Bomb on Assad’s men shows need for UN action, West says
BEIRUT, July 18 — A suicide bombing that killed members of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle as fighting raged in the Syrian capital today increased the urgency for tougher United Nations action, Western leaders said, a stance Russia rejected.
The bomb, which killed Syria’s defence minister and Assad’s brother-in-law, will weaken morale and might accelerate high-level defections, but does not signal the president’s imminent downfall, analysts said.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the situation in Syria appeared to be “spinning out of control” and called for countries to “bring maximum pressure on Assad to do what’s right, to step down and allow for that peaceful transition”.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the suicide attack, and said it “confirms the urgent need for a Chapter 7 resolution of the UN Security Council on Syria”.
Along with France, Germany and the United States, Britain has tabled a UN Security Council resolution that would extend a UN observer mission in Syria for 45 days and place international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
Chapter 7 allows the 15-member council to authorise actions ranging from sanctions to military action. US officials have said they are talking about sanctions, not military intervention. The body was due to vote on it later today.
“The situation in Syria is clearly deteriorating. All the members of the UN Security Council have a responsibility to put their weight behind the enforcement of Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s plan to end the violence,” Hague said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the bombing “shows us that it is high time to ratify the next UN resolution”, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said “this degree of violence ... means that it is necessary and urgent to find a political transition that allows the Syrian people to have a government that expresses its aspirations”.
But, with four straight days of fighting in Damascus — some within sight of the presidential palace today — Moscow said the draft resolution would worsen the violence.
“A decisive battle is under way in Syria,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists in Moscow. “It is a dead-end policy to support the opposition. Assad will not go on his own and our Western partners don’t know what to do about that.”
Analyst Gala Riani said the suicide bombing was “in some ways the most successful direct attack on the regime we’ve had so far”.
“I think the next few days are going to be crucial in signalling where the conflict goes from here,” said Riani, a Middle East analyst at the Control Risks consultancy.
“At the very least, we can expect the situation to continue to deteriorate. But I think it will take more than this to take the Assad regime down.”
The brazen attack at a meeting of top security officials and ministers in the heart of Damascus will send a message to the top of the Syrian government that they are vulnerable.
“It sends a stark message that individual ministers are not safe and is likely to accelerate the erosion of the regime’s support base,” said Anthony Skinner, head of Middle East consultancy Maplecroft.
The bombing, claimed by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and also by Islamist group Liwa al-Islam, does not alter the fact that the rebels remain hugely outgunned by Assad’s forces.
“These are very significant developments, but I believe the offensive will be repelled,” Skinner said. “Psychologically, though, this will likely give the FSA a significant boost and may also precipitate more defections at a senior level.
“If the political and security elite become increasingly preoccupied with sustaining control of Syria’s primary urban hubs, there will be fewer resources to exact revenge against the families of individuals who have bailed,” Skinner said.
The fighting in the capital indicates that defectors and moles within the Assad establishment had provided rebels with intelligence “making opposition forces more agile and less vulnerable to attacks”, said Ayham Kamel of political risk group Eurasia.
But the offensive, which, like the bombing, could encourage more defections, may prove to be a strategic miscalculation as the rebels will be crushed by greater fire power and rebellious parts of the country could face reprisals, Kamel said.
“Heavier weapons will most likely be deployed in the next few weeks and the regime will probably move towards some form of collective punishment in rebellious regions.” — Reuters