The now months-old domestic protest movement against the hardline — and less-than-democratic — rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faced its most brutal crackdown yet this weekend, with some 75 confirmed dead:
The simultaneous raids on several cities came a day before the holy month of Ramadan, during which activists had vowed to escalate their uprising with nightly protests. The scale of the assault and the mounting death toll underlined the government’s intention to crush the uprising by force, despite international condemnations and its own tentative and mostly illusory reforms ostensibly aimed at placating protesters’ demands.
“Today we are witnessing a major assault,” said Omar Idlibi, a spokesman for the Local Coordination Committee, an opposition group that helps organize and document protests. “It is a last-minute attempt by the regime to reclaim cities that it lost control of.”
“It appears on the ground that the Syrian government has chosen to engage in full-scale warfare against its own people,” said J.J. Harder, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. “This is a regime that continues to surprise us by how horrific it can be.”
In an interview, he added that Syrian officials were “delusional.”
The Obama administration predictably lambasted the “violence and brutality,” in a Sunday statement, and assailed Assad as a regular practitioner of “torture, corruption, and terror” who has precious little time left before the forces of democracy overtake him.
There’s no sign yet that the Syrian military will hold fire and refuse Assad’s orders at some point, and, just like in Libya, no one’s exactly sure what factions — Islamists? Secular liberals? Disgruntled military officials? — will steer the nascent rebel movement.