Has the Syrian civil war started already?
The killing of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik, two journalists covering the clashes between the Syrian army and the dissident groups in Homs, was a turning point regarding the acceleration of developments in Syria.
The referendum on the constitutional amendments four days later in February was not taken seriously by the international community, apart from in Iran, Russia and perhaps China, which is seemingly following Russia’s footsteps on this matter.
But what is actually happening in Syria is taken very seriously by the rest of the international community.
We can now see Syrian army tanks and armored vehicles in the streets of Homs and other cities. Journalists, even those invited by the Syrian government to witness the democratic atmosphere of the referendum - which was reported by the Hürriyet Daily News as an “open ballot, secret count” - told the world that even at the outskirts of the capital Damascus they could feel the influence of the armed opposition.
Yes, there are armed opposition groups now and we can see them fighting with government forces. The Syrian National Council, which has main offices in Istanbul and Paris, announced earlier in the week that - upon offers of weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar - it was considering setting up a military office “near to the field.” The country is on the brink of a civil war now, if it has not already entered.
Turkey, which shares a border of more than 900 kilometers with Syria, said it had no plans to allow arms to be transferred to Syrian dissidents using Turkish territory. The U.S. says that transferring arms to Syrian dissidents might not be the best idea at the moment, since there is the risk of such arms getting into the hands of al-Qaeda or affiliated groups. France, as one of the major actors, has announced that it is against a Libya-style military operation into Syria without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council.
Russia (and China) object to such a U.N. mandate, blaming the West for helping the dissident groups with the aim of overthrowing the al-Assad regime, but at the same time started to gave a green light to the idea of humanitarian assistance, which in practice would bring military protection at least.
Following the U.S. and the U.K., France announced on March 2nd that the French Embassy in Damascus had been closed. The EU followed the Arab League in its Tunisia summit on Feb. 24, recognizing the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. On March 2, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu met with representatives of the council in Istanbul.
To complete the picture, Turkish President Abdullah Gül told Reuters that the best thing al-Assad could do would be to take the Yemen model and leave his chair to his deputy. This is not because the Yemen model is excellent, but as a gentle way to say “step down for your life.” We shall see if this will find any echo in Damascus, which might still choose not to hear, with Russian and Iranian headphones singing encouraging tunes.
But the situation is getting tenser, with more people being lost every day.