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Syria’s Cross-Border Violence May Be No Accident

April 9, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
As Kofi Annan's peace plan for Syria falls apart, the Syrian army fired into a Turkish refugee camp Monday, escalating conflict and wounding at least five people. Also, in Lebanon, a cameraman was reportedly shot and killed by Syrian soldiers. Borzou Daragahi of the Financial Times gives Jeffrey Brown an update from Beirut.
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JEFFREY BROWN: A short time ago, I talked with Borzou Daragahi, a Financial Times correspondent in Beirut, for the latest.

Borzou Daragahi, welcome.

So what are people saying about this fighting across borders today, including apparently into Lebanon as well, right? What’s behind it?

BORZOU DARAGAHI, The Financial Times: Well, the Turks are outraged. They’ve summoned the Syrian charge d’affaires. They have warned of unspecified consequences if anything like this happens again.

Lebanon is in quite a bit of a tougher situation. It is led by a pro-Syrian government, which has to play a very delicate balancing act. However, it’s been under tremendous pressure. The prime minister was flooded with Twitter demands that he act and do something after this journalist was killed.

What’s interesting to consider is whether this was just a coincidence or whether it was somewhat planned perhaps by the Syrian regime. The Syrian regime has threatened in the past to bring the whole regime — bring the whole region down with it if it were to suffer. And this could very well be a couple of warning signs to both Turkey and Lebanon, which is near and dear to many Western governments, that if this situation continues, if it continues to feel the heat, it will lash out in ways that will destabilize other countries.

If you look at the evolution of a revolution that started more than a year ago -- what was really a war of ideas against a brutal and what many consider a corrupt, entrenched regime is now moving towards a full-scale insurgency. It's kind of sad.Borzou Daragahi, Financial Times

JEFFREY BROWN: And is there — is that being heard and taken seriously? Is there a fear, more fear after today’s events of this all spreading?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Oh, absolutely.

I mean, this fear has been palpable in the diplomatic community in the region, for the whole past year. People have been worried about what Syria would do, what it was capable of. Syria has assets all over the region. It has allies, including Iran, Hezbollah, various Palestinian factions.

It is known for being able to interfere in other countries’ affairs, for example, Lebanon, all throughout the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s and even more recently. And, also, if people recall, Syria was accused by the U.S. of sending arms and fighters into Iraq during the U.S. occupation there. So there is a real worry about what Syria could do.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, in the meantime, tomorrow’s the deadline for Syrian troops to begin pulling back, in particular pulling out of cities. What’s happening on the ground?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: I think this whole thing has collapsed.

It doesn’t seem like there’s any kind of motion with regard to the Syrian forces. Syria all but reneged on the peace deal just yesterday when the foreign ministry spokesman said that they will not abide by the demand that they pull out of cities until they get written guarantees from the opposition that they will stop launching attacks on Syrian regular forces.

Now, this was considered patently absurd, first of all because the Syrian opposition forces are scattered and unorganized and not particularly in a sort of hierarchical formation, but also the Syrian guerrillas, the ones that did speak, were saying that any guarantees they would give would be to the international community, and not to the illegitimate regime of Bashar al-Assad.

JEFFREY BROWN: So your sense is that the diplomatic process as a whole has, if not collapsed, well on its way there? So you don’t expect to see anything happen? You don’t expect a cease-fire certainly by Thursday?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, I think there is — that is one possibility.

But, I mean, Kofi Annan is a smart guy. Kofi Annan is, of course, the former U.N. secretary-general who is the special U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria right now. And I seriously doubt that he could have expected this to work, when so many other diplomatic initiatives in the past have failed.

But if you look at the sort of delicate diplomatic choreography that he undertook over the last few weeks he got the West to sign on to his peace plan. He got Russia, China, even Iran to endorse the peace plan, and he even got Syria’s tacit approval for the peace plan. And now that it collapses, now that this piece initiative collapses, the international community is in a far more unified state to approach the Security Council again and try to get stronger action against the Syrian regime.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, let me ask you about the opposition.

You mentioned that they are scattered I think was your word. I think you have been in touch with some elements of it. What are they saying about the situation diplomatically and the continuing fighting on the ground? What are you hearing?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, there’s a real disconnect between the “Syrian opposition” — quote, unquote — that is abroad and that interfaces with the Western diplomats and the Arab diplomats and those opposition activists inside the country.

I mean, it’s kind of said when you talk to the opposition activists inside the country. They are not really following the politics. They are not really concerned about the diplomatic track anymore. And they’re not really that optimistic that their revolution of ideas will succeed.

And the ones that I’ve spoken to recently are saying, we don’t want humanitarian aid. We don’t want diplomatic or political action. Just send us money so we can buy guns to fight against the regime. And if you look at the evolution of a revolution that started more than a year ago that was really a war of ideas against a brutal and what many consider a corrupt, entrenched regime, it is now moving towards a full-scale insurgency. It’s kind of sad.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Borzou Daragahi in Beirut, thanks so much.