REYHANLI, Turkey – Here on the border between Turkey and Syria, evidence abounds that Bashir Al-Assad is winning.
Despite widespread rumors, no organized effort is under way to arm rebel fighters. The opposition “Free Syrian Army” remains a poorly equipped and loosely organized militia unable to stop a Syrian army still loyal to Assad. At the same time, a sectarian conflict between Assad’s ruling Allawite minority and Syria’s Sunni majority is intensifying.
In northern Syria, Sunni and Allawite villages have divided into pro- and anti-government enclaves, according to fleeing refugees. At checkpoints, government security forces order people to pray to the country’s Allawite leader. If they refuse, they are deemed Sunni subversives. And Sunni army defectors say Allawite officers threatened them with execution if they refused to fire on demonstrators.
“I had to do it,” a remorseful 24-year-old Sunni soldier who defected this week told me. “If I don’t fire, someone will kill me.”
At Friday’s “Friends of Syria” meeting in Tunis, the United States and its allies should demand cease fires that would allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged enclaves. And they should pressure the predominantly Sunni Syrian opposition to unify, gain firmer control of rebel fighters and more aggressively court Allawites, Christians and other minorities to join them.