Assad moves south after crushing Idlib
The crackdown appears to have entered a new phase. Secure in the knowledge that no matter how many civilians he kills, President Assad is safe from international intervention, massive numbers of tanks and troops are being pushed into the southern city of Dara'a where the rebellion broke out last year.
The activists feared that the government was now emboldened after seizing most of the northern city of Idlib on Tuesday amid faltering international efforts to stop the violence and was turning its attention to crushing centers of the rebellion in the south as the symbolically important one-year mark of the uprising approached.
Thursday is the anniversary of protests in Dara'a that followed the killing of schoolchildren who had scrawled anti-government graffiti. Those demonstrations turned what had been sporadic protests into a nationwide uprising.
There have been regular clashes in Dara'a, but "today the situation is different," with about 150 tanks and many busloads of security forces sweeping the city from the west, said Anwar Fares, an anti-government activist reached by telephone in the city.
"It is the most violent military raid on Dara'a since April 25," Mr. Fares said. "It seems they want to have a situation similar to Idlib and Homs," he added, referring to cities where the government forced armed rebels out of their strongholds.
But unlike those cities, Dara'a lacks a strong presence of the Free Syrian Army, the main armed opposition group made up of defecting soldiers and other fighters. Rebels have not held entire neighborhoods in Dara'a, as they did in the north.
Mr. Fares lamented that Mr. Assad seemed to feel he has a freer hand in recent weeks. "He is taking his sweet time," he said.
Assad is certainly being systematic about his massacres now. With Russia giving him strong backing at the UN, and the rest of the world paralyzed into inaction by the sheer, breathtaking scope of the violence, Bashar Assad would appear to be surviving.
More than that; he appears to be winning.