebels and the regime, media commentators generally agreed their mission was doomed but disputed who was to blame.
Media financed by Gulf states have emphasized reports of shelling by the Syrian army in several cities, in apparent violation of the April 12 cessation of hostilities agreement negotiated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and unanimously backed by the Security Council. Editor-in-Chief Tariq al-Homayed wrote in the London-based Saudi owned Asharq al-Awsat:
The al-Assad regime continues to manipulate the international community and with it of course the Security Council. Before every deadline and initiative, it empties the proposals of their content and continues its murder and destruction.
Homayed argued that about 3,000 UN observers are needed rather than the few dozen who are scheduled to arrive in Syria. Pressing a point central to many commentators who have vigorously opposed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the past year of anti-regime protests and escalating violence, he said the international community must “accelerate the process of arming the Syrian rebels and develop international resolutions with teeth and claws that don’t merely grant Assad more opportunities.” Otherwise, he said, the “Syrian killing machine” will only continue, turning Annan's mission into a short-lived and deadly farce.
Others opposed to Assad expressed similar pessimism over both the ceasefire and Annan’s six-point plan for jump-starting a political process between the regime and its opponents.
In the Beirut-based An-Nahar, a daily that has long been critical of the Syrian regime, columnist Rajeh Khouri wrote that the regime would not accept the demonstrations that would inevitably follow a ceasefire, since such expressions of popular will would contribute to its downfall:
It will not accept the opposition. Backed by major powers such as Russia, China, and Iran, it will not hesitate to re-deploy its tanks and military forces to resume bloody confrontations.
While expressing more hope for Annan's mission, Syria's government-controlled media laid the groundwork for failure by highlighting reports by the state news agency, SANA, that “armed terrorist groups” were stepping up their attacks in the city of Homs and elsewhere.
In the state-controlled Ath-Thawra newspaper, columnist Hekmat al-Ali wrote that the main elements undermining the ceasefire were the Gulf states, backed indirectly by Washington, “who still insist on fueling the domestic situation in Syria and on encouraging infighting and violence in order to achieve their own goals at the expense of the Syrian people’s blood.” These actors, he said, wanted Annan's mission to fail in order to justify military intervention in Syria.
Ali's fellow columinst at Ath-Tharwah, As'ad Abboud, wrote that the biggest impediment to securing a ceasefire between the government and the opposition might be the disunion of the latter. He wrote: “Who is the one who will agree? And who is going to give the order? And who will respond?"
The London-based, Palestinian-owned Al-Quds al-Arabi concluded in an editorial that “everyone” was waiting for Annan’s venture to fail, except maybe Annan himself.
Indeed, the only point of concord between the regime and the opposition, the paper wrote, “is that the two sides want Annan’s mission to fail, since the regime wants to annihilate the opposition by use of destructive force, and the opposition wants a foreign military intervention to annihilate the regime.” The result, the paper concluded, will be a protracted “bloodbath” starting in the coming days.
Expressing an increasingly popular theme among regional columnists, Nicolas Nassif, of the Beirut-based Al-Akhbar, argued that Syria is looking more and more like civil-war Lebanon in the 1970s. Recounting the many ceasefire agreements, peace plans and visits by foreign envoys, especially in the first few years of what became a 15-year-long conflict, Nassif noted that there were calls then, too, for reform and dialogue "but, at the same time, both sides were provided with funds and incitement or weapons and fighters. This was what the Syrians, Iraqis, Algerians, Libyans, Saudis and Kuwaitis, in addition to Israel, did in Lebanon. The same thing is being done in Syria today by Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran. To a lesser degree comes the involvement of Iraq, Jordan, some Lebanese,” and Russia as well.
The Lebanonization of Syria, Nassif wrote, has only just begun.
If it gathers pace, as many in the region and beyond expect, the results could be even more damaging than a conflict remembered as one of the region’s bloodiest, with hundreds of thousands killed or injured, millions displaced and a country deeply divided to this day.
(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)
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