NOVEMBER IS SHAPING up to be the bloodiest month yet in Syria’s 8-month-old uprising.
More than 250 Syrian civilians have been killed in the past 11 days as the regime besieges the renegade city of Homs and the conflict takes a dangerous turn, stoking fears of civil war.
The UN estimates some 3,500 people have been killed in the crackdown since mid-March, when the uprising began. The latest figures would push that number closer to 4,000.
The bloodshed has spiked dramatically in recent weeks amid signs that more protesters are taking up arms to protect themselves, changing the face of what has been a largely peaceful movement.
Many fear the change plays directly into the hands of the regime by giving the military a pretext to crack down with increasing force.
There also have been reports of intense battles between soldiers and army defectors, setting the stage for even more bloodshed.
The most serious violence has been in Homs, the epicenter of the uprising, which the regime has been fighting to contain all month.
Syria has largely sealed off the country from foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting, making it difficult to confirm events on the ground.
In a desperate measure, the regime has begun planting land mines along parts of its border with Lebanon.
Syria says the mines are aimed at stopping weapons smuggling into the country during the uprising.
However, the hills along the frontier are used by refugees fleeing Syria’s military assault and by Syrians who have jobs and families on the Lebanese side.
The decision to plant mines suggests the regime is trying to contain a crisis that is spinning out of its control.
Mass protests after Friday prayers, followed by swift and deadly crackdowns by security forces, have become a weekly cycle throughout the uprising.
Amateur video released Friday by the Shams News Network showed government troops dragging a man’s body in the streets of Damascus as fighting raged in the capital a day earlier.
Human Rights Watch said in a 63-page report released Friday that Syrian forces have tortured and killed civilians in Homs in an assault that indicates crimes against humanity.
The rights group said former detainees reported torture, including security forces’ use of heated metal rods, electric shocks and stress positions.
The bloodshed is, in many ways, tied to Syria’s potentially volatile sectarian divide.
Assad, and his father who ruled Syria before him, stacked key security and military posts with members of their minority Alawite sect over the past 40 years, ensuring loyalty by melding the fate of the army and the regime.
The power structure means the army will protect the regime at all costs, for fear they will be persecuted if the country’s Sunni majority gains the upper hand.
On Saturday, the Arab League will convene an emergency session on Syria after chiding Damascus for its failure to end the bloodshed.
Syria agreed last week to a peace plan brokered by the 22-nation league, but the violence only accelerated.
The international community is limited in what it can do to help solve the Syrian crisis. NATO has ruled out the kind of military intervention that helped topple Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.
Assad already has warned the region will burn if there is any foreign intervention in his country.