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Syrian Government Attacks Continue as Hopes for Peace Fade
July 5, 2012

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Fresh deaths in Douma, 10 miles north of Damascus, marked the continuation of hard fighting in Syria, as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad continued their efforts to repulse what has become a widespread if chaotic resistance.

With a recent peace plan in tatters, the country remained mired in a deadly struggle for supremacy along religious, not political lines. Assad is member of the Alawite sect of Islam, which is on the Shia side of the Islamic divide. He and his followers are far outnumbered by Sunni Syrians. (Much of the Middle East is divided along similar lines. Shia Muslims are in power in Iran; Sunnis rule Saudi Arabia.)

Some cities, such as the capital, Damascus, remain loyal to the government and have targets for opposition forces; other cities, such as the central city of Homs, have been the focal point of government barrages to counteract opposition dominance.

For most of the 16-month uprising, the minority has held all the power. A series of recent defections by top-ranking military officials, coupled with increased tensions with neighbor Turkey over a plane shot down recently, have given added weight to an opposition that routinely struggles to find a focus. (Indeed, at a weekend gathering of opposition leaders, disputes over the direction of the resistance descended into a shoving match.)

Turkey continues to harbor refugees and defectors, at last count more than 200 officers, including 16 generals, formerly taking orders from Assad. The Free Syrian Army has a large base near the Syria-Turkey border. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has ordered his country's fighter jets scrambled on more than one occasion, in response to the fighting and especially to the downing of the Turkish jet for flying through Syrian airspace, resulting in seven deaths.

Meanwhile, the death toll mounts, with current estimates putting the number of civilian dead at more than 15,000. The Syrian government claims that several thousand troops and police forces have died in the fighting.

High-ranking representatives of major Western and Arab countries met during the weekend and agreed on the need for political change in Syria but reached no agreement on whether that included an exit from government for Assad. Earlier U.N. Security Council resolutions along those lines were vetoed by China and/or Russia, the latter of which continues to sell large amounts of weapons to Assad's government.



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