Peter Hoskin

The Syrian tragedy continues

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Last Friday, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, produced a gloomy 13-page report about the situation in Syria. ‘The overall level of violence in the country remains quite high,’ he wrote, before adding that ‘there has been only small progress’ on Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan. And then, as if to prove his point, around 90 people — children among them — were killed in the town of Houla. The government has denied responsibility for the atrocity, instead blaming ‘terrorists’. But, whoever or whatever it was, you get the picture. It’s a bloody and terrible mess.

The question that has loomed across this weekend is: what now? For its part, our government is talking tough this morning, with William Hague calling for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, and Nick Clegg (see video above) saying that any Syrian officials who have ‘abused human rights’ will be blocked from coming to the Olympics. But, despite this, it’s hard to determine whether any adjustment will come in the West’s position overall. Ban Ki-Moon has himself said that ‘we don’t have any Plan B’ for Syria — although, according to the New York Times, Barack Obama is trying to change that with a plan to unseat Bashar al-Assad peacefully, modelled on the recent transition of power in Yemen. That would rely on support from Russia, though, so it’s far from a certain prospect.

Another thing we shouldn’t expect — at least not soon — is a military response of any kind. Not only is the international coalition that was brought to bear against Libya lacking in this case, but the UN superstructure is set against it too. There’s another passage from that Ban Ki-moon report that is worth pulling out:

‘Encouragement to any party in Syria to pursue objectives through the use of violence is inconsistent with our common effort. Those who may contemplate supporting any side with weapons, military training or other military assistance, must reconsider such options to enable a sustained cessation of all forms of violence.’