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

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Photo match: Nicola Sturgeon on the balance beam on 27 April. Just like that other overnight sensation, Russian Olympian Olga Korbut, in 1972  

Election catch-up: SNP surge, Ed Balls’s giraffe noises, and Cameron’s gaffe

John Rentoul
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk