Robert Fisk: Uniting the opposition is necessary to avoid calamity

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The Independent Online

The French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé was here "to talk about Syria". Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan pontificated that "perhaps because Syria has not enough petroleum, there has been less interest in the West in the killing of Syrian civilians" – probably true – while every Turkish newspaper has been speculating about the Turks' future plans for action in Syria. A Turkish military cordon sanitaire inside the border with Syria seems to be the favourite.

Listening in the old capital of the Ottoman empire to the mice-turned-to-lions of the Gulf, you could almost believe these were the Last Days of Assad. Personally, I doubt it. When The Wall Street Journal announces his forthcoming demise I reckon he's safe for a good while yet. The Syrian National Council in Istanbul is itself a pretty argumentative mouse, recognised only by the pipsqueak power of the new Libya.

Yet the very final ultimatum from the Arab League – it expires tomorrow – is an extremely serious matter for the Baathist powers in Damascus. Does Syria allow a 500-strong team of observers from the league to go prowling around Homs and Hama and Deraa?

The Moroccan ambassador left Damascus after the attack on his embassy. The Qataris and Saudis left a long time ago. The German ambassador is flaunting what is supposed to be a new draft UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria. But in Turkey there is real anger at Syria's response to Turkish initiatives. There is much talk in Istanbul of cutting all oil links with Syria, of cutting back on electricity supplies to Syria – much good will that do, of course, because it is Syria's poor who will suffer. The Syrian government has generators.

What Mr Juppé and his Turkish opposite number have to chat about is perfectly clear: they want to unite the Syrian opposition and thus prevent any of the catastrophic divisions.

Since the official Syrian news agency Sana itself announced that the Arab League wanted to send observers to Syria, one can assume that Mr Moallem – which in this case means President Assad – has approved their arrival. But 500 of them? And how much freedom will they be given? And will they try to visit opposition figures inside Syria and – more to the point – find out exactly who these mysterious but real and armed insurgents are?

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