Robert Fisk: This slaughter will end only when words of condemnation are acted on

Dictator of Damascus will continue his bloody reign until he is stopped

Words, words, words. Bashar al-Assad knows his Hamlet, and he is not impressed.

Yes, his isolation grows daily. A day after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia pulled his ambassador out of Damascus, the Kuwaitis and Bahrainis – we shall naturally ignore, here, Bahrain's own bloody internal suppression – have dutifully followed his example.

The Arab League believes that Bashar should "immediately stop" the violence. The UN has roared, though it managed to smear Syria's protesters by calling for both sides "to exercise restraint" – as if the demonstrators had tanks – and Mr Medvedev, the Russian President, has talked grimly of Bashar's "fate". Even Turkey, according to the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has "run out of patience". A Turkish "safe haven" in the north of Syria, anyone?

The trouble is that everyone has been running out of patience with Syria since the spring, and no one has done more than turn up the rhetoric as the statistics of innocent dead ticked up from 500 to 1,000, to more than 2,000. And of course the absence of journalists inside Syria means that the full story is not known. Syrian television has shown gunmen among demonstrators in Hama, while nightly I watch Syrian state television recording the funerals of dozens – now perhaps 300 – soldiers. Who killed them? Who are the gunmen? YouTube is a dodgy witness to history but there can be little doubt that, faced with state violence on such a scale, civilians have armed themselves to protect their families, to take revenge on the regime, to keep the Syrian militias out of their cities.

And the Assad family, cynical as it is, enacting legislative reform while killing those who might benefit from the new laws, fully understands the hypocrisy of the Arab and European reaction to the Syrian bloodbath. Had Messrs Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama stopped short after they saved Benghazi – had they reined in their juvenile enthusiasm for destroying Gaddafi – they may have had the spittle (I use Sir Thomas More's word for courage) and the munitions to destroy some of Assad's 8,000 tanks. That massive fleet of armour, one should add, was paid for by the Syrian people in order to be protect Syria from Israel – not to protect the regime from the Syrians themselves.

William Hague – he who once childishly believed Gaddafi was en route to Venezuela – has been waffling on about how little the West can do to stop Assad. This is rubbish. Britain's RAF bases in Cyprus are infinitely closer to Syria than to Libya. Had we prevented the bloodbath in Benghazi and left the Libyans to their civil war, we might have found a public opinion strong enough to stomach an assault on the Assad legions. But no, Libya has oil, Syria has little and – despite all the roaring from the Arabs – most of the dictators, in Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain, in the rest of the Middle East, would still prefer a "reformed" Assad to freedom, dignity and liberty for his people. The Israelis don't want regime change in Damascus. Do the Americans?

You only have to compare Obama's reaction to the massacre in Norway and to the infinitely larger blood-shedding in Syria. Obama described how the Norwegian killings "broke his heart". Yet the slaughter of far more innocents in Syria merely elicits the idea that the United States can live without Assad if he goes. There are plenty of Breiviks among the Syrian Shabiha murderers in Syria – but no Western leaders to mourn their handiwork. Bashar Assad knows this. And don't be fooled by the tears pouring forth from the Keeper of the Three Holy Places.

Any sane Arab, Muslim – "or anyone who knows that this has nothing to do with religion, ethics or morals", in the words of King Abdullah – knows that spilling innocent blood leads to hopelessness. We might be more impressed were it not for the fact the Saudis and their tame imams remained resolutely silent when a million and a half Muslims were slaughtered on the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war battlefields. Back then, of course, the Saudis – and the West – were on the side of that nice Sunni Muslim dictator Saddam Hussein against the horrible Shia theocrat Khomeini. Now the Sunnis of Syria are fighting the Shia – for which read Alawite – dictator of Damascus. Having convinced themselves that his survival would only embolden Shia Iran, however, the monarch of Riyadh has come down on the side of the Syrian people – for now, at least.

Assad is almost certainly doomed. But he's more like Macbeth, "in blood stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go'er".

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game