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Two Years Since Start of Protests, Syria Rebels Vow to Fight Until Assad Is Gone

March 15, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: Syria marked a new milestone of misery today, the second anniversary of protests that exploded into civil war. But there was no prospect of new peace efforts, even as the numbers of dead and displaced continued to climb.

More fighting marked the two years since the uprising began against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with no end in sight. A general for the Free Syrian Army speaking from an undisclosed location vowed to press on.

GEN. SALIM IDRIS, Free Syrian Army: But our will is still very strong. We will not stop until this criminal regime has gone.

JEFFREY BROWN: It began with a demonstration against the government during the Arab spring of 2011. The spark came in the southern city of Daraa, where security forces beat a group of teenage boys, their crime, scrawling anti-Assad slogans on their school wall. From there, the protests spread, the regime cracked down violently, and fighting erupted.

It’s since grown into a full-blown civil war, with the rebels seizing large chunks of territory. In all, more than 70,000 Syrians have died. Russia, its warships seen today docking in Beirut before moving onto Syria, continues to supply arms to the Syrian military. Other nations have called on Assad to step down, but been reluctant to intercede.

Today in Brussels, the European Union rejected a plan to lift its embargo on arms to the rebels, over the objections of France and Britain.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON, Britain: Assad is still in place. He is still being strongly supplied and strengthened by others, and we need to put pressure on to bring about the transition that is necessary for the Syrian people, necessary for the stability of that region and in our national interest, too.

JEFFREY BROWN: Last month, the U.S. announced it would for the first time provide food and other non-lethal aid directly to the rebels. But the Obama administration has held back from sending weapons, citing the influx of foreign extremists into rebel ranks.

The president could confront questions about that policy when he visits the Middle East next week, with stops in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

FREDERIC HOF, Atlantic Council: Time is of the essence here.

JEFFREY BROWN: Frederic Hof, formerly the president’s special adviser for transition in Syria, is now at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

FREDERIC HOF: It is probably time for the United States and its allies to engage directly in strong relationships with these armed rebels, the ones that we have been able to vet, the ones that we know share our basic values. Part of those relationships may involve — may involve arming.

JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. and others also face the challenge of helping more than a million Syrians who have fled to surrounding Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. Even more are displaced inside Syria.

Today in Beirut, the U.N.’s High Commissioner on Refugees warned again of ripple effects.

ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees: The Syrian conflict is more than a humanitarian tragedy. The Syrian conflict became a meaningful threat to regional and global peace and security. There is a real risk of seeing the Syrian conflict spilling over.

JEFFREY BROWN: And also today, as if to bring home that point, Syria’s foreign minister warned that his government may launch attacks on rebel safe havens inside Lebanon.