Hot on the heels of a gruesome massacre in which more than 200 villagers were slain in Tremseh on Thursday, while dozens more were killed across the country, Syrians suffered yet another bloodstained day on Saturday as the regime forces fired from low-flying helicopters and a bombing at a state security headquarters killed at least six people. As these successive episodes of ever-escalating violence are reported daily, a let-up seems like a faraway dream. Reports of the Tremseh massacre came after the UN Security Council ambassadors held their first round of talks on resolutions on Syria, with Moscow repulsing calls for sanctions against the Assad regime. If confirmed, the massacre at Tremseh would rival the killing at Houla on May 25, when pro-Assad militia and government forces were accused of killing at least 108 people. In another worrying development reported in the western press, Syria has started moving some parts of its huge stockpile of chemical weapons out of storage, raising questions about whether the transfer is a precautionary measure given deteriorating security conditions across the country or something more ominous. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has lambasted the Syrian regime and asked the UN Security Council to immediately act to stop the violence. Even the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said on Twitter that the killings “dramatically illustrate the need for binding measures on Syria” by the council. Indeed, one can only hope that the Tremseh killings add urgency to the deadlocked Security Council negotiations on a Syria resolution. The use of artillery, tanks and helicopters in Thursday’s massacre is already a violation of the Syrian government’s obligations and commitment to cease the use of heavy arms.
The US, Britain, France, Germany and Portugal have propositioned a resolution that would give Assad 10 days to stop the use of heavy weapons, as per the Annan plan, or face sanctions. Russia, on the other hand, has rejected any sanctions and instead put out its own resolution that renews the mandate of UNSMIS, which ends on July 20, for 90 days. China too opposes sanctions. The problem with Russia’s resolution, in fact its entire stance, is that it wants to refocus the UN mission on the search for a political solution. But the question is: between who and whom? Large-scale sectarian and tribal fissuring is taking place in Syria and if the Sunnis completely peel away from the regime, as they already are, Assad’s claim to stand for anyone other than his family and the Alawite elite minority will stand majorly diminished. The only way out of the crisis at this point is to put pressure on Russia and China to enforce the Annan six-point ceasefire plan which does not demand regime change but only a commitment to an “inclusive Syria-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people.” The other options – a military intervention with or without UN support or simply doing nothing – may lead to fatal outcomes: an endless war with inconclusive results, and possibly even the division of Syria itself.