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Time to move on Syria

By Julie Bishop - posted Friday, 17 February 2012

The conflict in Syria has entered an even more dangerous phase, with the potential for a negotiated peace slipping away.

The warning from a senior Syrian army defector that any collapse of the regime would have serious implications for the entire Middle East and beyond should be heeded.

General Mustafa Ahmad al-Sheikh, currently in Turkey, is reported to have said, "The situation is now very dangerous and threatens to explode across the whole region, like a nuclear reaction."


Similarly, the Arab League has warned that the regime's use of heavy weapons such as artillery was a serious escalation that could see the country slide into full scale civil war.

These concerns are being borne out by developments in recent days with car bombing attacks in the city of Aleppo targeting security forces and killing 28 people.

There was also the assassination in Damascus of one of the regime's most senior military officers.

At the heart of this conflict are sectarian lines drawn between the 74 percent Sunni majority and the 12 percent Alawites (an offshoot of Shia Islam) who dominate the ranks of the regime.

It is an over-simplification of the situation in Syria to characterise the conflict as being driven solely by sectarian divides, however this is a critical factor within Syria and in the actions of other nations.

The Sunni-dominated government of Turkey has come out strongly in support of the Syrian opposition, while the Shia-dominated government of Iran has continued to provide moral and material support to the Assad regime.


Similarly, there has been strong condemnation of the Syrian regime from many of the Gulf Sunni monarchies, which regard Iran as a strategic rival.

The Syrian Alawites argue they were oppressed by the Sunni majority for many years, but this cannot be used to justify the ongoing slaughter of innocent, largely unarmed people.

Given the dire situation facing Syria, it is deeply troubling that Syria's Al-Assad regime has "categorically rejected" a resolution of the Arab League which would have allowed for the deployment of a peace-keeping mission to end the cycle of violence in the country.

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Julie Bishop will be writing regularly for On Line Opinion and her articles will normally appear each Wednesday.

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Julie Bishop is the Federal Member for Curtin, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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