|Syrian President Bashar al-Assad|
Syrian troops opened fire on a crowd of up to 4,000 protesters in the southern city of Daraa, reported eyewitnesses. At least 61 civilians have been killed since rallies began March 18, said Human Rights Watch, after security forces opened fire on demonstrators in at least six locations around the nation.
Protesters gathered in Daraa today, inspired by pro-democracy demonstrations in other Arab countries, to call for more political freedoms in Syria.
Assad's forces fired tear gas at the crowd and live ammunition into the air to disperse the demonstrators.
|Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Shara|
Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Shara said Assad is planning to give an important speech within the next two days in an apparent effort to ease the tension. The government also has pledged that it would consider lifting some of the country's oppressive emergency laws to appease the protesters.
"I think he is not decided on whether to go on television and try to defuse the situation or choose an even more brutal crackdown route," a senior diplomat in Damascus said, Reuters reported. "I do not see Assad scrapping emergency law without replacing it with something just as bad."
Assad has been criticized by many foreign nations for his implementation of violence against his own civilians.
The domestic arguments over the Obama Administration's response to the Arab Spring have largely been, so far, the narcissism of small differences.
Conservatives have criticized the timing and at times the volume of the White House's reaction, some thought Obama should have ditched Mubarak sooner, a few thought he should have ditched him later, but it's hard to imagine President Bush or Clinton responding much differently to Egypt or Libya, or avoiding a similarly awkward straddle over Bahrain and Yemen.
The domestic argument over the unfolding crisis in Syria is different. The Administration appears to have chosen, or at least chosen to appear, to bet on and to court the oppressive, pro-Iranian ruler, Bashar al-Assad, whom Hillary Clinton cast as a "reformer." (An opposition spokesman told Eli Lake her line was "ridiculous." The Times reported yesterday that top American officials are worried his fall could scuttle the Arab-Israeli peace process, which is curious because the process barely exists.
Many of the conservatives who have, sometimes grudgingly, supported Obama over the last few weeks, view Assad as an Iranian stooge whom the U.S. should do everything to dislodge. They are, I suspect, going to breaks ranks pretty forcefully on the Administration's direction, not just the details of its possition on Syria.