Syria is no longer sliding into war or staring at the abyss of war.
Syria is at war.
The families hiding in the basements of the Bab Amr district in Homs have no doubt about it. No one dares to step outside or even venture upstairs for fear of government shells crashing onto them. Bodies have been dragged into homes from the streets so they will not rot out in the open. It is too dangerous to hold funerals. Photographer Alessio Romenzi, who holed up with some Bab Amr families for a couple of days, counted 25 civilian fatalities in just two hours of bombardment in the area. That is, when he dared to head aboveground.
On one side of this war is President Bashar Assad and his army of more than 200,000 men, tanks, mortars and weapons from Russia. Opposing them is a phenomenon called the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose confederation of lightly armed military defectors and, in some areas, civilians who are waging a growing number of guerrilla campaigns in their hometowns and cities. The FSA has a nominal leadership based across the border in Turkey. Colonel Riad al-Asaad, head of the FSA, has boasted of as many as 40,000 men. The claim is impossible to confirm. Indeed, it may be a tactical ploy to encourage defections from the President's army.
In the war zones, the FSA fighters count on weapons entering clandestinely from Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Every Syrian man who flees across the border is "FSA in waiting," according to a human-rights activist in Jordan, where Kalashnikovs have been going for about $1,600. Most of the men go back into Syria as soon as they secure a weapon, he says. There is much talk that Qatar--which financed, armed and trained Libya's rebels--may do the same for Syria's. But that may be more notion than fact.
It is debatable whether the FSA's leadership serves as anything more than p.r., a source for the media and Western diplomats, without having real command of the FSA fighters on the ground. To complicate matters, a recent defector--a general who outranks al-Asaad--has formed his own council for the liberation of Syria. The rival organization, says an FSA spokesman, is "a knife in the back of the revolution." One thing the already splintered opposition doesn't need is another opposition group.
Meanwhile, Bab Amr and other districts in Homs, as well as other rebel cities throughout Syria, continue to bleed. The regime has no compunction about obliterating its enemies. In 1982, when the President's father ruled, the rebel city of Hama was pounded into surrender, resulting in at least 10,000 deaths. However, when the latest rebellions began 11 months ago, Hama found its old courage and rose again, this time in defiance of the younger Assad. It has not yet given up the fight.