With the Arab League halting its much criticized and fruitless observer mission to Syria, violence and bloodshed have risen with security forces marching through Damascus, catalyzing the rift in Syria and the UNSC.
The rising bloodshed has added urgency to new attempts by Arab and Western countries to find a resolution to the 10 months of violence that has killed at least 5,400 people. With Assad standing as a grim reaper above streets awash in his in the blood of his people, the thoughts of peaceful transition and negotiations between Assad and rebel forces are outside to the scope of rationality. Many of the hopeful initiatives continue to face two major obstacles. One problem is Assad’s general unwillingness to consider surrendering power and his recent rejection of an Arab peace plan that called for a transition to a unity government. The other problem is Russia’s willingness to use its veto power in the UNSC to protect Syria from UN sanctions and the possible intervention by peacekeepers and a general Western intervention. With Russia standing above Syria as some symbol of protection, Assad appears to feel invincible and untouchable, believing his forces will be able to quell and crush any and all anti-government forces. Evidently, without the threat of Western intervention, such as NATO in Libya, Assad is escalating repressive actions in order to seize control of his country before the UN or NATO is able to intervene more effectively.
“We hope Syria seriously evaluates the decisions of the Arab League, puts an end to repression against its people and start a reform process in line with the demands of its people.” – Ahmet Davutogly, Turkish Foreign Minster
The Gulf Arab states and Turkey, which have spearheaded regional condemnation of the Syrian regime and have sponsored most plans, have been met with similar ridicule and rejection as the UNSC. The Arab plan, which envisaged Assad transferring power to his deputy and the formation of a national unity government within 2 months, was rejected by Syria. Saudi Arabia is the largest member of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) and other members include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey, once a close ally of Syria, has been at the forefront of international criticism over Damascus regime’s crackdown on protests and has also become a haven for thousands of Syrian opposition activists. With peaceful transition and international intervention or sanction being taken to the UN, opposition forces have taken it upon themselves, once again, to rekindle efforts to dismantle loyalist forces. Syria’s military was forced to send tanks to neighborhoods on the outskirts of Damascus in an attempt to quell the most intense fighting yet seen so close to the capital. The government attack on the suburbs began after the rebel forces, now known as the Free Syrian Army, occupied the area. According to those forces, the assault involved more than 2,000 troops and 50 tanks. The spike in violence has already claimed over 100 lives since it started on Thursday, with more dying each day in gun fights and tank bombardment of residential areas.
“I grew up hating NATO. I was taught it was the devil. It was unimaginable for decades for any Syrian t even think about asking for help from the West. But now people on the ground want humanitarian intervention. They want to be rescued.” – Bossma Kodmani, Syrian-French member of the Syrian National Council
Much hope for the Syrian opposition forces lies with the UN, despite their stalemate in the past because of Russia’s stance as a benefactor from the arms trade with the Assad regime. The request for international assistance will go unanswered for a while yet. Members of the UNSC are grappling over an appropriate response to Syria’s violent crisis. The US, Britain and France are pushing for more international involvement, but veto-wielding Russia, backed by China,has blocked efforts to do more. The recent draft resolution calls for Assad to resign powers to his deputy, mimicking the Arab plan. Russia has vowed to oppose this draft resolution. The failure of the observer mission and the GCC plan signals that regional efforts to halt the carnage have failed and the only alternative is to internationalize the crisis. New York will not be the focus of concerted lobbying, with the Western power, the Arab League and the Syrian opposition all trying to persuade the Russians and the Chinese to not block a resolution adopting the previous Arab peace plan. Evidently, the pressure is building up, both on Syria itself and on its international allies such as Russia and China who have so far staunchly protected it even from censure at the UNSC.