The death toll continues to rise in Syria despite a proclaimed ceasefire and the presence of an advance team of United Nations monitors, according to activists and reports cited by the United States. An unnamed US State Department Official told The Mideast Update on Tuesday that according to those inside Syria, at least 80 were killed in the country on Monday. Said the US official, “Opposition activists inside Syria say the regime’s brutal campaign continues unabated.”
The official said at least 17 have been killed so far on Tuesday, mostly in Homs and the Damascus suburbs. He further noted regarding Monday’s dead that the US has seen reports that 28 people were killed by government forces in the city of Hama on the day.
The mounting casualty count has continued despite the acceptance by the regime and opposition of a ceasefire that was supposed to go into effect on April 12. The cessation of violence is a key part of the peace plan proposed by UN envoy to Syria Kofi Annan.
The fact that violence had not fully ceased by this past weekend was a key reason why the UN Security Council on Saturday approved a plan to expand the number of UN peacekeeping monitors in Syria to 300 unarmed military observers.
There is a small advance UN monitor team in Syria currently, a group that was expected to reach 10 observers by Monday. According to UN envoy Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, the violence has generally ended when the monitors are in the area.
However, the limited area the small UN team can cover at one time appears to be preventing that peaceful impact from extending to more of the country. The US State Department Official told The Mideast Update that on Tuesday, as on Monday, there have been reports of “powerful explosions and intense gunfire” in the city of Homs.
The official also said the Syrian regime has not withdrawn troops and armored vehicles from cities and returned to barracks. Withdrawing the army from population centers is another key part of Annan’s six-point ceasefire plan. Said the US official, “Protesters are still being intimidated and murdered by government forces.”
The US approved the expansion of the UN observer mission with reservations on Saturday, warning that the Bashar al-Assad regime had to take steps to reduce violence for the mission to be successful or even continued. The expanded UN Supervision Mission to Syria (UNSMIS) was given an initial 90-day term.
On Saturday, United States Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, in comments released by her office, warned that the US would not automatically renew the monitors if the Syrian government failed to meet its obligations. In addition, she noted that “we will not wait 90 days to pursue measures against the Syrian government, if it continues to violate its commitments or obstruct the monitors’ work.”
“The Syrian people, like us, know that the deployment of 300 or even 3,000 unarmed observers cannot, on its own, stop the Assad regime from waging its barbaric campaign of violence against the Syrian people,” said Rice on Saturday. “What can bring a halt to this murderous rampage is continued and intensified external pressure on the Assad regime.”
The US has already made it clear that continued atrocities by the Syrian authorities, which have now killed thousands in the past 13 months, will lead to the contemplation of additional steps against the regime. The US official on Tuesday pointed to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments last week about being at a “crucial turning point” and a “last chance” for Assad before further measures need to be considered.
Clinton said that additional steps could include UN Security Council sanctions on travel, finances and even an arms embargo.
Other venues for pressure may also be explored. Syria-neighbor and NATO-member Turkey has had to deal with a sizable number of Syrian refugees fleeing the violence and even limited cross-border fire from Syria.
In light of that, according to the unnamed US official, Clinton noted last week that Turkey has said it is considering formally invoking a NATO article that “triggers consultations in NATO whenever the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of any of the parties is threatened.”
Beyond the more serious steps that can be taken against the regime, Clinton also pointed to efforts to boost support for the peaceful opposition in Syria through communications and logistics. Humanitarian assistance has been another area where the US has sought to help the Syrian people.
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, April 24, 2012)