Only a military threat can stop Assad, says France

 

Beirut

International pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's regime ramped up yesterday after France said it may put forward a proposal to the UN Security Council which would allow for military action to end the bloodshed.

Alain Juppé, the French Foreign Minister, said he would push for a Chapter 7 resolution – which allows for military action to "restore international peace and security" – if Damascus does not comply with the ceasefire by early May.

Amid growing frustration about the painfully slow deployment of UN observers, Mr Juppé also demanded that the full team of 300 be in Syria within a fortnight. He described 5 May, when the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is due to present a report to the Security Council on Syria's compliance with his plan, as the "moment of truth".

"If that does not work, we cannot allow the regime to defy us. We would have to move to a new stage with a Chapter 7 resolution at the United Nations to take a new step to stop this tragedy," he said. There is outrage at the continued breaches of the ceasefire agreement by Syrian troops, particularly after reports of a bloody massacre in Hama on Monday, a day after monitors visited the city.

Mr Juppé's comments indicate a hardening of the international position on Syria, even though a Chapter 7 resolution is likely to be vetoed by Russia and China. The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also mentioned the possibility of tabling such a resolution.

The UN faces criticism for the lack of monitors on the ground. More than 10 days since the Security Council passed a resolution approving the dispatch of an advance team of 30, just 15 had arrived in the country yesterday.

UN peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous said on Tuesday that it would take a month for the first 100 observers to arrive. "Are they coming on horses?" quipped one resident of Homs, which has suffered months of shelling.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said Damascus has refused to accept observers from all members of the 14-nation "Friends of Syria" group, which includes Britain, the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

In the latest spate of violence, four civilians were shot dead as their bus stopped at a checkpoint in the northern province of Idlib, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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