By: Stephanie Nebehay
If Syria fails to respect a ceasefire, the world should unite against President Bashar al-Assad, using an arms embargo and other sanctions to force him to end the violence, the main opposition group said on Wednesday, hours before a truce deadline.
The Syrian National Council (SNC) said it doubted Assad would respect the 0300 GMT Thursday ceasefire deadline and called for a new United Nations push to isolate him, something that would require the backing of reluctant Russia and China.
“The chances that by tomorrow the regime will implement or abide by the ceasefire are weak, as we all know. There is no sign for the moment on the ground,” SNC spokeswoman Basma Kodmani told Reuters.
Less than 24 hours before the deadline agreed by Assad with U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, Syrian troops, tanks and MiG-23 fighter jets were still being deployed to attack civilians, Kodmani said.
“The regime is using all of its arsenal against the people.”
Annan, speaking in Iran on Wednesday, said that the Syrian government had assured him it would respect the truce.
Despite a commitment to withdraw troops from urban areas on Tuesday, Syrian forces pummeled opposition neighborhoods in the city of Homs with heavy mortars on Wednesday.
“He’s not buying time, he is only making himself look really worse and worse to the international community,” Kodmani said.
The opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, has pledged to honor the ceasefire, scheduled to come into effect at 6 a.m. Syrian time, Kodmani said. “If today the regime stops the killings, we will resort to peaceful means,” she said.
Annan is expected to return to Geneva and report to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday on compliance with the ceasefire, part of his six-point peace plan to end 13 months of bloodshed.
“We would like to see a unanimous decision by members of the Security Council that sends an ultimatum to the regime with a deadline that is not too far down the road that says on such and such a date enforcement measures will intervene,” Kodmani said.
The SNC’s call for tough U.N. action would need the support of Security Council veto-holders Russia and China, both of which have resisted previous attempts to issue calls for Assad to quit, citing concerns about Libya-style foreign intervention.
“We have sought to reassure those countries that our intention is not to see a solution by force. We know that is very damaging for the entire country, for the future of the society and even the independence of Syria over the long term,” Kodmani said.
“I think that we might well save ourselves and the Syrian people an actual (military) intervention,” she said, calling the lack of Security Council unanimity “deadly”.
“Unanimity is the message that the regime needs to hear in order to change. There will be strong hope that the regime will comply if it sees that there is no more protection from any of the big powers on the Security Council,” she said.
“My bet or my belief is the moment the regime hears a unanimous Security Council speaking with one voice and saying: ‘This is it, it has to stop,’ I think there may not be any need for any form of military intervention.”