Bloodshed and Uncertainty in Syria as Ramadan Begins

By Patrick Goodenough | July 20, 2012 | 5:36 AM EDT

An image made from amateur video purports to show smoke rising from buildings in Damascus’ Midan neighborhood on July 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News via AP video)

( – Muslims in Syria and neighboring nations enter Ramadan on Friday facing deep uncertainty following a dramatic escalation in Syria’s civil war and the failure of the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution stepping up international pressure on the Assad regime.

The measure failed when Russia and China cast a joint veto – their third in nine months – over suspicions that the resolution could pave the way for foreign military intervention. Washington’s U.N. envoy Susan Rice called it “a dark day,” while her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, accused the West of focusing only on “its own geopolitical interests, which have nothing in common with those of the Syrian people.”

A day after a bombing in Damascus killed three senior regime figures, Thursday marked what may be the deadliest day thus far in the 16-month crisis, with heavy shelling reported in the capital and at least 250 deaths reported by opposition monitoring groups.

Rebels were reported to have seized control over key border crossings on both the Syria-Turkey border in the north and Syria-Iraq border in the east. The French news agency AFP quoted an Iraqi government minister as saying Iraqi troops had witnesses rebel fighters committing atrocities against Syrian soldiers over the border, hacking off the limbs of a senior officer and executing more than 20 others. Iraq closed its side of the border.

In Damascus, where fighting between government forces and the Free Syria Army entered a fifth day, the military gave residents of rebel-held areas 48 hours to leave, ahead of what Russia’s foreign minister says looks set to be a “decisive” battle.

Lebanese media quoted security sources as saying that more than 20,000 Syrians poured into that country over a 24-hour period, crossing at the main border post on the highway from Damascus to Beirut. They included foreigners and international aid workers, the sources said.

Ramadan starts for Sunnis in most Arab countries on Friday, and for Shi’ites on Saturday. Muslims believe the Qur’an was revealed to Mohammed during Ramadan, and during the lunar month they abstain from food, drink and other worldly pleasures between sunrise and sunset.

The month is meant to be a time of reflection and Muslim solidarity and is often marked by calls for calm and a suspension of hostilities in conflict zones. But it’s also a time of Islamist zeal – it incorporates the anniversaries of several victorious battles in the early years of Islam – and in recent years the month has been a time of especially deadly sectarian violence in Iraq.

(Ramadan has also been a popular time for jihadist attacks. A spate of church bombings in Indonesia in 2000, at assault on the Indian Parliament in 2001, attacks against Israeli targets in Kenya in 2002, attacks in Riyadh and Istanbul in 2003, and major suicide bombings in Pakistan in 2011 all occurred during Ramadan.)

In Syria, Ramadan last year marked an escalation in violence, beginning with an army assault on Hama which killed more than 200 people in five days.

By the time Ramadan ended at the end of August, Syrian opposition groups reported that the death toll had climbed by more than 550 deaths over the month.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow