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Syria headlines 2: decapitating Damascus

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Syrian state television, well-known for distorting facts and denying the existence of a mass-movement against the Syrian regime, was on this occasion quick off the mark to spread news of the assassination less than an hour after it had taken place.

Rita from Syria
22 July 2012

Manar was one of very few female employees who went to work on the morning of the July 18. The traffic on the streets of Damascus was light, and state institutions were open but half emptied of staff. Manar had brought her dog with her to work because she was afraid of not being able to return home safely. Her home lies in Mukhayam Al-Yarmouk, very close to where the most violent clashes between the Syrian army and the FSA had been witnessed the night before. However, she told me she was certain the end of the "crisis" was at hand because the regime forces had promised to bring an end to the fighting and restore calm to the capital within 48 hours.

Manar is staunchly pro-regime and completely convinced by the regime's conspiracy narrative. Manar and others like her have little interest in the increasing number of casualties and imprisoned civilians; in their eyes they are all part of a foreign terrorist plot. Some continue to repeat a refrain which was heard at the beginning of the revolution: "Let's turn Der'aa into a potato field", only now Der'aa has been replaced by Homs, Rastan, Hajjar al-Aswad in Damascus. The list goes on. For the likes of Manar, protesters in these cities and towns are deemed to be of less value than a grubby potato.

But what happened later that day does not seem to have been in line with Manar's expectations. The offices of National Security had been targeted in al-Rawda neighbourhood in the heart of Damascus. Reports were coming in that an explosion had completely destroyed the building killing key figures from the inner circle of President Bashar al-Assad. The targets had been men directly responsible for the killings and repression perpetrated by the Syrian regime on its people over recent decades and even more so since the beginning of the revolution in Syria.  Abu Mu'az , a spokesperson for the al-Sahaba battalion of the FSA claimed responsibility for the attack.

This had been the second attempt to assassinate members of this inner circle which in the Orwellian New-Speak of the Ba’thist regime had been designated ‘anāsar Idaret al-azimah [The Elements of Crisis Management]. The first attempt took place two months ago when food prepared for them during one of their meetings was poisoned. There are conflicting reports as to the success of that attempt. While unofficial sources in the FSA claimed three casualties with the remainder in a critical condition receiving treatment at the Shami Presidential hospital, official Syrian television showed video clips of the very same officials carrying out their day-to-day duties and denied the attempt had ever taken place.

It is interesting to note that Syrian state television, well-known for distorting facts and denying the existence of a mass-movement against the Syrian regime, was on this occasion quick off the mark to spread news of the assassination less than an hour after it had taken place. This was all the more surprising given that the attack at al-Rawda is a painful blow to the Syrian regime which may lead to a collapse in morale of its armed forced and security services. This has fuelled conjecture. An increasingly prevalent notion doing the rounds among some groups of Syrian activists is a sense of creeping doubt pointing to the existence of a conspiracy orchestrated by the Syrian regime. A quick glance at status updates on social networking sites used by activists seems to confirm this.

All this is contrary to what was expected at the start of the day's events. It was hoped that the removal of the upper echelons of the regime would force the rapid withdrawal of the regular army and security services from their positions and create chaos in their ranks. Instead we have witnessed a show of strength from the regime with an unprecedented military escalation in the heart of Damascus. Tanks started rolling into densely populated neighbourhoods in most areas of the capital while helicopter gunships blighted the bright azure sky.

An intensive military assault began on neighborhoods in the capital in the early hours of Thursday, July 19. The attack was most vicious on the neighbourhoods of Hajjar al-Aswad and al-Qaddam. Fighter planes bombed the funeral procession of the martyr Abdul Rahim Samour in Sayyida Zainab, located on the road to Damascus International Airport, resulting in a further 100 people being killed. For those who survived, there was no respite as the clashes continued and the mortar shells continued to rain down upon them. Some young men who had been seen celebrating the  attack on the National Security Office were attacked on the ring-road  in the South of  Damascus. Their bodies were left dumped by the roadside.

The international community remains unable and unwilling to arrive at a unified position at the Security Council. Instead, it continues to propose illogical and ineffective initiatives. In the meantime, the Syrian street continues to count down the days - and we naively believed it would be days – to settle this dispute which has harvested the lives of so many Syrians. Some in the opposition ranks remain frightened by what they see as uncontrolled elements of the FSA 'brand'. On the other hand, regime supporters continue to back overwhelming state brutality as the means to crush the revolution. For millions of ordinary Syrians the terror knows no end. These are the headlines from Syria.

Thousand thanks to Tahir Zaman for translating this article.

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