Today, Syria’s rebel forces are launching their largest and “fiercest” offensive to date. They are, according to AFP, labeling the operation “the Damascus volcano and earthquakes of Syria,” and it will apparently involve significant assaults around the country and in the Damascus suburbs, in addition to attacks on Damascus’s city center, which Assad still easily controls. Simultaneously, the Muslim Brotherhood have called on the Syrian people to “become soldiers in the decisive battle,” and seize “this historic moment [and] . . . secure victory with your own two hands” . . . in addition to suggesting that the Syrians should organize non-violent demonstrations.
Reuters reports that more Syrian officers and civilians have fled across the border to Turkey, including a brigadier general, bringing, according to a Turkish official, the number of Syrian generals in Turkey to 18.
The regime doesn’t appear to be about to lance the rebels’ “volcano” with an airborne laser, but, more seriously, Syria’s highest-placed defector, the former ambassador to Iraq, has told the BBC that he wouldn’t rule out the chance of Assad using chemical weapons on his own people, generating much concern in the Western media. Assessing the actual risk of such a tragedy, the BBC’s security correspondent takes skepticism much too far in comparing Western hysteria over this allegation to “disturbing echoes of the sort of claims being trumpeted about Saddam’s mythical WMD in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq” (the risks are obviously different in kind, not just degree). But it’s probably worth being quite skeptical of the claim: It comes from just one civilian official who has every incentive to provide more arguments for support of the rebels and isolation of Assad — while Assad surely understands that such a move would provide clear international justification for military intervention, and make the non-interventionist policy of Russia and China much less tenable (and less costly to abandon).
Meanwhile, the international community continues to squabble over how to pressure Assad and end the violence. Britain has proposed U.N. Chapter VII resolution that, if Assad doesn’t agree to halt the violence and remove troops and artillery from the city, economic sanctions would be placed on the regime (and, further, Chapter VII also leaves open the possibility of “peacemaking” military intervention). Russia has rebuffed the proposal, but Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will meet with Hu Jintao to push for a more active response, while Kofi Annan, appointed a special envoy for the conflict, is visiting Russia. Russia has offered a counterproposal of reauthorizing the (admittedly unsuccessful) U.N. monitoring mission, while for China’s part, the People’s Daily ran an editorial upon Ban’s arrival that rejects any kind of international involvement in Syria, allowing only “a political solution.”