Testing limits in Syria
These have triggered a fresh round of allegations and counter allegations. In the midst of this vicious violence comes US President Barack Obama’s condemnation of the “outrageous bloodshed” in Homs. Obama has also again called on President Bashar Al-Assad to step down. This call, like others, will go unheeded in Damascus.
But continued negation of the ground reality by Damascus is hardly an option Assad can exercise, given how rapidly the situation is unraveling. According to US Republican Senator John McCain, at least 40,000 Syrian forces have quit Assad’s camp – based on Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s sharing of information. While it is not possible to validate these figures at this point, the fact remains that defections have increased and is a major reason for the intensification in fighting over the past weeks.
Assad may have received a temporary reprieve from the Russian and Chinese veto of the Security Council resolution but his options are severely limited. He is also under pressure from these very allies, especially Russia, to declare a truce and start political negotiations with the opposition – a seemingly impossible prospect unless he decides to call it quits.
The Arab states too are discussing the formation of a joint UN Arab League mission with a different mandate than the previous observers’ initiative. Hopefully, the new mission will be a more effective deterrent if it comes into being and is allowed in by Damascus. Assad, at this point may not be able to deny this since even Moscow is likely to pressure him to cede ground.
Other options that have come to the forefront after the latest resolution’s failure to take off are the arming of the Syrian opposition groups to fight Assad’s forces and providing humanitarian assistance to civilians. There has as yet been no decision on what plan of action to adopt. Unfortunately, the longer it takes, the higher the number of casualties. Therefore the best option at this point may be to pressure Russia and China to influence Assad and call for a truce before anything else.