In an ironic twist of fate, the Syrian general responsible for preventing defections of other Syrian officers has himself defected to the rebel alliance. This comes as a striking blow to Syrian President Bashar Assad on a day in which 118 more of his countrymen, including 32 soldiers, 43 rebels, and 43 civilians, are killed in clashes throughout the country, Arab dailies report.
According to the Doha-based media network Al-Jazeera, Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, the chief of military police, hopped on the back of a motorcycle in the middle of the night and traveled for four hours over muddy back roads and thick brush before crossing over the Turkish border.
“The Syrian army has deviated from its core mission to protect the country,” al-Shallal said in an effort to explain his actions. “It has transformed into a guerrilla force that kills and destroys cities and villages, and commits massacres against unarmed people who have simply come out to demand freedom.”
‘The Syrian army has deviated from its core mission to protect the country,’ Al-Shallal said in an effort to explain his actions
Rumors are circulating that al-Shallel has been contributing to the rebel cause from within Assad’s military for quite some time already, the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi notes. In the comments section underneath the YouTube video the general posted announcing his defection, someone apparently wrote that “this man was put on the sidelines [in the military] for a long time… It is not possible not to connect the dots that he was collaborating with the insurgents.”
Though he was not a member of Assad’s inner circle, al-Shallal’s defection is seen as significant due to his role as a major enforcer of the Syrian military’s repressive measures. In addition to preventing the defection of other officers, he also operated the force that guarded the prisons where dissidents were kept.
True or not, the rumors only increase his credibility with the rebels and widen his opportunities for a senior role in their movement.
His move comes on yet another carnage-filled day in Syria. The Syrian Air Force continued to bomb pro-opposition Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus, and ground forces managed to kill 20 civilians, including eight children and three women, in Al-Qahtaniyah in northern Syria.
The continued fighting is leading the United Nations to up the number of Syrian refugees it predicts will flee the country in 2013, the online newspaper Elaph reports.
The latest report of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states that by June 2013, 1.1 million people will have fled to neighboring Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. This number far exceeds the current estimate of 540,000 Syrians who have already abandoned their homeland.
The UN acknowledged that its estimate might well be too low, since thousands of Syrian refugees have not registered with any humanitarian aid organization thus far.
This reality proves that “Bashar Assad has turned into an icon of evil, murder and a symbol of blood,” writes Hussein Shobokshi, a businessman and prominent columnist in the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, in an op-ed entitled, “Assad: The system is dead.”
‘Bashar Al-Assad has turned into an icon of evil, murder and a symbol of blood’
Although the political system he oversaw was secular in name, Shobokshi explains, in reality “it established pure sectarianism, became more hostile to the Palestinians than the greatest of their enemies… and became devoted to sedition and disruption of all Arab nations and peoples… History is teaching us that regimes like this do not last. When the people pit themselves against these rulers, the rulers then have a quick demise.”
As blood continues to flow in Syria, many Arabs are crossing their fingers that Assad’s demise happens quicker than expected.
Israel isolating Druze from Arabic roots
The Israeli Ministry of Education is coming under scathing criticism in the Arab press for manipulating its Arabic literature curriculum to separate the Druze minority from its Arab identity.
The London-based Al-Hayat reports on the claims of Yusri Bamboo, a member of the Druze sect in Israel, who says that Arabic literature classes in Druze middle and high schools in Israel are completely devoid of texts referring to the relationship between the Druze and other Arabs and Muslims.
The Druze, who number over 100,000 in Israel, are an Arabic-speaking minority that has built a rock-solid alliance with the Jewish state and even sends some of its sons to serve in its military.
In criticizing the Israeli educational system, Bamboo stresses that “Arabic literary texts are being used to promote a narrow sectarian awareness” in an effort to drive a wedge between the Druze and other Arabs. He states that Israel emptied the Druze curriculum of any mention of Palestinian literary giants such as Mahmoud Darwish, Emile Habibi, and Ghassan Kanafani.
‘Arabic literary texts are being used to promote a narrow sectarian awareness’
There is “tremendous politicization of the education system,” he says, and the Education Ministry’s efforts only serve the Israeli right wing.
One Druze teacher also featured in the story adds that “although we are citizens of the state, that should not force us to apologize for being Arabs.”