The Syrian uprising against Bashar al-Assad, the latest member of his Alawite dynasty, has been marked by steadily increasing pressure by the regime against the dissidents in a variety of cities, but the demonstrations show little evidence of bowing to the pressure despite the deaths of now some 2200 people. Foreign governments have announced increasing sanctions, but Bashar has shown nothing but resolve to ride this out. There are two elements though within the last few days that show some movement to the advantage of the demonstrators.
Reuters reports that there are defections from Syrian troops who refuse to fire on demonstrators and resulting battles between them and loyalist troops, with the news that this battle is taking place in the suburbs of the capital of Damascus.
In Damascus, dozens of soldiers defected and fled into al-Ghouta, an area of farmland, after pro-Assad forces fired at a large crowd of demonstrators near the suburb of Harasta to prevent them from marching on the center, residents said.
"The army has been firing heavy machineguns throughout the night at al-Ghouta and they were being met with response from smaller rifles," a resident of Harasta told Reuters by phone.
A statement published on the Internet by the Free Officers, a group that says it represents defectors, said "large defections" occurred in Harasta and security forces and shabbiha [militia] loyal to Assad were chasing the defectors.
It was the first reported defection around the capital, where Assad's core forces are based.This is after the announcement last month of the defection of a core of Syrian officers, including a major general, and their call for other soldiers to join the movement against Assad, and to refuse to fire upon civilians. There have been clashes in and around major cities such as Homs, Hama, and Latakia in the west, all with large concentrations of Alawis, though they are everywhere outnumbered by the Sunnis. It is telling that Alawis are battling in their home areas, but there are now clashes in areas around the capital, where Assad has concentrated the units loyal to him.
Buried within the article toward the end is this tidbit:
Assad's closest ally, Shi'ite Iran, with which he has been strengthening ties to the disquiet of Syria's Sunni majority, has said Damascus must listen to the "legitimate demands" of its people.
Iran warned NATO Sunday against any temptation to intervene in Syria, saying that rather than the defeating a regime it would be bogged down in a "quagmire" similar to Iraq or Afghanistan.
NATO countries which have been active in Libya have been quite clear that they have no interest in intervening in Syria. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton have been quite clear on this point, so the threat from Iran has no real meaning except for the fact that we have provided a great propaganda opportunity to them.
Nevertheless, the fact that now even Assad’s closest friend Iran, allied to the regime for several reasons, not the least of them being the Alawis’ quasi-Shi’ite nature in a land predominantly populated by Sunnis, is publically announcing that Assad should consider throwing in the towel.