Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

U.N. Bid to End Unrest in Syria Stymied Civil War Is Feared in Assad Crackdown

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

U.N. Bid to End Unrest in Syria Stymied Civil War Is Feared in Assad Crackdown

Article excerpt

UNITED NATIONS -- A U.N. Security Council effort to end the violence in Syria ended in acrimony with a double veto Saturday by Russia and China, hours after the Syrian military attacked the ravaged city of Homs in what opposition leaders described as the bloodiest government assault in the nearly 11-month-old uprising.

The veto and the mounting violence underlined the dynamics shaping what is proving to be the Arab world's bloodiest revolt: diplomatic stalemate and failure as Syria plunges deeper into what many are already calling a civil war. Diplomats have lamented their lack of options in pressuring the Syrian government, and even some Syrian dissidents worry about what the growing confrontation will mean for a country reeling from bloodshed and hardship.

The veto is almost sure to embolden the government of President Bashar Assad, which brazenly carried out the assault on Homs on the very day that the Security Council had planned to vote. It came, too, around the anniversary of its crackdown in 1982 on another Syrian city, Hama, by Mr. Assad's father, Hafez, in which at least 10,000 people were killed in one of the bloodiest episodes in modern Arab history.

"It's quite clear -- this is a license to do more of the same and worse," said Peter Harling, an expert on Syria at the International Crisis Group. "The regime will take it for granted that it can escalate further. We're entering a new phase that will be far more violent still than what we've seen now."

The Security Council voted, 13-2, in favor of a resolution backing an Arab League peace plan for Syria, but passage was blocked by Russia and China, which opposed what they saw as a violation of Syria's sovereignty. The support of those countries has proved crucial in bolstering the Syrian government's confidence, despite an isolation more pronounced than at any time since the Assad family seized power more than four decades ago.

After the vote, and the failure before that of the Arab League peace plan to stem the violence, predictions were grim about what lies ahead in a conflict that the U.N. says has claimed more than 5,000 lives. To many, two inexorable forces were at work: a government bent on crushing the uprising by force and an opposition that, if not increasing in numbers, appears to be radicalizing and growing even more determined.

"What more do we need to know to act decisively in the Security Council?" Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asked at a news conference in Munich. "To block this resolution is to bear responsibility for the horrors that are occurring on the ground in Syria."

Responding to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov -- who asked, "What's the endgame?" -- Ms. Clinton replied: "The endgame in the absence of us acting together as the international community, I fear, is civil war."

The attack in Homs, where Syrian opposition leaders said more than 200 people were killed, drew outrage from around the world and intensified pressure on the Security Council to act. …

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