The†Houla massacre, in which over a hundred people including dozens of children were slaughtered, has brought a new urgency to the crisis in Syria.†The issue of whether or not to intervene militarily has put President Barack Obama in a “deeply uncomfortable position,” says the†New York Times:
With American troops only recently withdrawn from Iraq and still in Afghanistan, the president is loath to engage in new military actions, especially one with few advocates, even among human rights groups. And yet with each passing incident, the scale of the crisis grows….
Among the presidentís advisers, there is a recognition that the crackdown could eventually escalate to the point where it would compel a more aggressive response, but there is no consensus on what that threshold would be. One possible game-changing situation would be the spread of the conflict beyond Syria to neighboring countries like Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan.
Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, has criticized Obama for not calling for military intervention in Syria and supports arming the rebels.
Comparisons of Syria to Bosnia, where the killing of 8,000 Muslims in Srebenica led to calls for more aggressive military action in 1995, have been more frequently heard. James Dobbins, who was a special envoy in Bosnia, sees such parallels but also observes that Syria lacks a “cohesive opposition” (unlike the rebels in Libya) and no “leadership from the region to rely on.” MIitary intervention, says Dobbins, “is going to be the last option.”
Free Syrian Army Colonel’s Ultimatum Shows Disorganization Among Rebels
On Thursday, the rebel Free Syrian Army’s Colonel Qassim Saadeddine in Homs said, via a video posted online, that it was giving the Syrian government 48 hours to agree to a ceasefire †or it would consider itself “no longer bound” by the six-point peace plan that Kofi†Annan, the United Nations envoy, negotiated with President Bashar al-Assad back in April.
In a sign of how “fractured and disorganized” the rebels are, FSA leader General Riyad Asaad later denied that the deadline existed, says the BBC. In a statement, Asaad said that the FSA is “committed to the Kofi Annan plan and committed to international resolutions and implementing this plan” but that “we hope that Kofi Annan will issue a statement to announce [its] failure.”
A key feature of this plan was a ceasefire on the part of both the Syrian regime and the armed opposition. But†BBC‘s Paul Wood, who has spent three weeks in Syria, says that “there is no ceasefire holding on the ground” and that “the ceasefire exists in name only.” Wood emphasized that the FSA is poorly armed with limited resources; he reported that “they’re having to sell their furniture to buy bullets,” are “barely surviving” and are not in a position to “really cause the government serious trouble.” Assad’s army is still largely loyal to his regime , is well-trained and backed by Russian arms.
Wood suggested that what Saadeddine’s ultimatum threatens is a “sectarian civil war” of village against village. Civil war, a constant threat as the 15-month uprising has dragged on and grown more violent, has been increasingly mentioned. Speaking from Denmark, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused†Russia of contributing to a potential civil war in Syria as it and China continue to oppose tougher UN Security Council action. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, at a conference in Syria’s neighbor and former ally, Turkey, said that “the massacre of civilians of the sort seen last weekend could plunge Syria into catastrophic civil war – a civil war from which the country would never recover.”
In regard to the upsurge in violence since 271 out of 300 UN monitors have been sent to Syria, Moon emphasized that they were not there “just to bear witness to the slaughter of innocents” and that “we are not there to play the role of passive observer to unspeakable atrocities.”
Syria’s state news agency, SANA, announced that 500 political prisoners arrested during the uprising had been released, two days after Annan, in a meeting with Assad, had urged the release of detainees.
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