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U.N.’s Syria Cease-Fire Plan: The ‘Least-Worst Option’?

May 10, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Suicide bombers struck Thursday in the heart of Syria's capital of Damascus, killing at least 55 people and wounding at least 370. Jeffrey Brown and NPR's Kelly McEvers, reporting from Beirut, discuss the finger pointing over who's behind the attacks and the state of plans to stop the country's ongoing fighting.
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JEFFREY BROWN: A short time ago, I spoke to NPR’s Kelly McEvers in Beirut.

Kelly, thanks for joining us.

What can you add to the speculation about who might done have this? Especially, there’s talk about a rather shadowy al-Qaida-connected group that’s at least claimed responsibility for several past bombings.

KELLY MCEVERS, NPR: It’s so difficult to tell in Syria, but what you have is you have rebels and opposition groups saying that this was the government that did this attack. It was the government that — that killed its own people as a way to sort of thwart the U.N. peace process that is going on in the country. They say the government has been willing to kill its people all along throughout this uprising; why wouldn’t they do an attack like this?

Then you look at government state media, and the government in Syria is blaming this on terrorists, but not just any terrorists. The narrative of the Syrian government is that this is — these are terrorists backed by the United States, by Israel, by Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and that all these countries have an interest in bringing down the Syrian regime, and that they’re using terrorists to do so.

So the government’s narrative is that actually there isn’t a protest movement in the country, there’s no grassroots movement of people seeking their rights, seeking more freedoms, but it’s actually terrorists. Then there’s the sort of third possibility, right, that this is actually — this is actually a jihadist group that carried out this attack.

There is a group that has surfaced in the last couple of months called Jabhat al-Nusra. It’s got all the typical trappings of a jihadist organization, jihadist iconography, jihadist ideology online. They have claimed responsibility for some attacks in Syria in recent months. They have not claimed responsibility for this attack, but it is possible that they are behind this — today’s attack.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, what about the seeming target here, the military intelligence headquarters? Is even that clear about what was the target?

KELLY MCEVERS: That is not clear.

This attack did happen near a military intelligence headquarters, in fact, one of the most dreaded of the security branches, the so-called Palestine branch, where people are detained and tortured and have been much so during this uprising over the past year. But the attack actually happened on the highway outside of this military intelligence compound, and it bore the hallmarks of the kind of attacks you do see in places like Iraq.

You had a small explosion that sort of drew people to the scene and then a much larger explosion happening afterward. It was during rush hour. It was when people were going to work or possibly going to the airport. It was main airport road. And what remained was a huge crater in the road and just absolute carnage.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Kelly, throughout the country, the violence seems to have ebbed somewhat in recent weeks, although it certainly goes on even before today’s bombing. What is this — where do things stand broadly?

KELLY MCEVERS: Well, you know, the United Nations mission is in Syria now.

There are dozens of observers there trying to observe this peace process. The process was supposed to start with a cease-fire almost a month ago. The government agreed to it. The rebels agreed to the cease-fire, but, so far, basically neither side has kept to the cease-fire.

What we have seen is that in the places where the — the observers are based — and these are the hot spots of Syria, the cities where we have seen the most unrest, places like Homs, Daraa, Hama, we have seen a reduction in the violence. We haven’t seen the government fully pulling its troops out of the towns and cities, like they said they would.

And we haven’t seen the rebels stopping their attacks against government installments either, but we have seen a kind of reduction. Today’s attack definitely worries analysts here in the region, worries them that this will just give the government of Syria justification to go on the offensive again and say that it’s rooting out terrorists.

JEFFREY BROWN: You do have the U.N. — the Western powers at least, still suggesting that the U.N. cease-fire plan is still viable, still calling for everyone to abide by it.

But you’re suggesting that no one has and it doesn’t look like anyone will?

KELLY MCEVERS: Well, I mean, this U.N. plan, I think a lot of people in the West acknowledge that it’s the least worst option.

Most people are dubious that it’s actually going to succeed, but they sort of throw up their hands and say, we don’t really have any other choice at this point. We don’t see any other plan on the horizon, not a plan from the United States, not a plan from the Gulf countries, not a plan from Turkey — all of these countries stand against the Syrian regime — that will resolve this crisis.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Kelly McEvers of NPR joining us from Beirut, thanks so much.