Sunday, December 23, 2012

Syrian Leader Maintains Support Within the Country

December 23, 2012 7:25 PM

Syria's Assad cultivates support from minorities

By Elizabeth Palmer .After the Arab Spring

(CBS News) SWEIDA, Syria - In his attempt to remain in power, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has cultivated the support of minority groups within his ethnically divided country.

The policy can be seen at work in the southern town of Sweida. The people who live there are Druze, a religious group that has allied itself with the Syrian leader.

When CBS News arrived in town to meet the governor, Syrian state TV was waiting.

The regime is anxious to showcase this community, full of official supporters willing to reinforce the party line: That the violence in Syria is not a civil war, but a terrorist campaign by foreign-backed extremists.

The governor said he is afraid the Syrian rebels will come to his city.

"If the countries that support al Qaeda and the jihadis don't stop, the conflict will arrive here," he said in Arabic.

So far local authorities have kept it bay, though, by supporting violent crackdowns on the slightest sign of anti-regime protests.

It was a strategy that worked in Sweida because government critics were a voca, but small, minority.

It's made Sweida an island of calm and a magnet for refugees from the fighting all around.

About 10,000 of the almost half a million people displaced inside Syria have been offered shelter by Sweida's local government.

They're housed in a former summer camp about two miles from the centre of town.

"We escaped here," one man said in Arabic, "to keep our children safe."

Another young man spoke for everyone when he said "All we want is peace."

They've got it for the moment, but with fighting now under way all around the town, this small island of peace is looking very vulnerable.

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