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How to avoid revenge killings in post-Assad Syria

The end appears near for the Assad regime in Syria. The opposition and world powers must do more to prevent the kind of post-conflict revenge – mainly against Alawites – that could ricochet in the Middle East.

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A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon during heavy clashes with government forces Wednesday in Aleppo, Syria.

AP

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Any day now, the world will likely watch as the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad falls to armed rebels. But there is one thing the world cannot afford to watch when that happens: the violent revenge on the country’s minority Alawite sect and others who passively supported Mr. Assad.

Mass revenge in a country of 23 million people would not be solely a human rights issue. Given Syria’s central role in the Middle East, such sectarian violence could spill over to nearby Muslim nations. World powers might be drawn in, creating ricochets for Israel.

Preventing revenge in a liberated Syria would give it a good start to forming a society based on rule of law. Feelings of retribution and retaliation must be channeled through legitimate institutions of justice.

Events are moving fast enough against Assad that this concern for eye-for-an-eye street justice in Syria needs to be addressed quickly. The pro-democracy political opposition has unified, as have many rebel groups. Russia seems to be withdrawing its support for Assad. The rebels are closing in on Damascus.

The United Nations special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, says the world must be extremely careful not to let the end of this conflict conclude in revenge-seeking by Syria’s majority Sunnis. And the leading female opposition figure, Suhair al-Atassi, said last month that anti-Assad leaders should start now to offer reconciliation to Alawites and others.

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