Leading article: The world must not abandon Syrians now


Related Topics

It is no use warning of impending civil war in Syria; that has already begun. The bombardment of Homs is just the latest escalation in a conflict that has claimed more than 5,400 lives since the first stirrings of revolt against President Bashar al-Assad last March. As the Foreign Secretary said as he announced the recall of the British ambassador from Damascus yesterday, the situation is utterly unacceptable and demands an international response.

But if the accelerating death toll is sickening, perhaps more appalling still is that the surge in government-sponsored violence is so predictable. Russia and China, by vetoing an Arab League-inspired UN resolution on Syria, have freed President Assad from any restraint. Indeed, the violence in Homs in recent days – with fears of a full-scale military assault to come – is a direct result of their unforgivable self-interest. Ostensibly, they rejected the draft resolution on the grounds that it focused too much on the conduct of the Assad regime, without an equal requirement for the opposition forces to eschew violence. Such a claim is shamefully disingenuous.

Ahead of the UN meeting last week, there was little expectation of support from China, given both Beijing's interest in defending governmental autonomy and the generalised desire to check the powers of what it sees as the overweening West. An abstention from Russia, however, might have tipped the balance. Instead, Moscow has abandoned the Syrian people to the depredations of a regime that is daily becoming more murderous.

In part, Russia's obstinacy stems from a sense of betrayal over Libya, where a UN-backed no-fly zone turned into active military support for the rebels. In part, it comes from an understanding of the Arab Spring as a dangerous shift in the balance of the regional sectarian power of Syria and Iran, on one side, and Sunni Arab monarchies on the other. But more than anything, it rests on a long-held alliance, stretching back to President Assad's father, and now including the use of the Tartus naval base and $5bn-worth of weapons contracts.

Russia still has the chance to put its immense influence in Syria to good use. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, will be in Damascus today as part of a Kremlin demarche, supposedly to broker peace talks. Thus far, Russia's efforts have been hardly more than diplomatic window dressing. It can only be hoped that the hit to Moscow's international standing that has followed the UN veto will focus minds. Sadly, it is more likely to confirm Russia's sense of aggrieved isolation.

The debacle at the Security Council certainly throws the limitations of UN diplomacy into sharp relief. It is even arguable that, by revealing the dissension so publicly, the failure has given President Assad a free hand.

There are still options available that involve neither turning backs on the humanitarian horror nor leaping to the dangerous – and erroneous – conclusion that the only effective response is a military one. Most immediately, efforts continue to maintain the momentum behind the Arab League plan for a government of national unity and fresh elections. Rightly so. Steps to toughen sanctions against the regime to stop it acquiring more weapons for slaughter must also move ahead rapidly.

The closure by the US of its embassy in Damascus signals Washington's view that there is little now to be gained from talking to President Assad. Yet, further pressure – be that through formal recognition of the opposition, or the suspension of Syria from UN bodies – can and must be brought to bear on Damascus.

Hillary Clinton described the vetoing of the UN resolution as a "travesty". She is right. But this cannot be the international community's last word.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Letter from the Political Editor: Phone and data laws to be passed in haste

Andrew Grice
The first lesson of today is... don't treat women unequally?  

Yvette Cooper is right: The classroom is the best place to start teaching men about feminism

Chris Maume
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice