Escalation of Syrian Civil War Threatens Wider Regional Conflict

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Posted June 5, 2013

Interview with Chris Toensing, executive director of the Middle East Research and Information Project and editor of Middle East Report, conducted by Scott Harris

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As the Obama administration and the government of Russian leader Vladimir Putin attempt to organize a peace conference to negotiate a diplomatic solution to Syria’s bloody civil war, there are ominous signs that the conflict is escalating and destabilizing neighboring nations. At about the same time that Republican Sen. John McCain met with rebel commanders inside Syria, advocating U.S. lethal assistance to the rebels, the European Union voted to lift a ban on the transfer of arms to forces of the Free Syrian Army. Meanwhile, Russia announced that it intended to fulfill a Syrian government order for sophisticated ground-to-air S-300 missiles. Israel, which has launched several recent air strikes against various weapons caches inside Syria, warned that it may attack the S-300 missiles if delivered.

On another front, the Lebanese Shiite militia group Hezbollah has sent thousands of its soldiers to prop up government troops loyal to Syrian leader Bahar al-Assad in several key battles against rebel strongholds. Another dangerous development in the war are the still unconfirmed and conflicting reports that one, or both sides in the Syrian war have used chemical weapons. All told, an estimated 80,000 people have been killed in Syria and 4 million displaced since the war began in March 2011.

It’s become more apparent in recent months that the Syrian civil war has developed into a dangerous flashpoint for the regional conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, pitting Shiite allies, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah against Sunni governments in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Chris Toensing, editor of Middle East Report, who assesses the escalation of Syria’s Civil War and the threat of a wider regional conflict.

For more news and analysis on the Syrian conflict, visit the Middle East Research and Information Project at MERIP.org and its publication, Middle East Report at merip.org/mer.

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