Will Houla Massacre Mean A Turning Point for Syria?

Article Summary
The massacre perpetrated last weekend by the Assad regime in Houla can be compared to those perpetrated by the Israelis in Qana, Lebanon, writes Rosana Bou Monsef. They are both so horrific that no one can justify the actions of the perpetrators any longer, and this one may herald further loss of support for the regime.

Certain diplomatic sources are pondering the similarities and differences between the Houla massacre in Syria that killed 92 people — including over 32 children — and the two Qana massacres that took place in Lebanon in 1996 and 2006. Major General Robert Mood, Chief Military Observer and head of the UN mission, declared that the "investigation conducted by the observers revealed the use of artillery to shell the city."

In the first Qana massacre, Israeli aircraft under the Shimon Peres-led government killed 110 people in a bloody massacre when they bombed an international peacekeeping base. During the second Qana massacre, in late August 2006, Israeli shelling killed more than 67 people. At least 37 of the victims were children.

These two massacres constituted a basic turning point in the Israeli wars against Lebanon in that they expedited their conclusion. This type of massacre generally leads to the defeat of the perpetrator, as was the case in the Israeli war on Lebanon. They act as the final drops that make the cup spill over, because it becomes hard to justify such conflicts when such massacres are committed.

The international community has been greatly embarrassed by the death of innocent victims, particularly the massacred children. This type of event opens the door to new solutions that were not previously available to the international community. This is the kind of behavior that the international community could not accept on the part of Israel. At that time, the United Nations declared Israel responsible for the massacre, despite the acquiescence and support of the US and other countries. The regime in Syria will have a difficult time finding a similar level of mercy, even if Russia has continuously reaffirmed its support.

According to sources among the observers, the massacre in Houla represents a significant source of embarrassment for both regional and international parties, for various reasons. Perhaps that the most significant of of these reasons is that the massacre took place under international protection while UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan attempts to affect his plan to end the war in Syria. It was also different in terms of size and nature from the previous massacres that have occurred in Homs before the regime accepted the Annan plan.

This massacre will remind the Arab and international public that the justifications for overthrowing Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, such as committing genocide against his own people, were not brought up again when it came to Syria, despite the fact that the crimes committed by Gaddafi are similar to those that took place in Houla.

One source stated: “Even though this massacre provoked significant global and regional condemnation, one question remains: will it stir the international community to put an end to the violence gripping Syria? The answer to this question depends on how ripe the circumstances are for the commencement of negotiations that might lead to the regime stepping down from power.”

In this context, these sources say that the one who should be most embarrassed by this massacre is Russia, for several reasons. First of all, the chief of the international observers has declared the regime responsible for the massacre, and it was Russia who convinced the regime to approve the work of the observers on its territory, not the opposition. Second, and if international condemnation means anything at all, Russia must be embarrassed by the fact that it chose to accept the version of the events put forth by the head of the Arab observers mission Mohammed al-Dabi and veto a UN resolution at the Security Council. In doing so, it chose to ignore the report of the international observers which gave contrary information.

Russia should be embarrassed, because in defending the regime’s survival, it takes on a level of responsibility for its actions. What’s more, even if the regime were not directly responsible for the massacre, the mere fact that it remains in power is at the root of the internal conflict harming Syria. As the regime loses control of its territory, the country becomes fertile ground for the emergence of all kinds of potentially dangerous organizations. In this sense, the regime’s survival is becoming overly costly for Syria and other countries around it. The events that took place over the last two weeks in Lebanon, in Tripoli and in the province of Akkar were classified by most countries, including Russia, as repercussions of the Syrian crisis.

The extension of this crisis into Lebanon, whether it was by coincidence or done intentionally, and the regime’s potential to threaten regional stability, actually demonstrates its inability to make use of regional cards to mitigate the pressure it faces. This may signal that the balance will shift against the regime as long as it constitutes a threat to others.

Found in: turning point, gadhafi, qana massacre, un observers, un, russia, intervention, houla massacre, arab league, arab

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