Syrian uprising marks second anniversary

Syrian and local children release balloons and form the word "Syria" with candles during a moment of silence the night before the second anniversary of the start of the Syrian Revolution at the Citadel, an ancient Roman landmark in Amman, Jordan on 14 March 2013. (Photo: Reuters - Mohammed Hamed)

Published Friday, March 15, 2013

Syria's devastating conflict entered its third year on Friday with EU leaders frustrated over the failure of diplomacy to end the bloodshed. Western countries are now upping pressure to arm rebels despite the United Nations’ and Russia's objections.

The conflict erupted on 15 March 2011 when protesters inspired by uprisings in other Arab countries took to the streets of cities and towns across Syria in anti-government demonstrations.

Security forces tried to suppress the demonstrations but failed to quell dissent, and protesters soon afterwards took up arms in a bid to overthrow the government.

Two years on, Syria is mired in a devastating civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people according to various estimates.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says over one million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries to escape the violence, creating an economic and humanitarian disaster.

Syria’s armed rebels have seized large swathes of territory, but growing tensions between the ideologically splintered rebels, some of whom belong to al-Qaeda-linked groups, have raised fears of a collapse into a new sectarian bloodbath.

Britain and France have announced moves to begin lifting an arms embargo on Syria to deliver weapons to anti-government forces. The issue is expected to come up again Friday at the second and final day of an EU summit in Brussels.

"Our goal is to convince our partners at the end of May, and if possible before.... If by chance there is a blockage by one or two countries, then France will take its responsibilities," French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday.

Syria’s government, like its key foreign ally Russia, said any such arms shipments would be a "flagrant violation" of international law.

The United States may look favorably on the French and British moves to give more aid to rebels, the State Department said, without explicitly backing armed support.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday said the EU needed to "proceed very cautiously" on lifting the embargo.

The UN Security Council meanwhile underscored concerns at the arms trafficking and repeated weapons fire across the Lebanon-Syria border.

The council on Thursday appealed to all Lebanese to preserve national unity in the face of attempts to undermine the country's stability and refrain from any involvement in the Syrian conflict.

In a press statement after closed-door briefings by the UN special coordinator for Lebanon and a senior UN peacekeeping official, the council expressed grave concern "at the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon's stability" and called on all parties to respect Lebanon's "policy of disassociation and to refrain from any involvement in the Syrian crisis."

The statement comes as Syria warned it may strike at rebels hiding in Lebanon if the Lebanese army does not act, as its patience "is not unlimited," the state news agency SANA said on Friday.

Syria's Foreign Ministry told its Lebanese counterpart late on Thursday that a "large number" of militants had crossed Lebanon's northern border into the Syrian town of Tel Kalakh over the past two days, SANA said.

(AFP, AP, Reuters)

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