The United States has closed its embassy in Damascus amid the Syrian ruling junta’s increasingly violent crackdown. As China defends its veto this weekend of a U.N. resolution that might have amounted to nothing more than strong condemnation, the Assad regime, buoyed by continuing Russian and Iranian political and logistical support, including arms shipments, is escalating its murderous rampage. Its goal is to crush the rebellion by brute force; meanwhile, international confusion regarding what can or needs to be done precludes any international effort to protect the protesters.
In Deir Ezzor Province in the northeast, Idlib Province along the border with Turkey and Hama and Homs Provinces in central Syria, loyalist troops travel back and forth between restive communities, taking turns pounding each of them in the hope of snuffing out the rebellious spirit of the inhabitants. The army has effectively lost control of most communities, including major urban centers. Clashes with local rebels are now part of the daily routine.
The Kurdish areas in the north and northeast are spiraling out of control as well. Long-quiet Aleppo is no longer that quiet; most of its rural communities have effectively joined the revolution while loyalist troops seem preoccupied with cracking down elsewhere. In fact, the usual pushback from the regime might even speed up, rather than slow down, the uprising. In Aleppo City, protest rallies have been growing larger and larger, finally soliciting the kind of violent treatment from the regime witnessed elsewhere. In the suburb of Marjeh events have turned particularly tragic with the crackdown claiming the lives of more than 20 residents over the past two weeks.
Elsewhere, clashes are taking place daily between loyalist troops and rebels in Deraa Province in the south, and loyalists have pounded their way back into several Damascene suburbs that have fallen under rebel control in recent days. The specter of guerilla warfare hangs in the air there and in Damascus City.
But the slide into anarchy is more starkly observed in Homs City in central Syria, where for weeks loyalists have been pounding restive neighborhoods with mortars and heavy artillery. On the eve of the U.N. vote, indiscriminate bombardment killed more than 250 residents of the Khaldiyeh neighborhood. Loyalist gangs have committed cold-blooded massacres of entire families, including women and babies, in their effort to spread fear among the protesters and push them out of the city — a development that could usher in a larger-scale drive for ethnic cleansing in Homs City and a number of coastal communities, where sectarian tensions continue to rise. Despite the international outcry, Russia and China went ahead with their veto, which the regime has taken as a green light to continue its crackdown.
While world leaders are bickering over how strongly worded their condemnations should be and whether they could support an Arab League plan that has no enforcement mechanisms, the Assads of Syria are busy pushing the country to the brink.
The good news is that it’s not too late to prevent catastrophe. The bad news is that no world leader, so far at least, has had the courage to admit that this situation requires some form of intervention, nor to help lead a serious discussion about the specifics of that intervention. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently called for the formation of a contact group on Syria. This needs to be implemented quickly. The issue cannot be ignored or postponed any longer; the Assad killing machine must be stopped.
Ammar Abdulhamid, an exiled Syrian dissident living in Washington, is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.