The shock and disgust felt by the Arab world at the measures being taken by President Bashar Assad and the Syrian army to retain control of embattled Syria continue to dominate the headlines of all Arab dailies.
“More than 60 civilians killed in air raid on bakery in the city of Halfaya near Homs,” reads the leading headline of the London-based Al-Hayat. While residents of this central Syrian city lined up to order bread, the Syrian military dropped bombs and fired mortar rounds at them, incinerating between 60 and 200 people, depending on the report, and critically injuring hundreds of others.
A representative of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that the victims had crowded the bakery because there had been no access to bread earlier in the day due to the Syrian army’s siege of the city. It has been confirmed that many of the victims of the bombings were women and children.
Although some Western media outlets, including The Times of Israel, are giving substantial coverage to rebel claims that Assad’s forces are dropping poison gas bombs on rebel-controlled towns, the story has not been picked up anywhere in the mainstream Arab press. In fact, the Egyptian-based paper Al-Masry Al-Youm published an interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in which he insists that the chances of Assad resorting to chemical weapons are extremely low.
“Whenever we receive rumors or information that the Syrians are using chemical weapons, we check them out and we turn to the government,” Lavrov said. “Every time we get a confirmation that they [the Syrian government] will not do so under any circumstances.”
‘Whenever we receive rumors or information that the Syrians are using chemical weapons, we check them out and we turn to the government’
Lavrov apparently forgets that the Syrian regime not only acknowledged back in July its ownership of chemical weapons, which includes hundreds of tons of mustard gas and sarin, but also threatened to use them in the event of a Western military intervention in the country.
Meanwhile, all eyes now fall on Lakhdar Brahimi, the Algerian-born UN envoy to Syria, who crossed into Syria from Lebanon by land for a meeting Monday or Tuesday with President Assad to discuss the latter’s exit from power. Arab opinion writers, however, are warning their readership not to expect much from the encounter.
“The most prominent UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, has arrived in Damascus by land from Lebanon and not through Damascus International Airport. This fact shows the sorry situation on the ground in Syria,” writes Tariq Humeid, the outgoing editor-in-chief of the Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al-Awsat in a piece entitled “Brahimi comes to Damascus by road.”
Noting that Syrian Minister of Information Omar Al-Zoubi was completely unaware of Brahimi’s visit, Humeid writes that this shows that “the situation in Damascus is not merely difficult and complex, but that the entire governmental system is completely shutting down…. Brahimi knows he cannot tell Assad what to do or not to do.” He is there to try and get Assad to “look outside the situation in Damascus at the international assessment and to help him understand the big picture.”
The odds of Brahimi’s visit having any impact on Assad relinquishing power are slim, Homayed asserts. “In our recent history, there are all too many unforgettable models of tyrants holding on as long as they can no matter what the circumstances.”
‘President Assad will not go to another safe haven [outside the country]. He will move to Tartus or Latakia [on the coast) to ]continue the war from there… and turn the present situation into another Iraq’
With Russia’s recent declaration that it will not provide safe haven to Assad and his inner circle, Syria’s sectarian civil war is looking more and more like it will develop into a greater regional war, Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, comments in a piece of his own entitled “Arab refraction and the future of Syria.”
Without Russia, “President Assad will not go to another safe haven [outside the country]. He will move to Tartus or Latakia [on the coast] to continue the war from there… and turn the present situation into another Iraq…. He will bet on the failure of whatever power comes after him in Damascus and unite his followers with tons of weapons.”
Even Assad’s own vice president, Farouk al-Sharaa, stated publicly that the Syrian regime is unable to defeat the armed opposition and that security solutions have been thus far very unsuccessful. “If the opposition is able to topple the regime,” Atwan warns, “things are going to spin into a state of constant bloody violence.”