Syrian crackdown enters new phase

We'll see how many civilians Assad is able to gun down in cold blood now that there's someone shooting back at his forces.


Army deserters killed 27 soldiers in southern Syria on Thursday, an activist group said, in some of the deadliest attacks on forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad since the start of an uprising nine months ago.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes flared in Deraa, where protests against Assad first erupted in March, and at a checkpoint east of the city where all 15 personnel manning it were killed.

The high casualties among security forces suggested coordinated strikes by the army rebels who have escalated attacks recently, raising the specter of civil war breaking out.

The United Nations says 5,000 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on protests inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world. Assad has denied any orders were issued to kill demonstrators and says gunmen have killed 1,100 of his forces.

A report published by Human Rights Watch on Thursday, based on interviews with dozens of defectors, said army commanders have ordered troops to use "all means necessary" to halt protests, often giving explicit instructions to open fire.

It's a race against time for Assad, now. With the rebel army growing in numbers and capabilities, it's only a matter of time before full scale civil war begins. Assad can only be sure of about 10% of his forces, which leaves a lot of doubt hanging in the air.

There have already been some high ranking military defections and we should expect more as the fighting intensifies. There's no endgame in sight yet, but the fat lady is warming up in the wings.