Army shells Homs as meeting boycotted


SYRIAN TROOPS reportedly shelled dissident districts of Homs and carried out operations in other protest hubs yesterday as a meeting in Istanbul of the Syrian political opposition was boy- cotted by representatives of the main group based in Syria.

The opposition factions were meant to draft an agreement for a “peaceful political transition” to present to a conference of the “Friends of Syria” scheduled for April 1st. But the absence of input from the home front has robbed any deal reached in Turkey of credibility.

The National Co-ordination Bureau declined the invitation to attend on the grounds that the gathering “is a conference of some opposition forces only”. It said others cannot participate due to the disorganisation and abuse of power exhibited by the bureau’s chief rival, the expatriate Syrian National Council (SNC), favoured by the West and the Gulf countries which constitute the core membership of the “Friends”. The SNC has received funding, exposure and external backing, but activists in the Local Co-ordination Committees, grouped under the umbrella of the Co-ordination Bureau, have been organising protests and strikes in the streets and squares of Syria. The bureau and some other groups based in the country favour dialogue with the regime while the SNC does not.

Furthermore, the SNC is divided over the militarisation of the year-long revolt, ensuring that the group has a problematical relationship with the rebel Free Syrian Army, the name under which some local anti-regime militia groups mount attacks.

Meanwhile, Lebanese immigration officials announced that the number of Syrians crossing into Lebanon at the main border post of Masnaa has fallen by 60 per cent since the Syrian government announced travel restrictions on men of military age. Men aged 18-42 require permits from the military recruitment and immigration departments before leaving Syria. Syrians seeking to depart to other countries are also affected.

The Jordanian authorities have reportedly arrested 10 Syrian army officers posing as defectors with the aim of spying on deserters who have taken refuge in the kingdom. While some deserters join the rebels, others simply flee the country to avoid involvement in the violence that threatens to become a full-scale civil war.

The failure of the Istanbul meeting to attract credible representation could not have come at a worse time for the opposition.

Syria will be one of the main items on the agenda of the Arab summit in Baghdad at the weekend. Since the Arabs cannot agree on whether or not to arm the rebels, the summit is not expected to reach a consensus on Syria. Arab League secretary general Nabil al-Arabi said, however, it is unlikely the summit will ask Bashar al-Assad to stand down.