The Monitor's View

Syria massacre: a moment of truth to end the lies

The massacre of women and children in Houla, Syria, finally forces Russia to stop defending the denials of Bashar al-Assad in the killing of innocent civilians by Syrian forces.

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    A Syrian holds a portrait of his relative, whom he said was killed by pro-President Bashar al-Assad forces, during a visit by members of the United Nations observers in Kafr Takharim, on the outskirts of Idlib May 27.
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A critical step in bringing peace to Syria is to end the lies that mask the atrocities taking place there.

On Sunday, the world took such a step when Russia supported a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government’s responsibility in the killing of 49 children and 34 women in the village of Houla.

The heinous massacre on Friday could not be easily ignored by Russia, which remains the main supporter of the Syrian regime. Moscow’s uncomfortable alliance with Syria has pushed it into vetoing previous United Nations resolutions aimed at isolating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and forced it to support his lies about the killings, such as the false claims about the role of outside groups or that sectarian interests are behind the pro-democracy protests.

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President Vladimir Putin even contends that the West has fueled the violence in Syria. But now this latest revelation of mass slaughter is inescapable – and also potent in ending the lies.

As many as 10,000 Syrians have been killed during the 15-month uprising in Syria, creating a humanitarian crisis nearly as severe as past ones in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya. In each of those cases, a solution depended on whether the international community remained in denial about facts on the ground.

Over recent months, the United States has slowly isolated Russia over its defense of Mr. Assad. In February, after Russia vetoed one UN resolution on Syria, US Ambassador Susan Rice called the action “disgusting.” She said Russia has decided to “stand with a dictator” rather than support the Syrian people, who have been protesting peacefully for basic universal rights. She warned that Russia will come to regret its “shortsighted” decision.

Assad is Moscow’s only ally in the Arab world, and a major purchaser of Russian arms. Russia’s Navy also relies on the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean. The Kremlin’s strategic interests, however, are becoming less important as the human rights violations pile up in Syria – and as more Russians learn about their government’s support of Assad.

The massacre at Houla comes only a few weeks after Assad agreed to a cease-fire and to allow UN monitors into the country. The killing by the regime has continued, however, in what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton refers to as “government by murder.” And the few hundred UN personnel there are unable to be in enough places to act as a deterrent to slaughter.

The best tool for peace is to have more countries accept the truth about Syria’s violence in order to obtain the will to act on it – and prevent Russia and others from defending or propping up the Assad regime.

Russia has played a similar blocking role in the UN’s efforts to bring more pressure on Iran for its nuclear program. Last November, however, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report that suggested Iran was lying about the “possible military dimensions” of its program. Since then, Russia’s resistance to tougher economic sanctions on Iran has weakened.

Through its complicity with the Assad regime, the Kremlin runs the risk that it will be denounced by Arabs in the Middle East for years. As Russia accepts the truth about the killing in Syria, it may regain the influence it once had in the region.

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