THE international community seems to have failed to develop a consensus on Syria. There are outpourings of anger by the UN, the EU, the Arab world and rights bodies, and even Russia and China seem irked by President Bashar al-Assad’s intractability, but nobody appears to know precisely how to go about it and stop the carnage that has claimed over 12,000 lives. Last month’s massacre at Houla aroused worldwide indignation and served to highlight the brutality of the conflict and the price the civilians are paying for it. The opposition blames Shabiha, the pro-government militia, for the massacre in which 108 people, including 49 children were killed, while the government accuses Al Qaeda. But the slaughter of over 100 innocent lives has not led to restraint on either side, for the intensity of fighting has increased.
The key issue is: will there be a Libya-like foreign intervention? There are dark hints to that effect. Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that America could opt for the military option if asked, while America’s UN ambassador, Susan Rice, said the US might act without UN authorisation. French President François Hollande, too, has said foreign intervention could not be ruled out. If this were to materialise, Syria could see a conflict worse than that in Libya. Unlike Libya, Syria’s geographical position in the heart of the Middle East calls for greater restraint on the part of would-be interventionists. Unfortunately, President Assad’s attitude doesn’t help. Even though the Syrian situation is seen as a conflict between an oppressed people and an authoritarian regime, its sectarian dimensions cannot be ignored. Already, Lebanese factions have clashed on the Syrian issue, and given some Gulf states’ hard stance, a prolongation of the present situation has the potential to turn it into a regional conflict. The regime’s responsibility is greater, because it has not fully implemented Kofi Annan’s plan. In the interest of his country, President Assad should exercise restraint and make moves that inspire confidence among the dissidents to seek a negotiated settlement.