By Arab News
There is something almost snake-like and mesmeric about the regime of Bashar Assad, the way in which it has continued to both seemingly accept and then defy anguished calls for peace, from its own people and from the Arab world.
It was the Arab League’s initiative that Assad first signed up, to along with the admission of monitors, there would be negotiations with the opposition. The fighting would stop. He would embrace a pluralist political future for Syria.
The fighting did not stop. There were no negotiations. And the League’s monitors were given the runaround by their minders, even as the regime continued its murderous bombardment of the rebellious Baba Amro district of Homs.
Last month there was the meaningless referendum on a new constitution, which promised most of the opposition demands — except that Assad quit power immediately. Like the Arab League proposals to which the regime had also agreed, the promises from Damascus are clearly meaningless.
Now comes the new plan brokered by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan which, in order to bring on side Russia and China, is a much watered-down version of the original Arab League deal. It insists on an immediate cease-fire and unrestricted access for humanitarian aid. And, of course, the Assad regime has agreed to this as well. But guess what? There regime’s guns are still firing on its own people and there is no sign of any blanket implementation of the aid deal, whereby humanitarian organizations would be able to use cross-border aid corridors, principally from Turkey.
Moreover, Assad protested to Annan that the cease-fire that he says he wants so desperately, cannot of course come into being until rebel fighters lay down their arms. Therefore, he will only negotiate once the opposition’s military wing has surrendered. Strange peace negotiations indeed !
Assad’s calculation is quite clear. As long as he can appear to keep on talking, he can in reality keep on killing.
His task is made easier by the opposition groups in the Syrian National Council, who seem incapable of unified action. On Wednesday, at an Istanbul summit designed to produce a united front, some key members walked out, protesting the SNC was behaving as undemocratically as the Baathist regime it opposes. Therefore SNC assertions that it would go along with the Annan peace plan, were less than convincing.
Moscow and Beijing have given the appearance of showing impatience with Damascus. But the fact is that as long as Assad appears able to cling on to power, they are not going to desert him. It is not just that Russia wants to hang on to her two Syrian naval bases but that both countries are exploiting the ever more evident powerlessness of the United States and the rest of the international community. At the moment the outside world can do nothing except bluster and impose sanctions, which will not work as long as Russia, China and Iran are prepared to undermine them. None of them wishes to see a repeat of the military intervention in Libya.
And as the Arab League gathered in Baghdad, Assad revealed that he had a new trick to play. He would take no notice of any decisions that emerged from the summit, because Syria had been suspended from League membership. Therefore he was entitled to ignore any decisions that the organization reached. Syria, he said, was maintaining relations with other Arab states only on a purely bilateral basis.
Thus the slaughter continues with the UN gathering clear proof that children have been regularly tortured and abused to extract information from them. The depravity of what is happening in Syria is sickening. But perhaps even more sickening is the sense of powerless all reasonable people around the world feel in the face of this bloody and barbaric regime which is sheltered so effectively behind the unfeeling and cynical powers of Russia and China.
When will this agony end ?