Syrian opposition warns outside military intervention may be ‘only solution’ to crisis
The opposition Syrian National Council said it was coming to the conclusion that outside military intervention was the “only solution” to the crisis in Syria.
By Alex Spillius, and Damien McElroy
9:19PM GMT 22 Feb 2012
The deaths of veteran war reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik, together with those of at least 24 civilians in Homs raised the stakes ahead the first “Friends of Syria” meeting due to be held on Friday.
The international gathering in Tunis is likely to see further calls for financial and technical assistance to be provided to the armed Syrian resistance, if not yet for outright intervention from either Nato or Arab League forces.
However, Bassma Kodmani, a senior figure in the SNC, on Wednesday suggested her group was close to abandoning its opposition to such action.
“We are really close to seeing this military intervention as the only solution. There are two evils, military intervention or protracted civil war,” she told a press conference.
Without progress on the political front, she said the Friends of Syria should allow individual members to support the opposition logistically, technically or militarily.
“There is a humanitarian emergency,” she said. “The world has not responded to this emergency adequately. The people in Syria feel abandoned. They feel they are being let down by the world.”
Washington has already hinted that it may be willing to pursue such an option, though it has been ruled out by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary.
On Wednesday Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discussed the crisis in a telephone call, but agreed to reject foreign intervention in Syria.
“The sides spoke out in favour of the quickest resolution of the crisis by the Syrian people themselves through exclusively peaceful means and without foreign intervention,” a Kremlin statement said.
As the Syrian regime’s bombardment of Homs continued for a 19th straight day yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 7,636 people had been killed since anti-regime protests erupted last March, including 5,542 civilians.
In a further example of the regime’s brutality, activists also claimed that troops and militia loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government had summarily executed 27 young men on Tuesday in northern villages.
Several YouTube videos taken by local activists in the northern Idlib area, which could not be independently confirmed, showed the bodies with bullet wounds to the head or chest and hands tied lying dead in streets.
Simon Collis, Britain’s ambassador to Syria, has returned to the country after being withdrawn for consultations, indicating the Government’s eagerness to exhaust every option for political pressure.
The SNC, the largest opposition group, will ask the conference to support a seven-point plan for establishing “humanitarian corridors” to cities and surrounding areas under sustained assault by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces where food, water and electricity are becoming scarce.
It proposes establishing safe passages from Lebanon to the besieged city of Homs, from Turkey to Idlib and from Jordan to Deraa.
Russia, one of the regime’s few remaining allies, said it now supported a Red Cross proposal to allow limited daily access for aid convoys, though not fully fledged “corridors”.
“Our initiative is aimed at providing safety of humanitarian cargo deliveries. We are actively working with Syria and countries around it,” said Alexander Lukashevich, a foreign ministry spokesman.
Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, was however quick to underline his government’s hostility towards the Friends of Syria meeting, which Russia will not attend, for failing to invite representatives of the Syrian government.
Russia and China earlier this month vetoed United Nations Security Council backing for an Arab League plan that asks Mr Assad to hand over power and hold elections.
Louay Hussein, one of Syria’s leading dissidents, said the opposition inside the country felt abandoned by the international community as the regime had become even more brutal since the failure of the UN resolution.
“No one is able to predict how bad it will become in Syria. The regime is moving further and further away from diplomacy. It is refusing to consider any political initiative,” he said on a visit to London.
A senior Western official said that Russia was still not exerting any meaningful pressure on the Assad regime.
“We would like Russia to be part of the solution but they are not presenting themselves as such. They are delaying diplomacy to help Assad carry out the level of atrocities he is undertaking,” he said.
The SNC’s lack of cohesion meanwhile remains a stumbling block for Western powers, which have yet to recognise it as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
“The SNC is the group that has the momentum but it is far from, and doesn’t claim to be, the only representative of the opposition.
“We want to push for a coming together of those groups, perhaps through a Congress, so that there is a collective moving forward.
“We would like to see a shared statement of principles and secondly some kind of transition plan for a viable political future,” said the official.
Meanwhile, The European Union is set to impose fresh sanctions on Syria, including a ban on Syrian-run cargo flights into the 27-nation bloc, EU diplomats said yesterday.
Other measures include a freeze on the European assets of the Syrian central bank and restrictions on trade in gold and precious metals.