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Saying that the six-point peace plan negotiated by Kofi Annan with the Syrian government represented “the last hope” for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, key members of the “Friends of Syria” coalition meeting in Paris on Thursday warned of further action by the UN Security Council unless President Assad lived up to the terms of the agreement.
In Damascus, representatives of the UN and the Syrian government signed a preliminary series of protocols that delineates the responsibilities of the Syrian government with respect to the advance team of UN monitors who arrived in the country on Tuesday. The agreement covers how the team of up to 30 observers will “monitor and support a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties.” The UN Security Council will take up the issue of sending a much larger contingent of monitors to Syria — up to 300 according to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon — within days.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her most serious warning to the Assad regime to date, threatened to invoke sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter — a move that would allow the Security Council to authorize force. More strong words came from French President Nicolas Sarkozy who compared the situation in Syria with Libya and urged the formation of “humanitarian corridors” to get food, medicine, and relief aid to more than a million Syrians in desperate need of supplies.
And Turkey is considering invoking Article 5 of the NATO Charter that calls an attack on one NATO state an attack on the entire alliance. Syrian military units have fired on refugee camps in Turkey in recent days, killing 4 Syrian civilians and wounding two Turkish nationals.
Despite all the maneuvering, the bottom line is that the Annan “peace plan” is for all intents and purposes, dead. The plan called for the Syrian government to withdraw their heavy weapons from cities and towns, begin releasing detainees, start a dialogue with the opposition, allow foreign reporters into the country, allow peaceful protests to occur, and allow humanitarian aid to reach those who need it.
The Assad regime has failed on each and every point to follow through on their responsibilities under the plan. While the first few days of the 10-day old cease fire saw fewer civilian casualties, the last 48 hours have seen horrific shelling in the twin flashpoint cities of Homs and Hama. Dozens of deaths have been reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London. No detainees have been released, the two sides have refused to sit down while the fighting continues, foreign reporters are still barred from entering the country, Assad’s soldiers have fired on peaceful demonstrators, and humanitarian aid has been blocked or unable to reach the afflicted due to the fighting.
The question has been asked — why persist in trying to resurrect an agreement honored in the breach by both sides? The answer is, according to Ban Ki Moon, that there is no other choice but to try and make the agreement work. The Secretary General still sees an “opportunity for progress” despite the near collapse of the cease fire plan, and called on the Security Council to support a larger monitoring mission saying that it “would greatly contribute to observing and upholding the commitment of the parties to a cessation of armed violence in all its forms.”
Syria has suggested that 250 monitors would be sufficient while the UN and Friends of Syria think that a number of 300 to 400 observers spread out over 10 cities and towns would be more effective. The attitude of Russia and China toward this increased presence of monitors in Syria is unknown. Both nations have formed a “Friends of Assad” grouping at the UN and have vetoed every SC resolution that sought to strengthen sanctions and bring Assad to heel. But the monitoring mission might be more to their liking. China has said that it is studying the idea of joining an observer force and Hillary Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier on Thursday, who agreed that the situation in Syria was no longer “a static state, but a deteriorating one.”
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