Western diplomats said they have little to no faith that Syria will abide by a United Nations cease-fire that is supposed to begin this morning. They also have no solutions to end the turmoil.
Syria said yesterday it would cease all military fighting by 6 a.m. Damascus time while reserving “the right to respond proportionately” to any opposition attacks. There can be no truce if troops and heavy artillery are kept in place, ready to pound the population at whatever the government judges to be a provocation, according to a UN Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment publicly.
Syria’s commitments “have little if any credibility,” U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, who holds the Security Council presidency this month, said yesterday in New York. “Commitments have been made and made and made and broken and broken and broken.”
Violence in Syria has raged for more than a year, resulting in more than 9,000 dead by UN estimates and leaving world leaders divided on ways to end a conflict that is evolving into civil war and infecting Syria’s neighbors. Tools such as sanctions or UN-authorized military intervention have been kept off the table by Russia, Syria’s closest ally along with Iran.
“We are alarmed for the ongoing violence in Syria, and we are concerned about the problems facing Special Envoy Kofi Annan as he attempts to bring about a fire and the end to violence,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday as she opened a meeting of the Group of Eight foreign ministers in Washington.
Annan, the UN special envoy charged with trying to broker a peace agreement, will brief the Security Council today on whether the deadline was followed. Yesterday he was in Iran, and met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Annan told reporters in Tehran that “any error can have unimaginable consequences” and that Iran’s government had told him it supports his six-point plan for an end to violence.
The plan had called for Assad’s forces to stop firing heavy weapons and begin withdrawing from populated areas by April 10. The armed opposition was then supposed to respond by laying down its weapons within 48 hours.
So far, there is no evidence of Assad sticking to his commitments.
Attack on Homs
Government forces used helicopters, tanks, heavy machine guns and mortars yesterday in Homs in central Syria and carried out raids in Deir al-Zour, killing two people, while fighting continued outside Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in e-mailed statements. The army killed 30 people yesterday, Al Jazeera television reported, citing activists. Government forces killed at least 38 people April 10, the U.K.- based observatory said.
The main Syrian opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council, said that it and the armed Syrian Free Army remain “committed to respecting” the cease-fire. “There is no sign on the ground of compliance by the regime,” the group said in a statement yesterday, citing government use of tanks, helicopters and heavy artillery.
“On both sides, it will be difficult to adhere to any form of comprehensive cease-fire across Syria,” said Ayham Kamel, Washington-based Middle East analyst at Eurasia Group.
“There are significant challenges for Assad being able to control the military across the country, particularity as some rebels will continue to attack” he said. “It is unlikely that we’ll see any form of significant troop withdrawal from key areas.”
U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed that more “resolute action” on Syria is needed by the Security Council to end the government’s brutal crackdown, the White House said in a statement yesterday.
The two leaders discussed the situation in Syria, as well as the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, during a telephone conversation yesterday, according to the statement.
Western powers this week are weighing their next steps at the Security Council, which alone has the power to impose sanctions, authorize a peacekeeping mission or refer a leader to the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide.
Governments including the U.S., the European Union, Japan and Canada already have imposed trade sanctions against Assad’s family and Syrian officials that include travel bans and asset freezes in a bid to step up pressure on the government.
‘Day of Reckoning’
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said in Jakarta that there will be “a day of reckoning for Assad’s crimes” as his government explores procedures for referral to the court. Syria has signed though not ratified the 1998 Rome treaty that established the court, meaning it has some obligations.
Pressure has been mounting on Russia to back stronger action against Syria after Assad failed to meet the earlier deadline. Russia has wielded its veto power on the Security Council to protect Syria from efforts by Western powers and their Arab allies to seek sanctions against Assad’s regime and call on him to step down.
“The Russians have continuously said they want to avoid civil war, they want to avoid a regional conflict,” Clinton said April 10 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. “But their refusal to join with us in some sort of constructive action is keeping Assad in power, well-armed, able to ignore the demands of his own people, of his region and the world.”
Syria’s borders with Lebanon and Turkey are where international intervention could take place with the creation of humanitarian corridors, Asher Kaufman, an associate professor of history and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace, said in an e-mail.
Turkey, whose longest border is with Syria, said it’s considering a buffer zone following an onslaught of Syrian refugees and an episode of shooting from the Syrian side. The rate of Syrians flowing into Turkey has risen to an average of 707 a day in the past nine days, Annan said in an April 10 letter to the Security Council. That compares with an average of 96 a day from Dec. 15 to March 15.
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