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Terrorism & Security

Syria massacre not enough to break UN deadlock over stronger action

Russia's support for a UN Security Council condemnation of this weekend's Syria massacre had raised hopes that Moscow would support stronger action against its ally Assad.

By Staff writer / May 30, 2012

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks to Peru's Foreign Minister Rafael Roncagliolo during their official talks in Moscow, Tuesday, May 29. Lavrov on Tuesday reiterated Russia's belief that both sides are responsible for the Houla massacre. He also called for a full investigation into the incident before apportioning blame.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

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Middle East Editor

Ariel Zirulnick is the Monitor's Middle East editor, overseeing regional coverage both for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She is also a contributor to the international desk's terrorism and security blog. 

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Despite early talk about the the Houla massacre being a turning point that would goad the international community to take stronger action against Syria, it seems unlikely that the United Nations Security Council will be able to overcome the deadlock that is blocking additional steps.

The May 25 incident in the town of Houla left 108 Syrians dead – by execution, likely by pro-government thugs, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said – in one of the most horrific events of the 14-month-old conflict. The West hoped that the scale of the massacre would at last sway Russia and China's to take further steps against the Syrian government, which they have consistently refused to do. 

The United States, Britain, and France have been trying since the early months of the conflict to convince China and Russia, who have veto power on the council, to back further sanctions against the Syrian government. Russia's support for a May 27 Security Council statement condemning the massacre and criticizing the government for using heavy weapons raised their hopes.

But since then, there have been no signs of a softening of its opposition and yesterday Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Russia's belief that both sides are responsible for the massacre. He also called for a full investigation into the incident before apportioning blame. "There are no signs Russia and China are ready to support tougher steps at the UN, despite what happened in Houla," a council diplomat told Reuters.

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said yesterday that the council's condemnation is enough for now and that any new steps "would be premature," Agence France-Presse reports. 

Most UN officials have been cautious in their statements about who is responsible for the massacre until a full investigation can be carried out, giving Russia and China a cover for not making any stronger statements. However, peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said yesterday that the Syrian Army and "shabbiha" (the name for pro-government thugs) were "probably" behind the incident, Reuters reports.

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