The Syrian National Council, who for most of the past year have supported non-violent opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched a defense ministry this week with the goal of uniting the disorganized and largely under-supplied armed resistance movements.
The decision comes amid an international debate around future of the diplomatic approach in Syria. The United States has advocated largely for diplomatic and economic efforts to pressure the al-Assad regime, but critics say these pressures don’t do enough to get the government to stop its oppression.
“It’s not clear to us that arming people right now will either save lives or lead to the demise of Assad’s regime,” Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey D. Feltman said at a Senate hearing on the crisis Thursday.
But a senior Arab diplomat said, “People are more and more frustrated, and are coming to the conclusion that diplomatic efforts are not enough in light of continuing abuse by the regime.” The Saudis and Qataris, said the diplomat speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss national decision-making, are prepared to move “as soon as they physically can,” within days, or weeks at the most. “The delays,” he said, “are logistical, not political.”
The moves Saudi Arabia and Qatar are talking about making are arming the Syrian National Council. The international community expressed growing concern in the past few weeks as news from the city of Homs reached the west. Homs made headlines last week when journalist Marie Colvin and photographer Rémi Ochlik were killed in a shelling, grabbing the attention of international leaders.
“That’s enough now,” he said. “This regime must go and there is no reason that Syrians don’t have the right to live their lives and choose their destiny freely. If journalists were not there, the massacres would be a lot worse.”
The foreign secretary, William Hague, said the deaths were “a terrible reminder of the suffering of the Syrian people – scores of whom are dying every day”. He added: “Marie and Rémi died bringing us the truth about what is happening to the people of Homs. Governments around the world have the responsibility to act upon that truth – and to redouble our efforts to stop the Assad regime’s despicable campaign of terror in Syria.”
Even the U.S., which maintained its nonviolent approach through the Homs crisis last week, seems to be edging towards more agrressive solutions according to an Arab diplomat cited by The Washington Post.
“I don’t think anyone will stand up and scream” in opposition to weapons shipments, the Arab diplomat said. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has led the administration effort to coordinate a unified international effort, “is not going to stop the Saudis,” he said.
Photo: A shelled building in Homs, Syria. Creative Commons/Flickr user FreedomHouse.