Gen. Mood's job is to convince both sides they're not interested in destroying the other. That proposition grows tougher by the moment. A conversation with the governor of Deir Ez-Zour, Samir el-Sheikh, illustrates how far apart both sides are. He was pleasant enough during the meeting earlier that day, but his tone was anything but conciliatory.
"The government has been far too patient with these people ... the armed groups simply have to give up their weapons," says Gov. Sheikh, an Alawite who was appointed governor after the uprising began. "But they don’t want this situation to end because they are criminals and they are getting rich off this situation. The real opposition is in the parliament in Damascus.”
The governor apologizes for being slightly hard of hearing – a result, he says, “of all the shooting I did in the 1980s.” The early 80's witnessed the last big uprising against the Baath regime, led at the time by the Muslim Brotherhood. Back then Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez, was president, and the uprising ended in 1982 after the Syrian Army sacked the city of Hama, with at least 10,000 residents killed.
To be sure, the younger Assad's regime has not carried out a massacre on that scale since protests broke out in March 2011. But the US and rebel activists say there is mounting evidence of systemic killing of civilians, as well as rebel fighters, and many expect the violence to worsen. The UN alleges children have been targeted for torture and execution by pro-government militias in the past year.