Respite for Assad
COMING a day after the massacre by the security forces at Homs, the second Russian-Chinese veto on Saturday seems to have made a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis difficult. The Arab League plan is in tatters, the possibility of a fresh P-5 consensus appears remote, and President Bashar Al Assad seems determined to stay on, no matter what the cost in terms of blood. Friday’s massacre in Homs has been described as the worst of the ‘Arab Spring’.
Even though the absence of foreign journalists has made an assessment of the extent of carnage difficult, whatever has emerged confirms that the Syrian army used mortar bombs and artillery on a city called “the heart of the revolution”.
People’s homes turned into debris or were set ablaze, and there were bodies everywhere. According to Syrian opposition sources, 260 people were killed, with burials taking place at night to avoid sniper firing. The UN had stopped counting the dead after the figure crossed 4,500 in January. But neutral observers say nearly 7,000 people have been killed, while the government claims that 2,000 soldiers have died in clashes with “armed gangs and terrorists” since the trouble began last March.
Russia and China have come under international criticism for vetoing the resolution, which contained elements of the original Arab League plan and had been watered down to accommodate Russian objections. The resolution, voted for by 13 nations, including Pakistan, had been worked out after intense negotiations. It avoided threats of sanctions and arms embargo, much less military intervention, and did not include that part of the AL plan which called upon President Assad to hand over power to his deputy to organise a fresh election. Nevertheless, the motion condemned the government for human rights violations, “arbitrary executions”, enforced disappearances and the persecution of protesters and media persons. As a sop to Russia and China it appealed to “all parties in Syria, including armed groups” to cease violence and reprisals.
It is true western delegates tried to accommodate Russian and Chinese views, but Saturday’s failure at the UN is now likely to lead to a diplomatic impasse. While the western governments showed haste in tabling the resolution, Moscow and Beijing were obviously guided less by what is going on in Syria and more by economic and strategic interests in the region. At the same time, one cannot but note the contradiction in the western attitudes. While in Libya, the US and Nato managed a military intervention to oust a dictator, they sat idle while foreign forces moved into Bahrain to save the regime and crush a popular uprising.