Homs - AP - 24.2.12
An opposition activist beside a bombed oil pipeline, in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, last week. Photo by AP
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Among the civilians killed on Wednesday in Baba Amr - the neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs that has become a symbol of the opposition to the Assad regime - were the American war correspondent Marie Colvin and a French photojournalist, Remi Ochlik. In addition, the international media also lost one of the most important providers of information in the neighborhood: photographer and opposition activist Rami al-Sayed. For weeks, Sayed had supplied the media with a live video stream from Homs, even as he faced heavy shelling and gunfire from the Syrian army. According to his close friends, with his dying breath, Sayed described the situation there as a mass execution.

Despite the fact that the ongoing massacre is sometimes accompanied by fierce battles with opposition forces, Bashar Assad's advocates in Moscow and Beijing have more than 7,500 good reasons now for coming to grips with the vast scale of the atrocity being perpetrated in Syria - even as they continue to aid and abet the regime. Russia and China perhaps do not see the killing of 7,500 Syrians as a critical problem. But the situation is clearly one of a crazed dictator and despotic ruler who represents a minority sect imposing himself on his countrymen and killing thousands of them, while these two great powers remain silent.

Assad balks at nothing: artillery shelling of neighborhoods and villages; executions in the middle of the night; indiscriminate shooting of demonstrators; mass arrests; rape and torture. Yet the Syrian public in Homs, Idlib, Daraa and more recently also in Damascus and Aleppo, refuses to surrender. The demonstrations are not going to stop, and meanwhile the number of defectors from Assad's army is increasing. On Wednesday, another brigadier general joined the opposition with 200 of his troops.

Assad is managing to survive, and his government still holds the reins of power, but his future was determined months ago, when he launched the campaign of mass killing. No one can say for certain when he will be ousted, or whether it will take weeks or months - but the president can no longer turn back the tide of events.

The thousands of families whose sons and daughters have been killed by the Syrian army will never forget and never forgive. Even if the protest movement becomes less intense in the weeks ahead (though there are no signs of this ), it will erupt again in the future.

In the meantime, the international community continues to deplore the regime's actions, but its cogent declarations are not being translated into deeds. Today in Tunisia, the "Friends of Syria" gathering will take place, with the participation of top-ranking diplomats from the Arab League, Europe and the United States, who will discuss the country's future. Participants may make a decision, for example, to recognize the Syrian National Council - the leading opposition group - as the representative of the people. But in practice, even that decision (which also has its opponents ) will not stop Assad. Meanwhile, international sanctions are affecting the Syrian economy, but it is the country's citizens who are paying the price, while the regime enjoys ongoing funding from Iran.

The United States continues to hesitate about the possibility of arming the opposition. The international community, which rushed to the aid of Muammar Gadhafi's opponents in Libya, is taking no action beyond imposing economic sanctions, in the wake of discussions about how to end the killing in Syria.

Assad, who is aware of the West's weakness in the face of the stand taken by Russia and China, is thumbing his nose at both the Arab states and the international community. He is equally aware that this is a war for his survival.

The shelling of Homs, and of Baba Amr in particular, intensified this week. On Tuesday alone, the opposition reported that 107 people had been killed in the country, at least half of them in Homs, and most of those in Baba Amr. The Syrian army this week also added the city of Idlib to its bank of targets, killing dozens of its inhabitants while shelling opposition strongholds.

The only ray of light for the regime's opponents is the fact that large demonstrations against Assad were held this week in Damascus and Aleppo. For 11 months, Assad had succeeded in keeping the country's two largest cities outside the protest picture. Now that situation is nearing its end.