When the UN Secretary General describes what is already a desperate situation in Syria as “a grim harbinger of worse to come”, you know things are bad.
When the UN Secretary General describes what is already a desperate situation as “a grim harbinger of worse to come”, you know things are bad. It’s not just that hundreds are being wounded and killed in the Syrian city of Homs, it’s what will happen after the fighting is over.
As things stand, there is no way the fighters of the Free Syrian Army, with their kalashnikovs and grenades, can counter the the rockets and tanks of the government forces. But once the Syrian government has re-established control over Homs, who will protect the civilians?
The danger is that anyone who has remained in the parts of town which had been under rebel control will be regarded as suspect. Thousands of arrests are likely, and in Syria arrest means torture.
Initially, the rebels will melt away, but they are unlikely to be crushed. Guerrilla wars tend to last about a decade and end in exhaustion and a peace deal. We’re nowhere near that in Syria.
Chances are that the rebels will attack government checkpoints inside the town in hit and run raids. That will mean house to house searches, people pulled out of their beds at night, and more arrests as the government tries to winkle out the fighters.
As the rebellion is primarily Sunni – Sunnis being the majority in Syria, and the ruling family being from the minority Alawite community – any Sunni man will be targeted, and any Sunni family suspected of harbouring fighters.
The Russians and Chinese have saved President Bashar al-Assad, for the moment. The western plan to force him to hand over power to his deputy, Farouk al-Sharaa, was scuppered by their UN Security Council veto.
So is it time for western powers and the UN to accept reality and try to see if there’s anything which can be done to protect people inside the cities the Syrian government is about to take back from rebel control? Would the Russians and Chinese at least persuade their Syrian government friends to allow peacekeepers or some kind of protection mission?
Follow Lindsey Hilsum on Twitter: @LindseyHilsum