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What after Annan peace plan?   

The Peninsula - 10 May, 2012
Author: Khalid Al Sayed

It's almost a month since President Bashar Al Assad's regime begrudgingly agreed to UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan. Yet violence still continues to rock Syria, with two bomb blasts hitting Damascus and Aleppo this week while reports of Syrian army’s assault on various rebel strongholds is daily news.

The latest army actions raise doubts as to whether the bloody 14-month uprising can be resolved through diplomacy at all. Assad’s regime continues to show its blatant disregard for the peace plan by not complying with even the basic stipulation of the peace plan: Ceasefire and withdraw heavy military from civilian areas. So, what happens next?

UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon on Tuesday said that the situation in Syria has reached an “intolerable stage” and he would speed up the deployment of more UN monitors in the country. Meanwhile, France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe announced that France will ask the UN to consider military action if the international peace plan fails to stop the violence. That is in line with the US position on the issue.

However, all this talk of military intervention notwithstanding, very little has come off. Even the imposition of a no-fly zone, mildest of all military actions against Syria, has been met with much indecision in various countries.

As the international community continues to be divided on whether to authorise the use of military force to end the conflict in Syria, hundreds of people in the country are killed in the continued violence and thousands are fleeing the country. According to the latest tally by the United Nations as of late March, the uprising had claimed the lives of 9,000 people. There are around 24,000 Syrian refugees displaced by the conflict in Lebanon while around 23,000 more are in Turkey with Jordan also housing the same number of refugees. Human rights groups and charities estimate the number to be much higher and rising.

With no concrete solution in sight, the question is: How many more Syrian lives must be sacrificed before the international community finally takes military action? Is the international community waiting for another massacre to happen similar to the one in Kosovo before Nato finally approved the airstrikes in 1999 after the peace talks failed?

The future generations will hold the international community, the United Nations and the Arab League responsible for the thousands of lives already lost while Syria is descending towards an all-out civil war. Washing their hands off is not an option; the blood of countless Syrians are already on their hands.

Besides Russia and China’s veto on the UN resolution calling for Assad to step down, this reluctance to call for strong armed action against Syria, particularly by supposedly powerful Western nations, could be because they are currently busy with elections in their countries.

The US is in the election year while UK recently concluded their local elections. France just elected a new president replacing former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had been a keen supporter for military action in Libya.

France’s newly-elected President Francois Hollande has said during his election campaign that he supported military action against Syria as long as it was within the UN framework. It remains to be seen whether or not he would follow through on his promise.

The current administrations of these countries are either not inclined to make decisions that could possibly derail their election train or they are newly elected into the position and need time to consolidate their governments. If this is the case then the possibility of a solution to the Syrian crisis, particularly a military one, is not in the cards anytime soon.

Nevertheless, evading the decision to take military action on the Syrian crisis in order to win an election is not exactly a wise move. The dynamic nature of the crisis means there are other “players” who want to take advantage of the situation. By the time the United Nations or the Arab League finally decides to take military action, they may be already at a disadvantage.

It will then be difficult for them to gain the trust and respect not only of the Syrian people but also the people of other nations, who see these institutions as ineffective and no real power and relevance in the real world. In the meantime, more Syrian people will continue to die.
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