If it appeared over the past two weeks that Syrian President Bashar Assad was gaining the upper hand in the battle against protesters in his country, events of the past weekend have shown that the issues across the border are far from resolved.
Some 70 people have been killed by security forces in Syria over the past two days. And today, as both sides try to take stock of the fallout from the latest clash, the focus will shift, at least in part, to the border with Israel. That border is expected to be the site of demonstrations marking the anniversary of the Naksa, the Arab defeat in the Six-Day War, with protesters attempting to repeat the bloody clashes of Nakba Day three weeks ago.
Assad has taken several steps in recent weeks to fend off protests against his regime. On the one hand, he has used brute force to suppress protests in cities and entire districts, such as Houran (especially Daraa ), Rastan and Banias; on the other, he continues to promise reforms, including a new election law and the transition to a multi-party system. Neither approach appears to have been effective, with protests erupting anew this weekend, in Hama, of all places.
It's been nearly 30 years since Bashar's father Hafez Assad and his uncle Rifat butchered city residents for their support of the Muslim Brotherhood, killing more than 17,000 people and leaving much of the ancient city in ruins.
On Friday, that chilling pair of words - Hama massacre - was heard once again in the Arab media, but this time, it was being used to describe actions undertaken by Hafez Assad's son and heir.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Hama on Friday to protest the death and injury of children by Syrian security forces. At some point, without any warning, the soldiers loosed live rounds on the crowd indiscriminately, killing at least 60 demonstrators on the spot. Hundreds more were wounded, and Arab satellite channels interviewed eyewitnesses who described the carnage. On Saturday, not tens, but hundreds of thousands, filled the streets of Hama to take part in the funeral processions for Friday's victims.
The ease with which the Assad's soldiers pull their triggers has and continues to undermine him. He has not succeeded in suppressing the protests by force, and instead, appears to be doing nothing more than fueling the flames. The prediction made by a senior Israeli security official that Assad's regime may not last longer than a few months now appears to be a likely scenario.
Assad's troubles will reflect on Israel very soon. Of all the areas where Naksa demonstrations are planned Sunday, the Golan appears to be the most sensitive. When Palestinian protesters infiltrated the border there last month, the army was caught off guard, and the outcome was quite serious. This time round, the Northern Command will be more prepared, and both deployment and intelligence operations have been improved. Still, the Syrian regime appears to have an interest in creating friction on the border, something that is already creating tension on the Israeli side.
In Lebanon, meanwhile, demonstrations have been canceled after the Lebanese army declared the border a closed military zone. No unusual protests are planned in the West Bank either, although it seems safe to assume clashes will take place at the usual flare points. Protests may also take place in Gaza and in Jordan, but no special protests are planned in the Arab Israeli community.
Still, if the previous months have proven anything, it is how difficult it is to predict and control the behavior of the masses.
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