The Syrian government is feeling more heat from the international community today for its crackdown on anti-government protesters, France declaring that President Bashar al-Assad has "lost his legitimacy" and urging the U.N. Security Council to condemn Syria (it's unlikely to happen because of Russian opposition). Two incidents this week, however, raise perhaps a more important matter: whether the regime is beginning to face internal pressure in the form of diplomatic and military defections from figures once solidly in Assad's camp. The details of both incidents are clouded by competing narratives.
SYRIAN AMBASSADOR'S RESIGNATION
Syria's ambassador to France, Lamia Chakkour, appeared to become the first Syrian diplomat to resign over the regime's crackdown today when she told France 24 television by phone from Paris that she could no longer "support the cycle of extreme violence" and that she recognized "the legitimacy of the people's demands for more democracy and freedom." The Syrian embassy confirmed to Reuters that Chakkour, whose father was a senior member of Syria's secret police and whose family is regarded as loyal to Assad, had left her post. France 24 added that the network called a number they had used before for Shakkour.
Shortly after the segment, however, a woman claiming to be Chakkour issued an audio statement on Syrian television denying the resignation and saying she will sue France 24, according to the AP. "In the coming hours I will give a statement in French on the most watched and popular French channel to disclaim this news," Chakkour said, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, which dismissed the news as propaganda. Sources tell Al Jazeera that the person who spoke on France 24 alongside a picture of Shakkour was an impostor.
MILITARY DEATHS IN JISR AL-SHUGHOUR
On Monday, Syrian state TV reported that 120 policemen and security forces were killed in the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour by armed "terrorists." But some residents suggested that what actually happened in the town in recent days was a mutiny of sorts within Syria's security forces, occurring in part after troops who refused to fire on protesters were executed (Al Jazeera has highlighted a gruesome video allegedly showing the bodies of the men who wouldn't shoot). On Tuesday, a man identifying himself as Syrian Army First Lt. Abdul Razaq Tlass added fuel to the defection rumors when he appeared on Al-Jazeera to deny that the regime is fighting armed groups and to urge other officers to join the protesters. Tlass, according to The Wall Street Journal, comes from a military family that includes Syria's former defense minister.
Yet the Syrian regime maintains that its security forces were killed in Jisr al-Shughour by armed "gangs," not mutinous soldiers (CNN called this storyline into question today when it highlighted amateur video that appears to show Syrian security forces planting weapons on dead civilians in the southern city of Daraa). The AP has captured this extremely graphic footage of the carnage that Syrian state TV is running:
In another sign that the regime still enjoys considerable support, pro-Assad Syrians organized a sit-in in Damascus today to express support for the army, which has vowed to crush the revolt in Jisr al-Shughour. One demonstrator in this Reuters photo even had an Assad t-shirt: