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One year on, civil war looms large above a disquiet Syria

In recent weeks the regime has stepped up its military assaults, targeting the central province of Homs and the northwestern province of Idlib in particular, in a bid to crush rebel fighters with the Free Syrian Army.

“The degree of repression forced people to defend themselves ... The regime did everything in its power to militaries a protest movement which had sprung up from the grassroots and was peaceful in nature,” said Abu Diab.

Over the months the popular slogan “God, Syria, Freedom,” chanted mantra-like by tens of thousands of demonstrators, was replaced by another slogan resounding at the rallies: “Yes to arming the Free Syrian Army.”

Some Arab countries like oil kingpin Saudi Arabia have also called for the arming of the heavily outgunned rebels who are battling the regime forces in a number of flashpoint areas.

But world powers including the United States have warned of the dangerous consequences of foreign intervention.

And despite a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, world powers remain deeply divided over how to solve the deadly crisis, with Russia and China twice wielding their veto power at the U.N. Security Council on resolutions damning the Syrian regime.

“There is a deadlock inside Syria and around it due to the cold war” between Moscow and the West, said Abu Diab.

He argues that the revolution in Syria is different from those that rocked Tunisia and Egypt, “where the armed forces were influenced by the West” and therefore rallied around the people.

And in Libya, where rebels ended the 42-year rule of Moammar Gadhafi, “oil was the bait that attracted (NATO) intervention.”

“In Syria there is no such attraction,” he added.

Analysts also warn about the risk of civil war in Syria and partition of the country between the majority Sunnis and the minority Alawite community of the Assad dynasty who now hold the reins of power.

“Arming the opposition will only fuel further a sectarian civil conflict because the majority of Alawites are increasingly becoming more and more fearful for their fate and more entrenched,” said Shaikh.

This situation “may lead to massacres in the future,” said the Brookings Institute expert.

Abu Diab agrees, warning against the emergence of an Alawite state that could link forces with Hezbollah, the Shiite militants in Lebanon.

“Such a regime will not hesitate in setting the region on fire: coups d'etat in Lebanon or Iraq, maybe even a regional war with Israel. The regime wants to stay in power at any cost,” he said.

International Crisis Group in a recent report echoed those forebodings.

“Even if the regime can survive for some time, it has become virtually impossible to see how it can ultimately prevail or restore normalcy,” it said.

“It might not fall, but it would become a shadow of itself, an assortment of militias fighting a civil war.”

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