As the killing-rate in Syria speeds up, the underlying sectarian nature of Syrian society and the decades-old sectarian policy of the Assad dictatorship is increasingly being reflected in the violence on the ground.
The opposition — which, for the first few months of the rising against the dictatorship, was almost exclusively peaceful, and was demanding freedom and democracy — increasingly rests on local, mainly Sunni, militias.
The peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan, which demanded removal of heavy weapons from urban areas, release of detainees and respect for the right of oppositionists to protest was never going to be respected by the state. If even this limited plan were implemented the regime would be overrun — it is now only able to remain in place if it uses extreme violence against its own people.
In February, the government siege of Homs killed around 1,000 civilians in mainly Sunni areas. On 10 May a suicide bomber — possibly a Sunni Islamist — killed 55 in Damascus. And on 25 May, in Houla, 108 mainly Sunni villagers, including 49 children, were slaughtered by sectarian Alawite militiamen backed by government troops.
The sectarian violence has spilled over into Lebanon. Last weekend 14 people were killed and dozens injured as pro- and anti-Syrian opposition forces fought each other in Tripoli. The Lebanese army moved into the Sunni area, Bab al-Tebbaneh, and the mostly Alawite neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen, to stop the fighting. The division reflects a split in Lebanon's political parties. The opposition backs the revolt in Syria while the ruling coalition, which includes Hezbollah, supports the Damascus regime.
Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, compared the actions of his government — which is guilty of mass detention and torture, and murder on a vast scale — to a surgeon working to save the life of a patient. He is a liar. And he is presiding over a country not only paralysed by a low-level civil war, but grinding to a halt economically. The economy shrank by over 3% last year and is forecast to contract by 5.9% in 2012.
Western imposed oil sanctions have cost Syria $4bn. Inflation is now well over 30%.
The Syrian regime continues to receive diplomatic and military support from Russia and Iran.
Last Friday, Russia, China, and Cuba voted against a resolution passed by the 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva condemning Syria for the massacre in the Houla area. Russia condemned the motion as “unbalanced”.