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February 14, 2012, Tuesday

Human lives are the priority, not regime change

He knows best how to murder. With the uninterrupted shelling of the city, Homs, under siege, Bashar al-Assad has proven for good that there is no worse alternative for Syria than himself and the murderous gang of Baathists that surround his regime. For this shame Russia and China are to blame, although even if they did help pass the UN Security Council resolution, it probably would not help. However, what their veto has certainly done is embolden the regime to continue to commit crimes against humanity.

What can be done about it? At the moment, there are three serious attempts taking place as the massacres continue. If we line them up according to their weight, they are the Arab League’s proposal to the UN for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping force, talks that took place between the US and Turkey in Washington and an Anglo-French Syria summit due to be held this Friday.

Very few analysts have raised any hope about the Arab League proposal. Although Russia has been part of the efforts in diplomacy, it made it clear to Arab leaders that without the consent of Assad, there would be no peacekeeping force. We all know what Assad would say about the idea.

What discourages the concerned countries is that such an idea would therefore be impossible to sell within the Security Council. It can be concluded that the divisions between the Permanent Five are to remain. Another negative for the idea has been shared by some Arab commentators who note that it is also a divisive factor among the members of the Arab League.

“The problem is that in isolating the Assad regime, the Arab League risks a polarisation of allegiances with the potential for escalation: the sectarian conflict in Syria could extend beyond its borders and into the rest of the region; in the worst-case scenario, we might see a return to a cold-war alignment positioning the Shia crescent, backed by Russia and China, against the Sunni countries, backed by the west,” argued Abdel al-Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi.

Meanwhile, London and Paris seem determined on a follow-up of the Libyan pattern. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and David Cameron, the British prime minister, will not only discuss how to best endorse the idea of a peacekeeping force, but also to discuss -- as reported by the Guardian -- “what practical help they can give the Free Syrian Army.” The latter part is sure to irk Moscow and Beijing, once more a copy-and-paste of the Libyan intervention model.

Meanwhile, in Washington talks between Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, and Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, seem to have made some progress on various levels of solutions. Actually, Davutoğlu’s time in Washington was extended to include some 10 hours of meetings at the White House and the Pentagon with key officials of the American administration.

Talks progressed on two actual premises: Both the US and Turkey, for their own reasons and pursued policies, are deeply reluctant to intervene and agree that there should be no “Western boots” on Syrian soil unless it is commanded and coordinated by Arab actors. Secondly, they both agree that the crimes committed by the Assad regime will be watched passively, as the world did during the early stages of the Bosnian conflict.

From reports on the talks, we may conclude that a two-fold plan (including diplomatic, military, logistical and humanitarian dimensions) has taken on a rough form, based on urgencies and priorities. “We are now at work on a double-layered plan,” Davutoğlu told the Milliyet daily yesterday.

The first part is to establish a “pressure group” -- a wide-based platform involving all concerned countries. This idea may be finalized next week at a meeting in Tunisia.

However, strictly determined not to act without an internationally legitimized decision to intervene in Syria, Ankara seems to have acted swiftly in the UN to open “humanitarian corridors” to Syrian cities in crisis, like Hama and Homs. For this, both the Red Cross and Red Crescent will need to be engaged.

Will it work? Given the nature of the message that was sent by a double veto at the UN, there is no reason why Damascus will allow interference in its domestic affairs, even if UN mechanisms work hard for it. The idea is not naive nor premature; however, the regime itself is almost identical in its reflexes to the suicidal regime of Milosevic in Serbia.

Just like in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, we see a civil war developing before our eyes, where the risks for massive human suffering are high, and the only choice is between a -- hopefully -- active Arab world or an “insurgence of volunteers” entering Syria as well-instructed units to help speed up a downfall.

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