In Syria, Chaos, Confusion and Death

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A bloody crackdown on protests in Syria has taken place under an intense media blackout, with foreign journalists barred from the country and struggling to piece together unsubstantiated reports of mass arrests and shootings. The global think tank STRATFOR offers this “Raw Intelligence Report,” a dispatch presumably from a foreigner based in Syria. Here’s an excerpt:

Support for the protests is mixed. Many of those out in the streets are there because someone close to them was killed. Think tribal mentality: I wasn’t mad at you before but you killed my cousin/brother/friend and now I am mad. People are gathering to defend their honor. There is almost no organization inside Syria among the protesters. I asked several people and they agreed that the Muslim Brotherhood was almost non-present in the country. All that is coordinated is information being leaked out about the responses by the security forces against the protesters. As I told my friend, the problem is that unlike in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, all the demonstrators are dispersed across the country and do not have enough time to talk to each other to decide what they wanted. There is also a fairly widely held belief that much of the killings are taking place as a result of these armed gangs firing on security forces and innocents being caught in the crossfire. Some are quick to blame “foreign conspirators” although several of my friends admitted that whatever meddling by Abdul Halim Khaddam (the former Syrian vice president) and Rifaat al Assad (the president’s uncle living in exile in the United Kingdom) was minimal. Both of these guys have very, very little support on the ground and while the Muslim Brotherhood might have some latent support among Sunnis, they would not be welcome by any of the minorities in Syria.

TIME’s Rania Abouzeid says some 25 people were likely killed in the town of Dara’a on Monday alone. She writes of the grim developments there:

It’s hard to separate truth from spin, but images — although they cannot be independently verified — may paint a picture of events. In one video purportedly filmed in Dara’a, a group of unarmed young men defiantly stand their ground as a tank approaches. One man, dressed in a striped sweater and baseball cap, throws a rock which meets its metal target with a clink. “You traitors!” a voice off-camera screams, apparently at the soldiers. “You traitors!” In another video, soldiers get into position near a tank, as others crouch behind a low, naked cinderblock wall and take aim as intense gunfire crackles. And in yet another also reportedly from Dara’a, streams of heavily armed soldiers in flak jackets cross a grassy field, behind several tanks. The soldiers then sink into the position, lying low in the field as they aim their weapons while dozens of unarmed civilians watch nearby.

One can only surmise what these civilians are watching — and thinking. Fears of sectarianism are on the rise and the regime’s much promised reforms, which included the lifting of an archaic emergency law, look remote, especially to those staring down the turret of a tank.