Bashar al-Assad’s regime must desist from using heavy weapons against its own citizens, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon said today.
He told Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem that the violence in Syria must cease “with the primary responsibility resting on the government to halt its use of heavy weapons.”
The UN secretary general spoke on the sidelines of a two-day Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran where he met with joint UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who has assumed Kofi Annan’s initiative to broker peace.
But Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected Ban’s call and blamed the United States and Israel for the conflict, claiming that they were “flooding weapons” to Syrian rebels.
“The main and behind-the-scenes operators behind the painful issues in Syria are America and the Zionist regime,” Khamenei said.
A leading architect and proponent of the UN’s Responsibility to Protect doctrine called for international intervention to halt the regime’s atrocities.
“I have been writing for over a year now of the need to affirm and implement the Responsibility to Protect doctrine to help save Syrian civilians being massacred by the Assad regime, or to initiate the requisite protection action, even without invoking the R2P doctrine,” writes Irwin Cotler, a former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada.
“Yet, the riposte to these calls – by myself and others – for a more proactive, protective and interventionist approach has been to warn of “civil war”; of enhanced sectarian strife; of an influx of jihadists; of incessant killings – all of which have happened,” notes Cotler, a professor of law (emeritus) at McGill University.
Other voices calling for the provision of technical assistance and even arms to Syria’s opposition to counter extremists include Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US envoy to the UN and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, and Marc Ginsberg, a former US ambassador to Morocco.
“When Libya’s Gadaffi was merely threatening, I repeat, threatening, to bring harm to Benghazi’s civilians, the outcry from the Obama Administration and its allies was deafening,” writes Ginsberg.
“The lack of any comparable drumbeat out of Democratic Congressional offices or our allies in the think tank world on Syria would suggest they were quietly “advised” by the White House to avoid placing the Administration in a politically difficult position,” he suggests.
Egypt’s recently-elected President Mohammad Morsi is the latest major figure to call for international action to end the bloodshed.
“The Syrian people are fighting with courage, looking for freedom and human dignity,” Morsi said, suggesting that all parties at the gathering shared responsibility for the bloodshed. “We must all be fully aware that this will not stop unless we act.”
Mr. Morsi, pointedly, did not mention unrest in Bahrain, possibly to avoid offending Saudi Arabia, which has helped Bahrain’s monarchy suppress the uprising. With the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sitting beside him, Mr. Morsi delivered a stinging rebuke of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whom Mr. Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders have staunchly defended throughout the conflict.
“Our solidarity with the children of beloved Syria against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is a moral duty as much as a political and strategic necessity that stems from our belief in a coming future for the free proud Syria,” Morsi said. “We must all offer our complete, undiminished support for the struggle for freedom and justice in Syria, and to translate our sympathy into a clear political vision that supports peaceful transition to a democratic government,” he said.
Syrian opposition figures this week outlined their vision of Syria’s political trajectory in The Day After: Supporting a Democratic Transition in Syria, a 120-page document that was launched in Berlin.
But opposition divisions are likely to hamper efforts to implement the project’s recommendations, as questions remain about the nature of a post-Assad government, analysts suggest. “The fact is, we don’t know,” said Andrew Tabler, a senior research fellow from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who spoke from Antakya, a Turkish city on the Syrian border. “That’s why there is such an effort now to reach out to the opposition, especially inside the country to see if we can work better with it.”
Opposition groups are still “very fragmented and very suspicious of one another, Tabler says. Internally-based rather than exiled groups may be better placed to provide legitimate and credible leaders for an eventual transition. “Whether they would provide the political base or the backbone, nobody knows yet,” Tabler said
With towns in northeastern Syria flying yellow, green and red flags “as long-oppressed Kurds exploit an uneasy vacuum left by Assad’s retreating forces,” Syrian Kurds are enjoying a rare “breath of freedom,” Reuters reports:
“Sunni Arabs and Turks will line up against it. Shi’ite forces will be inclined to encourage Kurdish independence if only to hurt the Sunni Arabs,” he said.
Syrian Kurds have long faced discrimination, a lack of full citizenship rights and forced displacements. But Assad sought to dissuade them from joining the uprising against him that erupted elsewhere in March 2011 by promising citizenship.
Now the PYD says it has taken over Syrian towns such as Kobani, Derik and Efrin without a fight.
This, security analysts say, may be a ploy by Assad to allow PKK influence to expand, taking revenge on Turkey for hosting the rebel Free Syrian Army on its southern border….For now the situation in Syria’s Kurdish areas, enjoying de facto autonomy, seems “relatively stable, but fragile”, said one diplomat, who suggested that Turkish reactions and events elsewhere in Syria might determine how long this would last.
“The Kurdish parts of Syria will undoubtedly become the focus of the power struggle that is emerging in the region over Syria,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the Center for Middle East Studies at Oklahoma University.
Kurdish autonomy is a sensitive topic not just for Turkey, but also for Assad’s foes in the Syrian National Council (SNC), dominated by Arab groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Many Kurds believe the SNC has Arab nationalist instincts, hostile to Kurdish aspirations, even though its new leader is himself a Kurd.
Turkish leaders are upset about the PYD wielding power in north Syria, warning of military action if the PKK starts to threaten Turkey from there. They stress Syrian national unity and want other Kurdish groups to assert themselves, not the PYD.
“Turkey faces a dilemma: it wants the (Assad) regime to go, but not to the benefit of the Kurds, and especially not the PYD/PKK,” said Joost Hiltermann at International Crisis Group. “Turkey is now working with Barzani to contain the PKK.”
The United States, in concert with the EU, the Arab League, Turkey, Canada and other Friends of Syria must implement the following ten measures “with all deliberate speed,” writes Cotler, the co-editor of The Responsibility to Protect: The Promise of Stopping Mass Atrocities in our Time:
First, protection against the threat of weapons of mass destruction…
Second, it is necessary to interdict and sanction the substantial Iranian and Hezbollah military assistance to the Syrian regime …..
Third, enhanced support for the besieged opposition: All the opposition forces, from the Syrian National Council to the Free Syrian Army, are united in their request for international intervention and support to help “level the playing field” ….
Sixth, it is necessary that the United States – together with Arab, Turkish, European and other allies – works to unify the patchwork Syrian opposition, …..
Seventh, the Syrian political and army leadership must be put on notice that they will be held accountable for their grave violations of international law, ….
Eighth, the international community must protect against the risk of rising sectarian violence, jihadist radicalization, and reprisal and revenge killings, by securing firm commitments from Syrian opposition forces to address these phenomena seriously while protecting the rights of minorities…