Reports out of Syria have confirmed that Bashar al-Assad, in anticipation of the April 12th date for a cease-fire, launched a series of voracious attacks across the country in several key towns including Homs, Deraa, and a suburb of Damascus, Douma. There are other reports of fighting in other towns and regions. This is a clear violation of the spirit of the understanding that Kofi Annan had obtained from Assad. The UN Security Council resolution urged Syria to carry out the plan “urgently and visibly,” with a ceasefire by April 10th. The UN Council called on Damascus to pull back its troops and heavy weapons from city centers by that date. It further requested all parties, including the opposition, to cease armed violence within 48 hours of this pull-back.
But by that time President Bashar al-Assad is likely to have decimated much of the cities being attacked and the butchery of civilians will have mounted perhaps beyond the 10,000 that were killed in a similar attack decades ago on civilians by Assad’s father.
The question that must be raised is whether he will get away with this slaughtering of so many citizens, including women and children. The international community’s response has been timid, including the UN (hampered by the vetoes of China and Russia who clearly think mass killing of civilians is just fine), the Arab League, and sadly the “Friends of Syria,” whose name is now one of shame rather than of pride on the part of the nations participating who have done little to stop the killing.
It is at least clear that the killing will continue until the promised April 10th or even the 12th agreed fullback and later cease-fire, but by that time thousands might be dead or injured and there is no guarantee that the killing will not go on since Assad has a long history of promises not kept.
Clearly, the conflict is getting worse despite Syria’s assurance to the UN that it was complying with the cease fire plan according to a report of the New York Times. At this rate, any cease fire is likely to leave Assad still in power and have eviscerated the opposition. It will likely permit the Assad regime to quietly and comprehensively carry out a persecution of all groups who were opposed to him away from the glare of foreign observers. The team that the UN has marshaled to observe the cease fire will have little capacity to monitor such actions, which can include murder and torture. Even the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said to the General Assembly that “the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate.” The sad part is that Assad has looked into the eyes of the international community and sees only words and cowardice.
Frankly, as we have noted in earlier posts, there seems no alternative other than either to arm the opposition, create a no fly zone, and impose more severe sanctions, or to make an effort to inject into Syria an armed multilateral peacemaking force which can ensure the safety of the civilian population and can take on successfully, if necessary, the Syrian forces. Their aim would be to enforce a true cease-fire, protect the population against reprisals from any side, ensure general security, and enable and protect humanitarian assistance being delivered. Whether that will take place remains highly doubtful, but then the alternative is that the mass butcher of his people will remain in power and slowly continue his massacre and the UN’s “obligation to protect” will be in shatters.
By Harry C. Blaney III.