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Free Syrian Army must tread carefully

Editorials in Arabic newspapers also discuss change in Palestinian leadership and Bashar Al Assad's fate.

Free Syrian Army must not give Assad regime pretext to perpetuate the cycle of violence

No one believed the Syrian regime when it used to say that dozens of civilians were being killed due to confrontations with rogue armed groups, but that blanket disbelief is getting more nuanced as statements by the leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) - an army of defectors - become more explicit, according to an editorial in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi yesterday.

During its first several months, the Syrian uprising was a grassroots movement from top to bottom. As defecting army officers started to turn against President Bashar Al Assad, that purely civil nature of the Syrian revolution was affected.

Just this week, Col Riad Al Asaad, the FSA commander, told the French news agency AFP that his troops were carrying out "guerrilla operations" against the Assad regime forces. He also spoke of "daily sting operations targeting checkpoints."

"Statements like these strip the revolution from its peaceful factor, and end up serving the regime's purposes and its gruesome plans to enforce security," the writer said.

Sure, these are bona fide statements, attributed in large part to a lack of political wit on the part of FSA officials, but that won't prevent many people from coming away with the impression that Syria's conventional army is facing a military insurrection that the regime - like any other regime - would naturally seek to put down, the paper went on.

This is compounded by the fact that the number of deaths among conventional Syrian soldiers is increasing. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been regularly issuing the numbers of victims since the start of the protest movement in Syria, is saying that in recent instances the number of regime soldiers who died were as many as civilians killed.

Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the opposition Syrian National Council, was right when he expressed his objection to operations that targeted Syrian soldiers at checkpoints or in patrols.

Unfortunately, Mr Ghalioun later gave in to various pressures, the newspaper said. After all, civilians are being killed on a daily basis, and many Syrians see the FSA as the last shield between unarmed protesters and the regime's guns.

The FSA must be careful, though. Most recently, the Syrian regime forces made a tactical retreat and succeeded in luring FSA fighters to the countryside of Damascus to drive the point home that Syria is really facing a strong and organised army. That gave the regime forces a pretext to come back down fiercely, in the process inflicting a massacre on civilians.

The Syrian regime remains potent militarily. As such, the FSA must be careful not to become the red herring the regime wants to keep alive in order to quash the protest movement.

It is time for president Abbas to step down

Following the resounding failure of the Amman meetings between the Palestinians and the Israelis, it was clear that Israel was responsible for the collapse of these "exploratory" attempts at a return to negotiations, said the columnist Mazen Hammad in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

The world understands by now that Israel isn't interested in peace. Therefore, it is imperative that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, who is committed to having a Palestinian state at the 1967 borders, weighs his options after the fatal blow that Israel has dealt to the peace process. He is required to come clean about what happened and what caused the negotiations to collapse.

"For Mr Abbas to admit the failure of the negotiations that have been trudging along for 20 years now is equivalent to admitting personal failure in managing the conflict," opined the writer.

His options are few at the moment: either he tenders his resignation and hands the administration of the West Bank over to Israel or he decides to return to resistance in all its forms, including the use of force.

"Since we are certain that Mr Abbas wouldn't go to such lengths, not even if Israel were to annexe the entire West Bank, he is required to relinquish the command of the PA and the PLO and help in the necessary procedures to transfer his powers to another agreed person," he suggested in conclusion.

Will Homs cause the downfall of Al Assad?

A Youtube video dated March 25, 2011 marks the beginning of the uprising in the Syrian city of Homs that is now spearheading the war on the regime. It was believed then that the regime would fall in a matter of weeks, said the columnist Abdulrahman Al Rashid in the London-based newspaper Asharq Alawsat.

Until yesterday, the regime was still struggling to control the rebel city. Homs threatens to be for Syria what the city of Benghazi was for Libya: the headquarters of the revolution that brought down the Qaddafi regime.

It is clear that Al Assad's regime is incapable of regaining control of the security checkpoints taken over by the rebels. It resorted to drastic measures to weaken the city's resistance by besieging it and cutting off its supplies of water, gas and electricity.

But the regime's assault on the city is self-destructive at best, opined the writer. A number of international correspondents were able to infiltrate Homs where they became eyewitnesses in this fateful media and political battle.

The wide popular war has evolved considerably in the past few weeks. Although a few countries, such as Russia and China, are still in denial about the regime's fall, the truth of the matter is that Bashar Al Assad's rule is in its final days.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk