An analysis of the Syrian civil war

Bashar al-Assad
President Bashar al-Assad (1)

1. “Day of Rage”
Many a famous personage in history is honored with a sobriquet, often describing a characteristic feature of his personality: So we can assume that “Charles the Bald” did not have a lot of hair, “Pepin the Short” was rather small, and Elvis is simply “The King”, even so he is not of noble birth. So when the media is calling the Syrian President “Assad the Slaughterer”, you know what to think. At least you think so.
Although the topic of the Syrian civil war is on everybody’s lips nowadays, scarcely anybody is thoroughly informed about how it began. And that’s no wonder: At the point of time in question you can find almost everywhere in the Arabic World demonstrations for democracy, freedom of speech and other praiseworthy goals. The focus of public attention lies on Egypt and Tunisia, later on Libya. In the western media the news about Syria are rather scarce – not least because at first not much is happening at all. The Syrian people does not show much inclination to demonstrate when Syrian activists – which interestingly reside mainly abroad – proclaim the 4th of February by means of Facebook as “Day of Rage” modelled on the Egyptian example.
“Al Jazeera” predicts that the streets will remain empty – and proves to be right [1]. Western media in the meantime are obviously disappointed [2,3]: They assume that the unwillingness of the Syrian population to fight for freedom and democracy is due to the fact that people fear the henchmen of the dictator. The German newspaper “Die Zeit” however speculates that the reluctance of the Syrians to get rid of their president might also be explained by the fact that the Syrians well remember what happened to the neighboring country Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein[4]: Like in Iraq also in Syria a weakening of the central government might trigger violence between religious groups. And “Al Jazeera” directly states: “Sources in Syria told Al Jazeera they doubted that the calls for protests would really result in much action on the ground. ‘I think the day of anger will turn out to be no more than a day of mild frustration’, one journalist told Al Jazeera. ‘There’s no appetite for regime change in Syria as there has been in Egypt for a while. The president isn’t hated as much as [Hosni] Mubarak, or seen as out of touch. Also, the local context is very different … and the poverty rate is significantly lower than in Egypt.’”[5] The latter is also confirmed by “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”[6]: “Even critics of Assad have to acknowledge that after his inauguration in 2000 a successful process of economic opening has started. Since then the unemployment rate has gradually dropped, officially only one of ten Syrians live in poverty. This has to be compared to the poverty rate of forty percent in Egypt, which between 1958 and 1961 was united with Syria in the United Arabic Republic.”
Certain websites, like for example Facebook, seem to have been blocked between 2007 and 8th of February 2011[7,8], but it was possible to access them anyway by means of proxy-servers. However, the allegation made by some German media [9,10], that the Syrian government had switched off the internet at the “Day of Rage” seems to be incorrect. The internet platform “Global Voices” shows reactions of twitter-users in Syria, which indignantly reject the allegation that the internet had been switched off [11]. While the article in “Die Zeit” claims that internet had been switched off, a German reader living in Syria explicitly states in a comment to this very article that internet had been working all day long without interruption or even slackening of the speed.

2. Background information
There are three potential sources of unrest in Syrian society.
1) Politico-social reforms are necessary. Since 1963 the Ba’th party has the exclusive governmental power; an emergency law is limiting the freedom of assembly and permits the arresting of those who are considered a possible threat to security. Demonstrations are practically not allowed.
2) The majority of the population belongs to the Sunni branch of Islam, while the president is descendant from an Alawite family and the key positions in government and military are held by Alawites. Up in the north Kurds are living; due to a controversial population census in 1962 to more than three hundred thousand of them Syrian citizenship is not granted [12]. This situation is often depicted by the western media as a religious-ethical conflict, but it was never especially relevant for daily life in Syria. Moreover, the Sunni middle class used to support President Assad, whose wife is a Sunni Muslim herself. The same is true for the numerous clans living in Syria, to which since the seventies a certain independence is granted as long as they stay loyal towards the government. Some of the tribal elders even represent their district in the People’s Council. Among the younger members of the tribes however you can find some who are susceptible for radical Islamist ideologies [13]. The head of the Syrian-Kurdish-Initiative Omar Ossi explicitly states at the beginning of the crisis, that the Kurdish people in Syria are nationalistic and don’t have separatist tendencies [14a]. Interestingly, the Druze which led the uprising against the French mandate in 1925 abstain from hostilities and passively support the Syrian President. Religious minorities like Christians feel save due to Assad’s secular political course [14b,c]. In July 2009 the University of Heidelberg invited to a colloquium depicting Syria as an exemplary case of a peaceful coexistence of different confessions [14d]: “Europeans see the Middle East as a conflict region. However, in Syria, which is occasionally ranked among the ‚rogue states‘, already since a long time many different ethnic groups and religious communities live peacefully side by side. ‚Syria – homeland of different languages, religions and cultures‘ is the title of a colloquium taking place between 21st and 22nd of July at the International Science Forum of the University of Heidelberg. The central question will be whether the Syrian Model of peaceful coexistence can be an example for other countries of the Middle East. This conference, which is organized by the Seminar for Languages and Cultures of the Middle East, is supported by the Fritz-Thyssen-Foundation. ‚In no other country of this region so many ethnic groups with different religions and languages live together like in Syria‘, says Prof. Dr. Werner Arnold, the holder of the chair for Semitic studies, who organized the colloquium: There are Arabs, Westerns Arameans, Eastern Aramean Assyrians and Syrians, Armenians, Circassians, Chechens, Greek speaking Muslims from Crete, the Dom people, Kurds, Turkish people and Turkmens. Most languages spoken in Syria are Semitic, but there are also Indo-European and Turk languages. All major religions are present in Syria: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. According to Werner Arnold, one of the reasons, why this peaceful coexistence is possible in Syria, is the non-denominational doctrine of the Arabic-nationalistic Ba’th party.’”
3) However, the Sunni peasants in the rural regions, especially Daraa, where the first demonstrations take place, are discontent, but not because they are governed by an Alawite. The population of Daraa is regarded as loyal to Assad’s government. What is really troubling them is the drought which already for four years ruins their harvest. The government bears responsibility for their deplorable situation only insofar as it didn’t manage to implement certain agricultural reforms, including the improvement of irrigation systems [15].
Of the three mentioned points the third aspect is the most substantial.

3. President Assad’s reform policies
Especially the western world had great expectations when the young president, who had performed part of his postgraduate training in ophthalmology in Great Britain, took office in 2000. And indeed some economic and social reforms were implemented under his rule. However, announcements about lifting the emergency law and changing article 8 of the constitution, which gives the Ba’th party a leading position in society and state [16], were not put into practice.
In 2008 representatives of a number of Arabic countries, among others Syria, meet at a EU-promoted conference in Cairo to discuss strategies to improve the freedom of assembly. Within a three years time frame in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria the national laws concerning the freedom of unification of political parties, civil organizations and trade unions should be liberalized and aligned with international standards [17].
Shortly before the beginning of the crisis the Syrian President in a “Wall Street Journal” interview still points out that reforms are in planning [18]: “We started the reform since I became a president. But the way we look at the reform is different from the way you look at it. For us, you cannot put the horses before the carriage. If you want to start, you have to start with 1, 2, 3, 4… you cannot start with 6 and then go back to one.” About the Arabian Spring and the situation in Syria he says: “If you want to make a comparison between what is happening in Egypt and Syria, you have to look from a different point: why is Syria stable, although we have more difficult conditions? Egypt has been supported financially by the United States, while we are under embargo by most countries of the world. We have growth although we do not have many of the basic needs for the people […] They [certain foreign nations] tell you move faster and at the same time they impose an embargo!” Let it be understood that the embargo the Syrian President is referring to is already existing since quite some time and stands in no connections with the uprisings which are yet to come in Syria. Although it was under the Bush administration that Syria was put on the “Axis of Evil”, the roots of the resentment between the two states dates back to the times of the Cold War.
The head of the “Zentrum für Forschung zur Arabischen Welt” at the university of Mainz, Günther Meyer, acknowledges that Bashar al-Assad in the beginning of his presidentship started some careful reforms, and blames it on the influence of the old advisors of Bashar’s father Hafez al-Assad, which Bashar could not prevail over, that not all of them were successfully implemented [19].
The president himself however expresses his views on the topic in his speech to the People’s Assembly [20] in the following way: The government is working on the lifting of the emergency law and the changing of the party law already since 2010. These measures had been decided even earlier, namely at the Ba’th Party Regional Conference in 2005. The reason why the implementation proceeded only sluggishly is due to the fact that the Middle East – and Syria as a part of the region – since 9/11 is in an almost chaotic state. [Here he has in mind the following events: 2000: Second Intifada, 2001: Afghanistan War, 2003: Iraq War, 2005: Murder of al-Hariri in Lebanon, 2006: Lebanon War. From this point on Syria’s relations to the United States and Israel are deteriorating rapidly. 2008: Gaza War] Matters of foreign affairs and the securing of Syria’s stability therefore had higher priorities than inner political reforms, which under such circumstances even bear a certain danger. He admits that these reasons of course don’t justify the delay of necessary reforms and stresses that the government is not reluctant to perform them. Thanks to personal contacts he knows that the big majority of the population is concerned about problems related to living conditions and other everyday needs. The lifting of the emergency law comes only in second place. Questions concerning the living standards therefore must be the main focus of domestic policy. Moreover, in the above mentioned interview with the “Wall Street Journal” the president points out that a reform is more than a signature on a draft bill. The difficulties of implementing reforms for Syria lies in the fact that the necessary institutions do not exist and have to be installed first.

4. Demonstrations
Daraa is one of fourteen governorates in Syria. Situated in the south of the country it has a direct border to Jordan. Its capital is also called Daraa. Each governorate is headed by a governor, which amongst other things is responsible for administration, health care and maintenance of law and order in his governorate.
In Daraa law and order are in the hands of the local security chief Atef Najib, a cousin of Bashar al-Assad. The population detests Najib. In the end of February 2011 his men arrest a group [21] of adolescents (their average age is about fifteen), because they had smeared political graffiti like “Down with the government” and “It’s your turn, doctor” on the schoolhouse walls [22]. They were imprisoned and subsequently interrogated in a very brutal manner which can be considered as torturing [23a]. The gang consisted of seven boys but only three of them were captured. Since the security forces could not believe that no grown-ups were involved they pressed so long on the boy, who three years later told his story in public, that he gave them the names of older people who had not been involved at all. This led to the arrest of twenty-four people.
The motive of their deed was not so much the wish for a democratic change, the boy says in the interview, he and his friends had rather acted out of boredom. On the day in question they had been chatting about the events taking place in Egypt and Tunisia and had decided to do “something”.
The relationship between these young people and the security forces had never been an especially cordial one: The security officers didn’t like that the boys hang around at public squares, and this is why the boys don’t like them. Special attention should be drawn to the fact, that the youth call the ophthalmologist Bashar al-Assad scornfully “the doctor”. This implies that there is a certain class difference between these boys living in the rural area of Daraa with no great perspectives of ever leaving it on the one hand, and Bashar al-Assad who studied in Great Britain and lives in beautiful Damascus on the other hand. The boys are not part of an educated middle-class yearning for democratic participation. They hate Bashar al-Assad not as a president or member of the Alawite confession, but as a representative of a socially privileged class.
When the parents of the arrested boys ask the security service about the whereabouts of their sons they are told to “forget about their sons and make new ones”.

On 11th of March „reuters“ reports citing SANA that Syrian security forces seized a large shipment of weapons and explosives as well as night-vision goggles in a truck coming from Iraq this week. According to the driver, the weapons had been loaded in Baghdad, and he should receive 5000 Dollar for transporting them.[23b]


Another “Day of Rage” (15th of March) comes and goes without much participation. Depending on the sources some dozens or hundreds of people demonstrate in Damaskus, Deir az-Zor and Halab and demand among other things the release of political prisoners [24].
18th of March 2011 can be considered as the beginning of the Syrian crisis. In Daraa people take to the streets, their target is however not the president but Atef Najib: “’When it started, you could say it was a revolution against Atef Najib. There were lots of other issues, but he was the reason people went out, he pushed them past the point of no return‘, said a member of an influential Deraa family with close ties to the regime. ‚It became a revolution against Bashar but right at the beginning they just wanted Najib gone, everyone hated him‘.” [25]
Without doubt some of the participants protested for democratic values like the lifting of the emergency law and the changing of article 8, and demanded that stronger measures should be taken against corruption. But it should be paid attention to the fact that slogans like “all Christians to Beirut, all Alawites to the coffin” could be heard at demonstrations from the beginning on. This indicates that these demonstration were infiltrated by extremist groups already in the initial stage. “Der Spiegel” confirms this conjecture by writing on 6th of April, that Islamists were participating in the rallies for some weeks (in other words: since the beginning) [26].
The security forces – which are under the command of Najib – shoot at the demonstrators [27]. Three (other sources say four) of them die, many others (most sources agree on the round number hundred) get injured. Why they acted in such brutal manner, which stands in contrast to the peaceful and unbloody demonstrations in other parts of the country, is still an unresolved question. Maybe they simply panicked when suddenly facing a crowd of agitated people (they were some province policemen after all, which never saw a demonstration in their life and may have been overchallenged by the task), or maybe Najib ordered them to shoot.
Over the following two days further demonstrators gather on occasion of the funerals of the victims. Again conflicts with the local police arise. On Sunday, March 20th, President Assad dismisses the governor of Daraa from his position, because the governor had made “grave mistakes in dealing with the protests in the region”. Government representatives visit the families of the killed demonstrators and promise that the people responsible for the “disproportionate and deadly violence” will be punished. Furthermore, the boys, who had been arrested after spraying graffiti on the school walls, are set free [28,29]. On the same day, demonstrators in Daraa ignite several official buildings like the palace of justice, the residence of the governor, the headquarters of the Ba’th party, but also the branch office of the mobile network provider “SyriaTel”, which is owned by Rami Machluf, a cousin of President Bashar al-Assad [30,31]. SANA reports, that agitators also assaulted public hospitals and shot at the police [29].
On March 23rd several demonstrators lose their lives in front of the al-Omari mosque (Daraa-City), when security forces take the building by storm. While the government opponents depict the incident as an attack by the police on peaceful demonstrators, the government describes the same event as a campaign against an armed gang [32,33,34]: An official source states that an “armed gang” had opened fire on a medical team in an ambulance, which was passing nearby the al-Omari mosque. A doctor, a paramedic and the driver died. Security forces thereupon attacked the armed men, one police man was killed in the process. When the security forces entered the mosque, they found different types of weapons stored there, among them hand grenades, machine guns and Kalashnikov rifles, as well as ammunition and bundles of money. The Syrian television showed pictures of this weapon stockpile. Furthermore, there were snipers firing from the rooftops of surrounding houses at civilians. Journalists in Daraa received death threats through SMS messages from abroad and asked the security forces for protection [35].
Meanwhile President Assad announces reforms, especially the lifting of the emergency law and the abolition of the party law. In addition he promises that wages would be raised and the measures of fighting against corruption be improved [36]. Neither the opposition nor the western media trust the offer, but the Syrian President is quick to perform his promises: On April 7th he issues a decree declaring that a part of the stateless Kurds will receive the Syrian citizenship [37,38], and already on April 21st the emergency law is lifted, people are granted the right to demonstrate and the State Security Court is abolished [39,40]. (The constitutional change needed to introduce a multiparty system is realized in 2012). Despite these concessions the president continues to insist that the riots are instigated from abroad and that there is no real gap between the population and its government [41]. Here is an excerpt from his speech at the People’s Assembly which he held on 30th of March [42]: “ […] So, they mixed up three elements: sedition, reform, and daily needs. Most of the Syrian people call for reform, and you are all reformers. Most of the Syrian people have unmet needs; and we all discuss, criticize, and have our disagreements because we have not met many of the needs of the Syrian people. But sedition has become part of the issue and started to lead the other two factors and take cover under them. That is why it was easy to mislead many people who demonstrated in the beginning with good intensions. We cannot say that all those who demonstrated are conspirators. This is not true, and we want to be clear and realistic.
The conspirators are few in number, this is natural. Even we, in the government, did not know, like everybody else, and did not understand what was happening until acts of sabotage started to emerge. Things became clearer; for what is the link between reform and sabotage? What is the link between reform and murder? Some satellite T.V. stations actually spoke about attacking certain buildings an hour before they were actually attacked. How did they know that? Do they read the future? This happened more than once. Then, things started to become clearer. They will say that we believe in the conspiracy theory. In fact there is no conspiracy theory. There is a conspiracy.”
In the following he elaborates his “conspiracy theory“: “ […] I have been advised by many people not to talk about details and to stick to generalities, but I will address these details as usual in order to be fully transparent.
In the beginning they started with incitement, many weeks before trouble started in Syria. They used the satellite T.V. stations and the internet but did not achieve anything. And then, using sedition, started to produce fake information, voices, images, etc. they forged everything. Then they started to use the sectarian element. They sent SMSs to members of a certain sect alerting them that another sect will attack them. And in order to be credible, they sent masked people to neighborhoods with different sects living in them, knocking on people’s doors and telling each that that the other sect has already attacked and are on the streets, in order to get a reaction. And it worked for a while. But we were able to nip the sedition in the bud by getting community leaders to meet and diffuse the situation. Then they used weapons. They started killing people at random; because they knew when there is blood it becomes more difficult to solve the problem.
We have not yet discovered the whole structure of this conspiracy. We have discovered part of it but it is highly organized. There are support groups in more than one governorate linked to some countries abroad. There are media groups, forgery groups and groups of “eye-witnesses”. […] Since some people have short memory, I will refresh their memory once again by saying that not all of what is happening is a conspiracy, because I know that they are on the ready in their studios to comment.”
On March 25th the army headquarters in as-Sanamin (located around 50 km south of Damaskus) is attacked by a group of armed men. Several of them lose their lives in the attempt [43]. In Latakia between five and seven people are killed by snipers firing from rooftops. Government opponents suspect security forces standing behind these assassinations. The government denies any involvement [44a]. More people die over the weekend; the British „Telegraph“ claims that the Alawi ash-Shabiha militia, which is loyal to the Assad family, participated in the violence [44b].
On 29th of March ten thousands of people – the Syrian media even speak of an order of magnitude more – gather in Damascus to show their support of President Assad. Similar demonstrations are performed in other cities throughout the country. Members of trade unions controlled by the Ba’th party tell western media that they had been asked to appear at this event [45,46a]. Orient expert Professor Günter Meyer of the University of Mainz remarks: “Yes, the countryside where the rebellion originated had been neglected the last years, and a drought aggravated the situation. But at the same time the population in the biggest cities Damascus and Aleppo had profited from the economy reforms of the government. There Assad has his biggest support. It is therefore wrong when western media depict the two million people who demonstrated in Assads favour as paid cheerers.” [46b] On the same day the Cabinet of the Prime Minister resigns.
In the context of comparably big pro-Assad demonstrations taking place in October the same year, the American Journalist Nir Rosen tells Al Jazeera: “We might not like to think that but authoritarian regimes sometimes have popular support. In the whole of the Arab countries, certainly the Syrian regime has the largest base of popular support and much of the country still supports him [Assad]. Not only Alawite and the Christian community, but even Sunni Bourgeoisie in Damascus and Aleppo support President Assad. They may be afraid of the unknown, or the civil war, or they may genuinely believe that Assad has done good stuff for the country.” [47]
Referring to an official source SANA reports on April the 1st, that in Duma (a suburb of Damascus) and Homs snipers had shot at citizens and security forces likewise [48]. Several armed men had been arrested when they tried to burglarize a pharmacy. The robbers also had opened fire on civilians trying to help the security forces with the arrest [49]. From the point of view of western media, which refer to activists and eye-witnesses, demonstrators were peacefully rallying for freedom and democracy when security forces started to shoot at them without any reason.
On 7th of April President Assad issues a legislative decree granting Syrian citizenship to a part of the Kurds registered as foreigners in al-Hasakah [50a]. In an attempt to appease the Islamists among the demonstrators, the government proclaims on April 6th that all women working in the educational sector are allowed again to wear the “niqab”, a veil which hides the face [50b]. In an attempt to separate Church and State the President in 2010 had forbidden women working in the educational sector to wear that kind of veil. The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” wrote: “The debate on the niqab, which veils the face and the body [Annotation: The niqab only veils the face and not the whole body, as the journalist claims. However, the niqab is often combined with the so called ‘chador’. This combination looks similar to the ‘burqa’ (garment, which covers face and body)] irritates the Arabic societies. Now it [the debate] has also reached Syria which is praised for being secular: The government has forbidden to wear the niqab at universities and colleges. ‘We instructed the universities not to admit women wearing the niqab’, an official said.”[50c]
On 8th of April Syrian media reports that armed men in Daraa had opened fire on civilians and security forces likewise [51]. The official source at the Interior Ministry, which “Tishreen” (a state-owned Syrian newspaper) refers to, reports, that these policemen had been unarmed, because “there are strict instructions to all policemen and security forces whose mission necessitates their presence in places of gatherings not to carry weapons”. ‏Earlier, the Syrian television had shown footage of gunmen shooting at citizens, security forces and policemen in Daraa. Samer Wassouf, a member of the security forces, which had been shot in the leg, reports that armed men had attacked the police department of Talldaw thereby opening fire randomly on officers and the building and setting fire to several cars. That indeed the snipers use to shoot on security forces as well, even the opposition does not deny (so an Al Jazeera article from the end of the month implies) [52]. But in their interpretation the snipers are actually members of the Syrian security forces who intentionally shoot at their colleagues in order to create confusion.
Referring to eye-witnesses, “Der Spiegel” writes about the same event that twenty-two people had been killed when security forces without any reason had opened fire on a crowd of about four thousand people. More details are not given [53].
On 11th of April security forces are being ambushed near Baniyas on the highway connecting the two coastal cities Latakia and Tartous. Nine soldiers die, two of them high-ranking army officers. Dozens get wounded [54]. Referring to eye-witnesses and an anonymous activist “Der Spiegel” reports that security forces seal off Baniyas with the help of street blockades. Soldiers had approached in jeeps, and tanks had taken up position in front of the coastal city [55]. (To go with such a contingent against unarmed demonstrators surely is an extraordinary maneuver and may be unique in military history.)
On 14th of April the Lebanese border police arrests two men, a Syrian and a Lebanese, while trying to cross the border. In the two cars the policemen find Kalashnikov rifles, semi-automatic weapons and several bombs [56].
In Homs on 17th of April brigade general Khodr Tellawi, a member of the Alawi confession, is killed together with his two teenage sons and a nephew. The general, who was not on duty at that point of time, the boys and the nephew had been dragged out of the car and killed, their bodies were discovered in a mutilated state. While the government blames the murder on armed rebels, the opposition has a plausible explanation for what had actually happened: The Syrian secret service must have executed the four people, because they had shown signs of sympathy with the protesters [57].
The same day a refrigerator truck is stopped on the Syrian-Iraqi border when it tried to cross the border from Iraq into Syria [58]. Inside the truck the authorities find up-to-date machine guns of various kinds, automatic rifles, sniper rifles, pistols, night-vision scopes, grenade launchers and large quantities of various kinds of ammunition. The weapons had been hidden in a 12-meter-long secret compartment, well-prepared and equipped with compressors for opening it. They had been enveloped in a tin material so as not to be detected by devices. Other consignments of that kind had been intercepted recently, says the director-general of the Syrian customs, Mustafa al-Bikai. The truck driver, an Iraqi by the name of Hussein Karim Jabbar claims in Syrian TV that he had received 20.000 USD per trip.
On the same day the “Washington Post” reports on US-cables which had been published by WikiLeaks. According to these cables the US State Department had supported Syrian opposition groups and other projects directed against the Syrian government with six million dollars [59a]. The payments started in 2005 under the Bush administration and are traceable at least through September 2010. The London-based satellite channel BaradaTV, which broadcasts anti-Assad television programs into Syria, seems to have especially profited from this money. BaradaTV has tight connections to a network of Syrian exiles in London, the “Movement for Justice and Development”, who work on a regime change in Syria. Their leaders are described in the cables as “moderate liberal Islamists”. They are former members of the Muslim Brotherhood and openly campaign for the overthrow of President Assad.
The financing of the “Movement for Justice and Development” by the US State Department is/was done through a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization which bears the impressive name “Democracy Council”. As the cables reveal, US diplomats from 2009 on became increasingly worried that the Syrian secret service had found out about the secret program to finance Syrian opposition. Also interesting in this context: The famous German foreign correspondent Peter Scholl-Latour describes in his book “Der Fluch der Bösen Tat” [59b] his encounter with an officer of the rebel group “Free Syrian Army” which formerly served in the rank of a major in the government army: “He [the major] can testify, that the insurgency in Daraa was not completely spontaneous. One year ago he himself [when he still served in the government army] had been contacted by Jordanian and covered American agents. By promising him financial advantage they tried to encourage him to join a rebel group which should be called “Free Syrian Army”. The structures of this group would be provided on Jordanian soil. Thanks to massive financing by Saudi-Arabia and Qatar, but also under the management of the CIA the rebels were armed with modern military equipment.” The major didn’t respond to the offer at that point of time, but joint the FSA later when his brother was arrested by the Syrian secret service, who accused him of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The former foreign minister of France Roland Dumas said in a French TV-interview that Great Britain had planned a covert mission in Syria already in 2009: „I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was preparing gunmen to invade Syria.“ [59,c, 59d]

These examples illustrate that Syria faces certain difficulties concerning the policy some countries have adopted towards it [60]. Maybe now it becomes a bit more understandable why Bashar al-Assad isn’t too eager to tear down the police apparatus his father has established.
On 19th of April the Syrian Cabinet approves a draft bill on the lifting of the emergency law and the abolition of the State Security Courts. People have now the right to make demonstrations. Paradoxically, according to the reports of eye-witnesses, the security forces suppress the demonstrators with undiminished violence [61]. The demonstrations continue even though the Syrian President has fulfilled all demands and works on a constitutional change which will introduce a multiparty system. The president signs the draft bill on 21st of April. From that moment on the reforms are in force.
One day later human rights activists report that seventy people – the “New York Times” even speaks of eighty one [62]– got killed in Syria. In Asraa snipers had opened fire on civilians from rooftops and killed eighteen people [63].
Only four more days pass – it is the 25th of April – and already tanks and three thousand soldiers are required to deal with the peaceful demonstrators in Daraa city. After the security forces had arrived, immediately you could hear the noises of gunfire exchange, activists report to foreign news agencies [64,65]. Since for a gunfire exchange always two parties are required, we can assume that at least some of the demonstrators were in the possession of some sort of shooting weapons. In addition, the activists report that in Nawa (governorate Daraa) the citizens had set up roadblocks out of fear of the army. Some of these citizens are armed, the activists say. Unfortunately they do not explain where they got these weapons from. Maybe the weapons had been given to them by deserters from the army who didn’t have the heart to shoot at their own population. Or maybe they had been smuggled inside Syria across the Jordanian border (Daraa has a direct border to Jordan), which would explain why the Syrian army had closed this border before going with its tanks against Daraa.
From this date on it is obvious that an armed conflict is taking place, and so I finish my description of the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

Sources:

[1] „Calls for weekend protests in Syria“ (Al Jazeera): http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/02/201122171649677912.html
[2] „’Day of Rage‘ for Syrians fails to draw protesters“ (New York Times): http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/05/world/middleeast/05syria.html
[3] „Syria and the Day of Rage that did not happen“ (WL Central): http://wlcentral.org/node/1227
[4] „’Tag des Zorns‘ in Syrien fällt aus“ (Die Zeit): http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2011-02/syrien-protest-assad
[5] „Calls for weekend protests in Syria“ (Al Jazeera): http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/02/201122171649677912.html
[6] „’Tag des Zorns‘ in Syrien“ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung): http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/naher-osten/aufruhr-in-der-arabischen-welt-tag-des-zorns-in-syrien-1596760.html
[7] “Syria blocks Facebook in Internet-crackdown“ (Reuters): http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/11/23/us-syria-facebook-idUSOWE37285020071123
Annotation: Reuters only source seem to be “some facebook-users”
[8] „Facebook and Youtube in Syria unblocked today“: http://thenextweb.com/me/2011/02/08/facebook-and-youtube-to-be-unblocked-in-syria-today/
[9] „’Tag des Zorns‘ scheitert in Syrien am Regime“ (Die Welt): http://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article12449794/Tag-des-Zorns-scheitert-in-Syrien-am-Regime.html
[10] „’Tag des Zorns‘ in Syrien fällt aus“ (Die Zeit): http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2011-02/syrien-protest-assad
[11] „Syrien: Leere am ‚Tag der Wut’“ (Global Voices): http://de.globalvoicesonline.org/2011/02/06/syrien-leere-am-tag-der-wut/
[12] In 1962 the census stripped about 120.000 Kurds of their citizenship. The then government – this was before the Ba’th party took power – tried to justify its action by claiming that these Kurds actually where not Syrians but Kurds which had immigrated to Syria from the Kurdish regions in Turkey and Iraq.
[13] „Tribalism and the Syrian Crisis” (Al Monitor): http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/culture/2013/01/tribalism-clans-syria.html#
[14a] „Head of Syrian-Kurdish Initiative: western hostile departments try to imitate chaos, Daraa citizens reject acts of troublemakers” (IMRA mit Verweis auf SANA): http://www.imra.org.il/story.php3?id=51474

[14b] „Christen in Syrien: ‚Mit Assad leben wir besser'“ (tagesschau): https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/syrien-christen-ostern100.html

[14c] „Syrischer Patriarch kritisiert Deutschlands Flüchtlingspolitik“ (FAZ): http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/fluechtlingskrise/syrischer-patriarch-kritisiert-deutschlands-fluechtlingspolitik-13893521.html

[14d] „Das syrische Modell friedlicher Koexistenz: Muslime, Christen und Juden“ (University of Heidelberg): https://www.uni-heidelberg.de/presse/news09/pm290710-2syr.html
[15] „Sowing the Seeds of Dissent: Economic Grievances and the Syrian Social Contract’s Unraveling” (jadaliyya): http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/4383/sowing-the-seeds-of-dissent_economic-grievances-an
[16] Syrian constitution: http://www.law.yale.edu/rcw/rcw/jurisdictions/asw/syrianarabrep/syria_constitution.htm
[17] „Kairo: Arabische Konferenz verlangt Versammlungsfreiheit“: http://www.thomas-dehler-stiftung.de/Aktuelles-International/617c2422i1p/index.html
[18] „Interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad“ (Wall Street Journal): http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703833204576114712441122894
[19] „Reformen in Syrien ‘unbedingt erforderlich’“ (Deutschlandradio Kultur): http://www.deutschlandradiokultur.de/reformen-in-syrien-unbedingt-erforderlich.1008.de.html?dram:article_id=163907
[20] „President Bashar al-Assads Speech to the People’s Assembly, March 30th, 2011”: http://www.presidentassad.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=305:president-bashar-al-assad-s-a-speechat-the-people-s-assembly-march-30-2011&catid=117&Itemid=496

Annotation: The complete speech is given in the second half of the article
[21] Depending on the source the number of the youth arrested varies significantly from three up to twenty. Since three years after these events one of the gang reveals his story, we can assume that the correct story is the one I give above.
In general I learned during my research that on numbers cannot be relied. Different sources do not even coincide in such apparently simple questions like for example how many people live in Daraa. Sometimes you can read in western press that Daraa has around 300.000 inhabitants, whereas 80.000 – 100.000 is closer to the real value. Hundreds of demonstrators become thousands, thousands become ten thousands, ten thousands will be a million. When the question comes to counting of dead bodies and injured people, all hope to retrieve useful information is lost.
[22] „Der Bürgerkrieg in Syrien begann mit diesem Jungen“ (Die Welt): http://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article119580585/Der-Buergerkrieg-in-Syrien-begann-mit-diesem-Jungen.html
[23a] “Revealed: The boy prankster who triggered Syria’s bloody genocide with slogans sprayed in his schoolyard”: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2315888/Revealed-The-boy-prankster-triggered-Syrias-bloody-genocide-slogans-sprayed-schoolyard.html

[23b] “Syria says seizes weapons smuggled from Iraq” (Reuters): http://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-iraq-idUSTRE72A3MI20110311

[24] “Mid-East unrest: Syrian protests in Damascus and Aleppo” (BBC): http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-12749674
[25] „The man who ignited the Syrian revolution“ (The National): http://www.thenational.ae/world/syria/the-man-who-ignited-the-syrian-revolution
[26] „Proteste in Syrien: Assad buhlt um Islamisten“ (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/proteste-in-syrien-assad-buhlt-um-islamisten-a-755495.html
[27] „Middle East unrest: Three killed at protest in Syria” (BBC): http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-12791738
[28] „Aufstand in Syrien: Assad entlässt Gouverneur der Unruheprovinz“ (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/aufstand-in-syrien-assad-entlaesst-gouverneur-der-unruheprovinz-a-752116.html
[29] „Officers Fire on Crowd as Syrian Protests Grow” (New York Times): http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/21/world/middleeast/21syria.html?_r=0
[30] „Das syrische Regime lässt auf Demonstranten feuern“ (Die Zeit): http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2011-03/syrien-unruhen
[31] „Syria protesters torch buildings“ (Al Jazeera): http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/03/2011320113138901721.html
[32] „Proteste in Syrien: Polizei schießt erneut auf Demonstranten“ (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/proteste-in-daraa-polizei-schiesst-erneut-auf-demonstranten-in-syrien-a-752837.html
[33] „Syria: Four killed in Deraa as protests spread across south“ (The Guardian): http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/mar/22/syrian-protests-troops-kill-deraa
[34] “Syria Clamps Down on City of Daraa After at Least Seven Die” (Bloomberg): http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2011-03-23/four-people-killed-in-renewed-unrest-in-southern-syrian-town
[35] „Official source: Armed Gang Attacks Medical Team in Daraa, Killing Doctor, Paramedic, Driver, Security Member” (Tishreen): http://tishreen.news.sy/tishreen/public/read/224540
[36] „Reformversprechen: Blutige Unruhen bringen Assad in Defensive“ (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/reformversprechen-blutige-unruhen-bringen-assad-in-die-defensive-a-753037.html
[37] „Unruhen in Arabien: Mann in Jordanien zündet sich selbst an“ (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/unruhen-in-arabien-mann-in-jordanien-zuendet-sich-selbst-an-a-755762.html
[38] „Stateless Kurds in Syria granted citizenship“ (CNN): http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/04/07/syria.kurdish.citizenship/index.html?_s=PM:WORLD
[39] „Syriens Regierung hebt Notstandsgesetze auf“ (Die Zeit): http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2011-04/proteste-syrien-notstandsgesetz
[40] „Prayers test Syria’s Assad’s response to protests“ (Reuters): http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/22/us-syria-idUSTRE72N2MC20110422
[41] „Syriens Assad: ‘Wer die Schlacht haben will, kann sie haben.’“ (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/syriens-assad-wer-die-schlacht-haben-will-kann-sie-haben-a-754119.html
[42] „President Bashar al-Assads Speech to the People’s Assembly, March 30th, 2011”: http://www.presidentassad.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=305:president-bashar-al-assad-s-a-speechat-the-people-s-assembly-march-30-2011&catid=117&Itemid=496
Annotation: You will find the complete speech in the second half of the article
[43] „Armed Gang Attacks People`s Army Headquarter, Several Attackers killed” (Tishreen): http://tishreen.news.sy/tishreen/public/read/224720
[44a] „Syrien: Tote bei Protesten gegen die Regierung” (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/syrien-tote-beiprotesten-gegen-regierung-a-753393.html

[44b] “Syria: Feared militias kill up to 21 people as protests continue” (The Telegraph): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/8409870/Syria-feared-militia-kills-up-to-21-people-as-protests-continue.html
[45] „Massenproteste in Syrien: Assad wechselt seine Regierung aus“ (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/massenproteste-in-syrien-assad-wechselt-seine-regierung-aus-a-753852.html
[46a] „Amid protests, Syrian president accepts cabinet’s resignation“ (Washington Post): https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/syrian-president-accepts-cabinets-resignations/2011/03/29/AFVTAjuB_story.html

[46b] „So eine Form von Desinformation habe ich noch nie erlebt“ (Magazin Universität mainz): http://www.magazin.uni-mainz.de/544_DEU_HTML.php
[47] „Thousands rally in support of Syria’s Assad” (Al Jazeera): http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/10/20111012103639234331.html
[48] „Syrien: Mehrere Tote am Tag der Märtyrer“ (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/syrien-mehrere-tote-amtag-der-maertyrer-a-754625.html
[49] „Security Authorities Arrest Two Armed Gangs Firing at Citizens in Damascus Countryside” (Tishreen): http://tishreen.news.sy/tishreen/public/read/225259
[50a] “Stateless Kurds in Syria granted citizenship” (CNN): http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/04/07/syria.kurdish.citizenship/index.html?_s=PM:WORLD

[50b] „Proteste in Syrien: Assad buhlt um Islamisten“ (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/proteste-in-syrien-assad-buhlt-um-islamisten-a-755495.html

[50c] „Als der Schleier fiel“ (Süddeutsche Zeitung): http://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/syrien-verbot-des-niqab-als-der-schleier-fiel-1.977595
[51] „Official Source: Armed Groups Shoot Citizens, Policemen in Daraa, Claim Scores of Lives” (Tishreen): http://tishreen.news.sy/tishreen/public/read/225994
[52] „Deraa: A city under a dark siege“ (Al Jazeera): http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/04/2011427215943692865.html
[53] „Blutiger Freitag: Syrien setzt Scharfschützen auf Demonstranten an” (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/blutiger-freitag-syrien-setzt-scharfschuetzen-auf-demonstranten-an-a-755972.html
[54] „Syrian Army Martyrs Laid to Rest” (Tishreen): http://tishreen.news.sy/tishreen/public/read/226257
Annotation: The source lists the names of those killed and wounded.
[55] „Proteste in Syrien: Sicherheitskräfte riegeln Hafenstadt Banjas ab“ (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/proteste-in-syrien-sicherheitskraefte-riegeln-hafenstadt-banjas-ab-a-756263.html
[56] „Lebanese Border Police Seizes Two Cars Packed with Weapons Heading to Syria” (Tishreen): http://tishreen.news.sy/tishreen/public/read/226580
[57] „Syria’s military shows signs of division amid crackdown” (The Christian Science Monitor): http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0425/Syria-s-military-shows-signs-of-division-amid-crackdown/%28page%29/2
[58] „Authorities Seize Huge Weapons Consignment Bound for Syria” (Tishreen): http://tishreen.news.sy/tishreen/public/read/226861
[59a] „U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show” (Washington Post): http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-secretly-backed-syrian-opposition-groups-cables-released-by-wikileaksshow/ 2011/04/14/AF1p9hwD_story.html

[59b] Peter Scholl Latour: „Der Fluch der Bösen Tat“

[59c] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeyRwFHR8WY

[59d] „Syria intervention plan fueled by oil interests, not chemical weapon concern” (The Guardian): https://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/aug/30/syria-chemical-attack-war-intervention-oil-gas-energy-pipelines

[60] Here’s a nice article by Elliott Abrams which helps to understand the US view on Syria. Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, and was deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush. “Ridding Syria of a despot” (Washington Post): https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ridding-syria-of-a-despot/2011/03/25/AFSRRVYB_story.html
[61] „Syrien: Assad lässt auf Demonstranten schießen“ (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/syrien-assadlaesst-auf-demonstranten-schiessen-a-758102.html
[62] „Security Forces Kill Dozens in Uprisings Around Syria“ (New York Times): http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/23/world/middleeast/23syria.html
[63] „Aufstand in Syrien: Assad lässt auf Demonstranten schießen“ (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/aufstand-in-syrien-assad-laesst-auf-demonstranten-schiessen-a-758724.html
[64] „Panzereinsatz: Syrische Soldaten stürmen Protesthochburgen“ (Der Spiegel): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/panzereinsatz-syrische-soldaten-stuermen-protest-hochburgen-a-758871.html
[65] „Syria Escalates Crackdown as Tanks Go to Restive City“: (New York Times): http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/26/world/middleeast/26syria.html

(1) Source picture: www.http://penzanews.ru/en/

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