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Terrorism & Security

Syria violence raises concerns Assad is only buying time with UN cease-fire deal

The day after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly agreed to UN envoy Kofi Annan's cease-fire plan, fighting continued in several cities.

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The Arab League, which is meeting in Baghdad this week, is expected to discuss a similar resolution urging the Syrian government to end its brutal crackdown, release prisoners, withdraw troops from cities, and allow humanitarian aid groups into the country. Syria’s membership was suspended earlier this year.

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Some members of the League support arming the Syrian opposition, which is vastly outmatched by the government troops, but there is little consensus among the members about the best way to assist.

Iraq’s foreign minister said at today’s meeting that his country does not support foreign intervention there, AP reports. But some of the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have pushed for more assertive action from Arab states. According to AP, they “privately” favor a small group of countries working together, independent of the League, perhaps arming the rebels and creating a safe haven along the Turkish border for both humanitarian needs and to serve as a staging group for anti-Assad forces.

They hope that bringing about Assad’s downfall will break Syria’s alliance with Iran, giving Sunni Arab states, particularly the Gulf states, a “significant victory in their long-running power struggle with non-Arab, mainly Shiite Iran,” AP reports.

The West has, from the start, rejected a Libya-style intervention in Syria, which is a far more central player in the region – not least of all because of its alliance with Iran and the Shiite militant organization Hezbollah, which could be used as a proxy for attacks against Israel.

But Richard Cohen, in a column for The Washington Post, argues that there is still a way to intervene in Syria without getting dragged into a regional quagmire. He also argues that it's the morally right thing to do, even though – as in the 1990s Balkan wars – the US has "no dog in the fight."

U.S. air power can make the difference in Syria. It can limit or eliminate the damage being done by Assad’s helicopters and tanks — although the regime’s reported practice of using human shields and placing children on tanks makes this a bit harder. Nonetheless, this is a regime that in a year has not been able to dispatch a divided and disparate opposition. It can be defeated, maybe easily.

The argument against the United States taking action — arming the rebels, establishing a no-fly zone or even bombings — is that the slippery slope looms. But Bill Clinton did not slip on that slope in the Balkans — no boots on the ground there — nor did President Obama in Libya. These operations can be contained.

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IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria


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