Only Putin Can Decide if - and When - Assad Will Step Down

The situation on the ground in Syria hasn't been affected by the diplomatic maneuvering at the United Nations, where Assad can still count on Russian support to block any resolution that even hints at foreign intervention.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Images of the bullet-ridden bodies of bound Syrian civilians, some all but naked, are flooding Arab television broadcasts. Syrian human rights activists say on live TV they can't collect their dead in neighborhoods that are being attacked by Syrian army mortars. The dead are estimated at more than 300 since Friday.

The many hundreds of civilians wounded in that time don't appear to have much of a chance to receive medical aid. It's not only that the hospitals are filled - many of the wounded fear heading to a clinic because they could be killed by the Syrian army.

Russia President Dmitry Medvedev, right, and Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus last year. Credit: AP

This has the been the demonstrators' toughest day in Homs, Syria's third largest city at more than 1.2 million people. Homs has become the symbol of Syria's civil uprising. The destroyed homes in the Khaldiyeh quarter are evidence of the regime's savage assault. Its new strategy to allow the army to attack and kill without distinguishing its target, as opposed to previous efforts to focus on the sources of the uprising, reflects the campaign's current stage.

Syrian demonstrators who commemorated the massacre of tens of thousands of people at Hama on Hafez Assad's orders 30 years ago can observe Bashar Assad's decision to adopt his father's methods. The younger Assad, who allowed opposition intellectuals to express their opinions during the early days of his rule and brought the Internet to his country, is proving to be a butcher keen to maintain his family's power at any price.

Thousands have fled Syria and thousands more are on their way to the improvised refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. On their way they are chased by gunfire from the Syrian army and thugs in the regime's security forces. They must pass through the mine fields laid on the border to prevent people from fleeing. Still, the demonstrations continue in Homs, Aleppo and, yesterday, on Baghdad Street in the capital Damascus.

Facing the Syrian army is the Free Syrian Army, which numbers around 30,000, including generals and several hundred junior officers. But this force only has light weapons and relies on Lebanese smugglers for its supplies. Every once in a while it takes control of a small town or suburb.

According to Syrian sources, the rebel army is supported financially by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but it can't function as a regular army. It suffers from disunity; the ranks are loyal to various commanders. Meanwhile, another "army" has been set up by deserters in Homs, but it's unclear how this force is coordinating with the Free Army. Al-Qaida might be able to penetrate this situation and spot an opportunity for a new battle led by extremist religious ideology, similar to what we've seen in Iraq.

The situation on the ground in Syria hasn't been affected by the diplomatic maneuvering at the United Nations. Syrian television shows scenes from cities anyone would want to live in. Calm streets, only a few cars, and soft elevator music playing during the broadcast. Syrian television analysts say the dead - if they acknowledge any deaths - have been caused by opposition thugs on the orders of Arab countries at the behest of Western planners.

At the United Nations, Assad can still count on Russian support, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says his country will oppose any resolution that even hints at foreign intervention, blocks arms sales, imposes international sanctions or demands that Assad step down. Lavrov says Russia wants to see a Syrian solution, "not an American one." If someone is to decide if and when Assad leaves, it will be Vladimir Putin, not Barack Obama.



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