Specter of no-fly zone darkens Syrian skies

An F18 Hornet of the Canadian air force. (AFP Photo / Marcello Paternostro)
Arab states are reportedly set to impose a no-fly zone over Syria with US logistical support. But as the drive to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on “humanitarian grounds” continues, the Libyan scenario seems to be repeating itself.

­Turkish warplanes with US logistical backing are reportedly set to implement the no-fly zone once the Arab League issues a decree calling for the protection of Syrian civilians in accordance with its charter.

Senior European sources told Kuwait's al-Rai daily that the plan is designed to cripple the country’s military forces “in less than 24 hours.”  The no-fly zone would include a ban on the movement of Syrian military vehicles including tanks, personnel carriers and artillery, Albawaba news reports. The scheme is designed to neutralize Syria’s ability to carry out air strikes on cities.

The Syrian opposition has long called for a no fly zone, though NATO has thus far ruled out any such measure.

The 22-member Arab League recently suspended Syria in response to its violent crackdown on an eight-month-old uprising gripping the country.  While the United Nations estimates that some 3,500 civilians have died in the conflict, Damascus counters that 1,100 members of the security forces have been killed by “foreign-backed terrorist groups.”

Rumors about imposing a no-fly zone over Syria come in the wake of Tuesday’s United Nations General Assembly resolution which condemned human rights abuses by the Syrian regime, including the killing, arbitrary imprisonment and torture of civilians. The non-binding resolution calls on Syria to withdraw government tanks from the streets, release political prisoners, end attacks on civilians and allow observers into the country.

Although Russia abstained from voting on the resolution, its deputy envoy to the UN, Sergey Karev, said“a human rights issue should in no circumstances be used as a pretext for interfering in a country’s internal affairs.”

And while Western powers have long accused the Syrian regime of brutally suppressing its own citizens, Damascus has countered that the country is embroiled in a civil war.

Russia has long called for both sides in the conflict to lay down their arms, stressing that the international community has an obligation to facilitate dialogue between both sides.

However, critics fear that much as in Libya, the West will use the framework of humanitarian intervention to justify a full-scale invasion of Syria.

In March, the Arab League moved to suspend Libya and called for a no-fly zone as Muammar Gaddafi moved to counter a full-scale uprising against Tripoli.Later that month, the United Nations Security Council passed UN resolution 1973, which allowed the international community to establish a no-fly zone and paved the way for the NATO bombing campaign that ultimately toppled the Gaddafi regime.