Syrian opposition implodes as army fires into massive protest

Amid signs that the Syrian opposition is no closer to uniting than it was 14 months ago when the rebellion began, the Syrian army fired into a crowd of tens of thousands of protestors in Aleppo killing and wounding an unknown number of civilians.

Aleppo, the country's second largest city, had until recently, been relatively quiet. But an attack on students at the university has galvanized opposition to President Assad.


They came after a call by activists for Syria-wide protests under the rallying cry, "heroes of Aleppo University", in solidarity with students in the northern city who demonstrated there the day before despite brutal repression.

On Thursday, the students were met with brutal repression by security forces, despite the presence of UN military observers, who now number more than 250 across the country out of the total of 300.

One protester was killed in a separate demonstration Thursday night in the Aleppo neighbourhood of Salaheddin, according to the Observatory, while an officer was killed in a bomb explosion in the city on Friday.

Violence persisted elsewhere, with regime forces renewing their bombardment of Rastan in central Homs province on Friday, according to the Observatory -- only a day after a blistering assault on the rebel stronghold.

Heavy gunfire and shelling was reported in several neighbourhoods of Homs city, said the watchdog.

In Damascus province, heavy gunfire was reported near the town of Harasta, while the army suffered casualties in an attack on a military checkpoint at the town of Dariya.

Artillery attacks on towns have declined since the UN observer mission began deploying in mid-April, but the death toll is still high.

"It is the same strategy with a different tactic," said one senior UN diplomat. "Instead of killing 100 they kill 60 and arrest 500."

Rights groups and other sources say there has been an explosion in targeted killings.

Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Council is in disarray as Burhan Ghalioun, re-elected as president just last week, offered to resign following massive criticism that he wasn't doing anything to bring the quarreling opposition together. And in Cairo, western diplomats tried without success to bring the various opposition groups together in one room in order to forge a national organization that could speak for all Syrians. The effort fell apart in embarrassing fashion.


"I have not chosen this post for personal gain, but I have been accepting it to preserve cohesion. I am not ready to be a cause for division. The revolution is above personalities."

Ghalioun, a sociologist based in France, was re-elected just two days earlier as head of the group he has led since August, a result that angered critics who had hoped to bring in a leader who would rectify what they see as Ghalioun's failings.

These include failing to strengthen ties with anti-Assad forces in Syria, including a growing insurgency, and providing a liberal, secular veneer to an uprising whose armed element is drawn from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority.

The prominence of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood in the organization and finances of the SNC, and the sectarian Islamist language of rebels on the ground, have alarmed religious minorities and secularists in the opposition.

The resignation offer was welcomed by some of Ghalioun's more vocal critics, who said it could pave the way for the SNC to patch up its rifts in the process of choosing another leader.

George Sabra, a leftist who came in second to Ghalioun in the SNC vote, said it would now be forced to bring under-represented opposition leaders and activists inside Syria, into its deliberations, adding: "The opposition needs to show its democratic credentials and bring in a new face."

About 75% of the SNC is made up of Islamists and the secularlists want no part of a group that will replace Assad's oppression with the radicalism of an Islamist government.

It appears for the time being, that Syrian protestors getting gunned down in the streets are dying for nothing as long as the political opposition remains at each other's throats.