Ethnic and sectarian cleansing further divides Syria
DUBAI - The Assad regime and its allies appear to be taking steps towards the inevitable collapse that will subsequently lead to the de facto breakup of Syria along ethnic and sectarian lines. Their moves seem to be aimed at carving out a canton for Alawites and along the way cleanse areas of the Muslim Sunni majority of the country.
The Alawites’ stronghold is in Syria’s western coastal provinces Latakia and Tartus. However, both require geographic depth and a link with their allies in Lebanon, the Shia group Hezbollah.
Hence, the Syrian regime and its Iranian-backed Shia allies and Hezbollah are concentrating operations in Homs and Hama to use parts of the two large Sunni provinces as strategic staging ground for a future Alawite state.
Human rights groups have reported systematic ethnic cleansing of Sunni communities from parts of the city of Homs and western sectors of Hama and Homs provinces.
The Syrian regime reportedly burned the land department archives in Homs so residents would not have proof of ownership of the land on which their houses once stood before they were razed by bombings or regime bulldozers.
To ensure linkup with Hezbollah’s stronghold in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, the regime and its allies are targeting Damascus and its northern, western and south-western suburbs.
Hezbollah launched a major offensive to uproot rebels from the Qalamoun area along the Lebanese north-eastern border with Syria. Almost all of the Sunni inhabitants of the villages of Qalamoun and nearby Qusair have been ousted, and there are reports of Shia and Alawite communities settling in.
The heavy bombardment of towns and cities near the capital forced most of their Sunni residents to flee with small prospect of returning home anytime soon.
Alawite residents of Damascus and surrounding areas have reportedly moved to the coastal area, and many of them are believed to be settled in homes that belonged to Sunnis who fled.
The next big battle will be for the control of Damascus. Rebels are making significant advances from the south towards the capital and could link up with rebel strongholds around the city before the end of the year.
The Syrian regime and its allies are expected to draw their defensive lines to include the western side of Damascus along with the Qalamoun area and south of Homs and Hama’s western countryside and down to Latakia.
As for other minorities, such as the Christians of Syria, they are welcomed in the Alawite areas of control and those seeking to sell their properties are finding Shia and Alawite buyers.
The famous Damascene Christian neighbourhoods of Bab Sharqi and Bab Touma are now mostly owned by Shias and Alawites after their original owners opted to sell and emigrate.
According to Syrian sources, Iran and Hezbollah wish to see the Syrian regime concentrate more on protecting the vital areas of the Alawite canton rather than continue to waste time on lost battles, such as in Aleppo.
After losing Idlib and Palmyra, there are rising concerns that the regime’s forces in Aleppo could find themselves cut off soon, depriving the regime of much-needed manpower and military assets.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps are working with Hezbollah on creating an army of 50,000 Shia militiamen from Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan to help exhausted Syrian regime forces hold back the rebels and solidify defences of the Alawite canton.
Syria is expected to be divided into four or five parts, with each controlled by an ethnic or sectarian force: the Alawite, the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State (ISIS), the Kurds, the moderate Sunnis of the Free Syrian Army, and possibly a fifth one for the Druze of Sweida province.
The de facto division of Syria will go on so long as the international community is unable to bring about a solution to the civil war that is agitated by the regional cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
With millions of refugees and displaced people, the tragedy and killing in Syria will likely continue for years before the situation starts to improve.
Meanwhile, ethnic and sectarian cleansing will go on to be merely a phase of the ugly war in Syria awaiting an end one day, hopefully soon.