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Leading article: Still too diplomatic with Syria

To despair at the international community's apparent impotence in the face of the violence that has claimed an estimated 7,500 lives in Syria would be easy.

The efforts of Kofi Annan are a case in point. The former UN Secretary General was in Damascus on behalf of the UN and the Arab League, to try to broker an end to the slaughter. But, at the conclusion of his two-day visit yesterday, Mr Annan could only talk weakly of proposals put to Bashar al-Assad, not of them being accepted, or even considered.

In fact, the murderous President Assad refuses to discuss a political solution to Syria's problems at all, claiming he must first rid the country of the "terrorist groups" he blames for the bloodshed. Mr Annan says: "We have to have hope." But it is difficult to see why.

Neither has Baroness Amos, the UN's aid chief, proved much more effective. Lady Amos concluded her visit to Syria at the weekend with a claim of "limited progress". Limited indeed. After a year of fighting, parts of the city of Homs have been reduced to rubble and thousands are facing a humanitarian crisis. Still the Assad regime says it needs more time to assess the request for full access for relief efforts. Stalling is not acceptable. It is up to the UN – including Syria's key ally, Russia – to make the point more effectively, not least by pursuing the legal implications in the International Criminal Court.

Even worse, President Assad's indifference to international pressure comes against the backdrop of ever-escalating brutality. While Mr Annan was talking of hope yesterday, there were reports of helicopter gunships in action against the rebel stronghold in Idlib and the shelling of Homs continued unabated.

For all the rebels' requests, international military intervention cannot be an option. But efforts to broker talks need greater urgency. Even allowing for the rules of diplomacy, Mr Annan and Lady Amos have been less than muscular in their condemnation of the dreadful violence in Syria. Political pressure is the only route open to us. To have a hope of success, it must be pursued with vigour. So far, President Assad is still calling the shots.