Assistant Secretary Jeffrey D. Feltman for Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Senate Foreign Relations Committee today reported that Assad regime is driving the cycle of violence and sectarianism.
“The Syrian people are resisting the regime, but the regime is working diligently to fulfill its own prophecy of inter-communal violence.” -Mr. Feltman
He said much has changed both within Syria and in the international response to what is happening inside Syria since the unrest began eight months ago. He said the protests that started in the provincial village of Dara’a have spread to every city and every major town in the country. He added that the Syrian people have demonstrated an irrepressible hunger for a change in the way their country is governed.
“The protestors in Syria have overcome the barrier of fear. They are out on the streets of cities and towns all over Syria every single day despite the relentless and indiscriminate violence that the regime has deployed against them. According to the estimates of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, over 3,500 Syrians have been killed since the protests began.” -Mr. Feltman
He cited that tens of thousands have been detained, and many of those have been tortured. He said the High Commissioner noted “a pattern of human rights violations that constitutes widespread or systemic attacks against the civilian population, which may amount to crimes against humanity.” He said the violations included murder, forced disappearances, summary executions, torture, deprivation of liberty, and persecution. But the regime’s overwhelming use of force has not been able to suppress the street protests.
“The violence is still continuing. In its desperation, the regime is executing a deliberate and bloody strategy of channeling peaceful protest into armed insurrection. It is stoking the fears of Syria’s minority communities with blatant propaganda about foreign conspiracies and domestic terrorism while cynically claiming that the regime is their only protection from sectarian violence.” -Mr. Feltman
He noted that Assad and his inner circle know they cannot contain or manage peaceful opposition, so they assault it with violence and with terror. He said the the regime believes they can handle a violent resistance because violence is a medium they know well.
“Mass arrests, “shabiha “thuggery and outright regime violence have forced peaceful protestors to adapt their methods. They now arrange gatherings of smaller groups on short notice and disperse before security forces are able to respond. And as they are literally beaten off the streets, protestors are learning new forms of peaceful resistance such as boycotts and strikes. Security forces have responded to civil disobedience such as last week’s general strike in Dara’a with intimidation and vandalism.” -Mr. Feltman
He stated that the regime is confounded by protestors chanting “peaceful, peaceful” and shopkeepers who shutter their stores in solidarity with those killed and arrested, but it knows precisely how to handle armed insurrection: with brutal and overwhelming force. He added by working diligently to channel non-violent opposition into a proto-insurgency, the regime seeks to discredit the opposition, scare minorities into submission, unite security forces against a common enemy, fragment international consensus and tear Syria apart along sectarian lines.
He stressed that the continuous coverage of the Assad regime’s brutality in the pan-Arab media has decimated Assad’s standing on the Arab street.