Photo by DSK/AFP/GettyImages.
UPDATE: Tuesday's news out of Syria is something of a mixed bag. The good news is that the Assad regime appears more willing to allow much-needed humanitarian aid back into the country. The bad, however, is that Syria has cut its diplomatic ties to much of the West in the face of mounting pressure for a regime change.
As the Guardian reports, Assad's government deemed a total of 17 diplomats "personae non gratae," a group that included officials from the United States, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Canada and Turkey. While many of those diplomats had already left the country earlier this year, the declaration means that they are no longer be welcome to return. The move follows the expulsion of Syrian diplomats by those countries in response to the massacre of 108 civilians in Houla late last month.
Meanwhile, Syria has agreed to allow an expansion of humanitarian work in the country. Aid workers from the U.N. and a handful of NGOs will be allowed into four provinces, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Associated Press reports. The four provinces are Daraa, Deir el-Zour, Homs and Idlib, some of the hardest-hit by continued conflict in the country.
Monday, June 4: In case there was any doubt, the cease-fire is off.
Rebels reportedly killed at least 80 Syrian soldiers over the weekend after an opposition-imposed deadline for the government to begin obeying the cease-fire came and went on Friday.
A Free Syrian Army spokesman told Reuters on Monday that the rebels were no longer bound by the U.N.-brokered truce after President Bashar al-Assad failed to meet an ultimatum to end government violence. "We have decided to end our commitment to this (cease-fire)," Major Sami al-Kurdi told the outlet from Syria, adding that opposition fighters had begun attacking government forces to "defend our people."
Rebel leaders told the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition watchdog group, that they killed more than 100 government soldiers this past weekend and destroyed several tanks. The organization has verified the identities of 80 dead Syrian soldiers so far.
Friday's ultimatum was prompted by the May 25 massacre of 108 civilians in Houla, for which the Syrian regime has been widely blamed. Assad denied government involvement in the massacre over the weekend in the face of mounting international pressure on his regime.
An E.U.-Russian summit in St. Petersburg on Monday will likely be dominated by talks of the Syrian crisis, CNN notes. Russia has previously blocked attempts for more decisive U.N. Security Council action regarding the crisis, and is suspected by some of selling weapons to the Syrian government.
Sunday, June 3: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was defiant Sunday when he delivered his first speech since January. Despite mounting international pressure on his regime, Assad offered no concessions and said there is a “foreign conspiracy” against Syria. In a televised speech to parliament, Assad defended his government’s actions by comparing them to a doctor who gets blood on himself while operating on a critical patient, reports the Associated Press.
“Do we say to him your hands are stained with blood?” asked Assad. “Or do we thank him for saving the patient?”
Despite what seems to be an admission that he is ordering a brutal crackdown on opponents, Assad vehemently denied that government forces or allies were to blame for the May 25 Houla massacre, where 108 people, including 49 children, were killed. “Even monsters do not perpetrate what we have seen,” Assad said, according to Reuters.
Assad accused foreigners of instigating violence in Syria, saying that outsiders were targeting the country because of its long history of backing the “resistance,” which as the New York Times explains, refers to standing up to the West in general, and Israel in particular. “They want to divide this nation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lebanon has sent troops to the northern city of Tripoli following clashes between supporters and opponents of Assad that left at least 12 people dead, reports Al Jazeera. Although clashes have become relatively common in recent weeks, Saturday’s death toll has raised fears that violence from Syria would increasingly spill over into neighboring countries.
Saturday, June 2: U.N./Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has often been accused of being too tepid when it comes to Syria. Many have been quick to say he’s so afraid of offending either side of the Syria conflict that he bends over backward to avoided being too harsh on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Not so on Saturday, when Annan said that Assad was failing to keep up his end of the peace plan. He agreed the United Nations and the Arab League have been unable to stop the conflict, warning that the violence has “escalated” and “the specter of total civil war, with a worrying sectarian dimension, grows by the day,” reports Reuters.
Russia has said it will be stepping up the pressure on Assad, according to Bloomberg, a potentially crucial move as Moscow has been one of the few allies the Syrian regime has left. Even though President Vladimir Putin received lots of pressure to drop his alliance with Syria during a trip to Berlin and Paris he has also said Annan’s plan should be given more time to work.
The United States is also explicitly reaching out to Russia, urging the country to join an international effort to end the Syria violence. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed the situation in Syria Saturday, reports the Associated Press.
In a potentially ominous sign of how the conflict in Syria could spread throughout the region, at least seven people were killed and 20 hurt in Lebanon during a clash between pro- and anti-Syrian groups in the country’s north, notes the BBC.
Friday, June 1: Things are going from bad to worse to downright horrible in Syria.
CNN reports that 12 factory workers were executed just outside of Homs on Thursday by pro-regime gangs. The killings add to a death toll that continues to climb in spurts, as the ongoing violence between the Assad regime and opposition forces inches toward civil war despite a U.N.-brokered ceasefire that has failed to live up its name.
Meanwhile, the deaths of more than 100 civilians in Houla last week have become an increasing source of outrage in the international community as western diplomats scramble to find a way to bring an end to the violence.
The AFP reports that U.N. human rights officials are suggesting that the civilian massacre may amount to crimes against humanity. The Human Rights Council met Friday to discuss the ongoing violence as the Kofi Annan-authored peace plan for the country in on the verge of falling apart. Opposition forces gave an ultimatum for President Assad to end the violence by midday Friday or face increased rebel attacks, a deadline that appears to have come and gone and that could very well lead to even more clashes this weekend.
U.N. ambassador Susan Rice laid out three potential outcomes for the uprising earlier this week. The first, and most desireable, outcome would be "for the government of Syria to finally and immediately implement its commitments under the Annan plan." The second would be additional U.N. pressure on Syria to meet those commitments, including sanctions. And the third? "There seems to me to be only one other alternative, and that is indeed the worst case, which seems unfortunately at the present to be the most probable," She said. "And that is that the violence escalates."
Russia, meanwhile, has continued to block attempts at the second of the third scenarios via the U.N. and, as Bloomberg reports, European leaders are turning their attention to getting the Syrian ally on board by holding a two-day bilateral summit. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton didn't mince words over Russia's role in the Syrian crisis on Thursday, saying that "their policy is going to help contribute to a civil war."