Patrick Cockburn: Syria is too far steeped in blood for resolution by negotiation

The government's use of brutal tactics means that it is always creating fresh enemies

Share
Related Topics

In Northern Ireland it used to be called "the politics of the last atrocity", when the latest act of violence and the retaliation it provoked dictated the direction of day-to-day politics. Syria has travelled far in this direction, its towns convulsed by mini-civil wars too bitter and bloodstained to end by mediation.

It is this which is making it so difficult for Kofi Annan, joint envoy for the UN and Arab League, to succeed in his mission. The Syrian government has demanded guarantees from the militiamen it is fighting that they will abide by a ceasefire. This is unlikely to happen given the total distrust between the two sides and with the insurgents fearful of risking torture and execution.

The skirmish on the Syrian-Turkish border is an example of the problems facing any attempt to end the fighting. Anti-government forces attacked a Syrian government checkpoint near the frontier, killed six soldiers and were then shot at as they retreated across the frontier, with bullets hitting dwellings in a nearby refugee camp.

Could this provoke Turkish intervention in the shape of a safe haven for refugees? Ankara has so far been unwilling to risk an all-out conflict. Both sides are playing to the gallery, the insurgents trying to publicise any action by the Syrian army that might goad foreign powers into action. Mr Assad needs to make a show of moderation to keep Russia and China on side.

So far it is the differences between Libya and Syria which are most striking. In Syria, Nato countries want an excuse not to do anything radical, while in Libya they were looking for a justification to intervene. And without direct action by foreign powers, the only alternative for the Free Syrian Army is to wage an escalating guerrilla war against Bashar al-Assad's government which is unlikely to bring about a collapse of the regime.

Mr Assad's options are also limited. He and his government have survived a year of pressure. During fighting in and around Homs, the Syrian army showed that it could crush any insurgent band.

But the government's brutality, including torture, summary executions and artillery bombardments of civilian areas, means it is always creating fresh enemies.

Diplomats say Mr Assad's senior officials are in a confident, and possibly an over-confident, mood. They may have stopped the tide of insurgency, but they will be unable to reverse it. Concessions made last spring might have had an impact, but since then too much blood has been spilled.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
 

Beware of the jovial buffoon who picks fights overseas

Boyd Tonkin
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect