The condemnation from the West has been withering. With months of violence continuing in Syria despite a United Nations attempt to broker a ceasefire six weeks ago, Western leaders have left no doubt that they consider Syrian President Bashar Assad to be solely responsible.
Now, following Friday's horrific massacre of over 100 people, dozens of them children, in the town of Houla, there are indications that China and Russia are reconsidering their support of the Assad regime. China, on Monday, strongly censured the violence, saying it "condemns in the strongest terms the cruel killings of ordinary citizens, especially women and children."
If anything, Moscow was even more unbending in its disapproval. "The government (of Syria) bears the main responsibility for what is going on," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov following a Monday meeting with British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "Any government in any country bears responsibility for the security of its citizens."
Given the inability of the United Nations Security Council to find consensus on a course of action with regards to the Syrian conflict, such indications that the two countries may be reconsidering their support are significant -- particularly now that the ceasefire seems to have incontrovertibly failed.
Syrian Ambassadors Expelled
UN envoy Kofi Annan travelled to Damascus on Tuesday for talks with Assad in an effort to salvage the peace plan. Anti-government fighters, however, indicated on Monday that they no longer feel bound by the fragile agreement. And several Western governments would appear to have reached the conclusion that diplomacy has little future. Australia, France and Germany all announced on Tuesday that they were expelling the Syrian ambassadors to their countries.
Furthermore, a statement by the UN human rights office released on Tuesday is likely to make a return to the ceasefire plan even more difficult. Speaking in Geneva, UN rights spokesman Rupert Colville said that initial investigations have revealed that fewer than 20 of the 108 people who died on Friday night were killed by artillery fire. Most of the rest of the victims were killed by summary executions carried out by the pro-government shabiha militia.
"I believe at this point, and I would stress we are at very preliminary stages, that under 20 of the 108 can be attributed to artillery and tank fire," Colville said.
Colville's statement seems consistent with reports that many of the victims, including a large number of the children killed, appeared to have been murdered with close-range gunshots to the head. Witnesses in the village also spoke of squads of gunmen rampaging through the village murdering unarmed civilians.
German commentators on Tuesday agree that the Annan ceasefire plan would appear to now be dead and that it is time for the UN to take decisive action.
Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Will the images from Houla, the rows of small corpses covered by white cloth, force the global community to take action? Will Houla, as the insurgents claim, become a turning point? Not likely. Part of the tragedy of this long, bloody fight for freedom is that for countries like the US, Turkey or several Arab neighbors, an intervention becomes less attractive with each passing month."
"Already, money is flowing from the US and Saudi Arabia to the insurgent fighters, who are using it to buy weapons. How, then, is Annan supposed to achieve the disarmament of both sides? The fervent demands for Russia and China to give in to Western demands on the Security Council sound hackneyed. In truth, the veto powers aren't just buying time for Damascus, but for Washington and Brussels as well. Pretend for a moment that the Council would condemn Syria. The most difficult of all questions would quickly arise: What next?"
Center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"Syria is experiencing a full-blown civil war . The problem is that the fighting parties -- Assad's troops and the regime militias on the one hand and a diverse group of competing opposition fighters, including even Islamist jihadists, on the other -- have little or no interest in adhering to the Annan peace plan. Assad is going full force because, as he learned from his father, any relenting will be seen as a sign of weakness -- one which will become the beginning of the end of the family dictatorship in Syria. The example of other states from the Arab Spring shows that the fear is not unjustified. The armed opposition is militarily outclassed, but they see the international community on their side and hope that with a sustained civil war the regime will be made obsolete and completely lose its domestic legitimacy."
"Internal complications are not the only elements fueling this war. Sunni states in the Persian Gulf deliver money and weapons to the Syrian opposition because Assad is tied to their Shiite archenemy Iran. The fighting has already crossed the border into Lebanon: The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood supports intervention . This conflict has the potential to set the entire Middle East ablaze."
Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"With the massacre in Houla, Annan's peace plan for Syria and its implementation with 300 unarmed observers has conclusively failed. That is true no matter who, in the end, is found to be at fault."
"The only alternative that remains after the ruin of the Annan plan agreed to in April is a sustained UN peacekeeping force in Syria with the approval of all five UN veto powers. Its clear goals must be to stop the fighting, to secure humanitarian relief to the people and to create the conditions for free elections. Free elections will certainly lead to the end of the Assad regime."
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"It appears as if the atrocities could now even mean that Assad's friends have reached their limits. The United Nations observer mission couldn't prevent the bloodbath in Houla, and so Syrian rebels are burning UN flags and portraits of special envoy Kofi Annan. The outrage is understandable. The mission itself has been a farce from the first day."
"Still, pulling the observers out now would only allow the regime to kill with greater discretion in the future. There would be no one else there to confirm the situation from a perspective that, for example, Moscow would accept."
"Whatever outside attempts to help the Syrian people end up looking like in the end they will also depend on whether the UN Security Council lends them legitimacy. This will be decisive if the West wants to confront the increased Islamism emerging from the Arab Spring."
Mass-circulation tabloid Bild writes:
"Every war has a moment of greatest possible ignominy. A moment which humanity looks back on decades later and wonders: Why didn't we do anything? In Yugoslavia, it was the massacre in Srbrenica, when UN troops stood by as Serbian soldiers executed thousands of civilians. In Syria, that moment is NOW."
-- Charles Hawley
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