Moaz al-Khatib, the newly appointed leader of the Syrian National
Coalition, after a meeting in the Arab League headquarters in Cairo
Scottish News: Syria - Threat of regional war heightens
by Christine Orr
The civil war in Syria is threatening to become a regional conflict as Israel and Syria exchanged fire throughout the week.
Syrian tanks and shells fired into the Israeli-held Golan Heights, the demilitarized zone lost by Damascus to Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. These have been believed to have been misfired into the area however Israel had warned that further attacks will result “in a real response”.
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Israel did return fire, once as a warning shot, the second in retaliation for a mortar shell which hit in the vicinity of Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
An Israeli military source stated, "We will not accept any firing into our territory. This was a signal to the Syrians that we will not be so forgiving of everything that lands in a territory."
The UN has been concerned for weeks that the conflict could become a regional one as Syria has exchanged fire with many of its neighbours, including key US ally Turkey. UN secretary Ban Ki Moon has called for restraint from both sides.
Ban's office said “the Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the potential for escalation. He calls for the utmost restraint and urges Syria and Israel to uphold the Disengagement Agreement, respect their mutual obligations, and halt firing of any kind across the ceasefire line.”
In response to the fighting and shelling across the Turkish border, Turkey has appealed to NATO for support. NATO has voiced its support but there is no response to the request by Turkey for Patriot missiles to be arranged to defend its border.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, "NATO as an organisation will do what it takes to protect and defend Turkey, our ally. We have more plans in place to make sure that we can protect and defend Turkey and hopefully that way also deter so that attacks on Turkey will not take place.”
Opposition groups met in Doha this week in Qatar under pressure from Western sponsors to form a coalition.
The new National Coalition of Syrian revolutionary and oppositional forces includes not just existing political groups, such as the Syrian national council (SNC), but also military groups on the ground such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
In the next ten weeks the group hopes to form a transitional government.
The coalition leader, Ahmed Maaz al-Khatib, appealed to the international community to arm their forces within Syria to try and overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad’s government. Syria has interpreted this new coalition as aggressive after it refused to discuss a negotiated solution with Assad.
Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said, "The whole world, and Syria too, says the problem in Syria should be solved in a peaceful framework and through a national dialogue, (but) the first decision taken after forming the coalition in Doha was to reject dialogue and to continue the war."
France was the first country, closely followed by Turkey, to recognise the new coalition as the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people”.
Syria has viewed this acknowledgement as akin to a “declaration of war”.
Many other countries, such as Britain and the US, have voiced their support and approval but have yet to acknowledge the coalition as legitimate.
France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, has stated this week that now a unified opposition group has been formed, France will discuss supplying arms to opposition forces on the ground along with other European partners.
Fabius said, “At the moment there is an embargo on arms, so no weapons are being delivered from Europe. The question will undoubtedly be raised for defensive weapons but it's something we can only do in coordination with the rest of Europe."
Russia, one of Assad’s key allies, has challenged this arguing that any supply of weapons is against international law. France is wary of further militarisation of the conflict but at the same time fears that ‘liberated zones’ could fall back into the hands of Assad’s forces.
There is also a fear that any weapons supplied could fall into the hands of radical groups on the ground.
British Foreign minister, William Hague, stated that a meeting had been held by the prime minister to discuss Syrian ‘options’. These are said to have included a ‘no-fly’ zone and supply of arms but Hague said that Britain’s thoughts on the matter would be presented to parliament next week.
Britain’s chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards, stated that there contingency plans were in place for a “very limited” military response in Syria if the humanitarian crisis worsens.
As of yet, he continued, military intervention had not been ruled out and David Cameron has expressed the desire to allow the current EU arms embargo to expire and supply weapons to opposition forces within Syria.
“Safe zones” for civilians and refugees have also been considered however the establishment of a “no-fly” zone would be required, something which Britain seems reluctant to establish without the support and assistance of the US.
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