Syrian cease-fire violations deepen gloom over options for ousting Assad

Western hopes for salvaging a nearly four-week-old cease-fire in Syria have all but evaporated, as new assessments raise fresh doubts about the prospects for the U.N.-brokered accord and the chances for removing the country’s repressive leadership in the near term, diplomats and intelligence officials say.


Even as U.N. officials tout a declining death toll and increased numbers of international monitors in the country, reports from inside Syria point to a determined, but lower-profile, effort by President Bashar ­al-Assad to crush remaining pockets of opposition in defiance of international agreements, the officials said.

A look at the Syrian uprising one year later. Thousands of Syrians have died and President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, despite numerous calls by the international community for him to step down.

That effort in recent days has included quietly rounding up hundreds of university students in the country’s largest city, Aleppo, and the stabbing deaths of several suspected opposition figures by pro-Assad hit squads, U.S. officials said. Anti-government activists reported renewed shelling by government tanks on Friday in the city of Douma, near Damascus, as well as snipers firing at protesters from rooftops.

Intelligence assessments, meanwhile, show scant progress by Assad toward implementing any of the six steps of the U.N. peace plan he nominally accepted in March. Under the accord, the Syrian government was to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from Syrian cities and allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians in hard-hit areas.

“None of the six points are being honored,” said a senior administration official privy to internal U.S. assessments of the 14-month-old uprising. “The fact that there appear to be fewer deaths [in recent days] is a good thing, but so far, this is far from a success.”

White House shifts stance

Assad’s refusal to honor his commitments is behind a pronounced shift in the Obama administration’s stance on the peace plan in recent days. While stopping short of calling the accord a failure, White House officials are suggesting publicly and privately that it is time to consider a new approach.

“If the regime’s intransigence continues, the international community is going to have to admit defeat,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday. Referring to continued violence by pro-regime forces, Carney added: “It is clear, and we will not deny that plan has not been succeeding thus far.”

Carney’s comments contrasted with a more positive assessment Friday by U.N. officials, who insisted that the peace plan developed by Kofi Annan, a former U.N. secretary general who is serving as the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, remains on track.

“A crisis that has been going on for over a year is not going to be resolved in a day or a week,” Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told reporters in Geneva. He pointed to U.N. efforts to triple the number of truce monitors in the country, from about 50 to 150 or even 300 in coming weeks, and noted that Syria has pulled back some of the tanks and other heavy weapons that Assad has used to pound opposition strongholds.

“There are no big signs of compliance on the ground. There are small signs of compliance,” Fawzi said. “Some heavy weapons have been withdrawn. Some heavy weapons remain. Some violence has receded, some violence continues. And that is not satisfactory.”
U.S. and European officials have accused Assad of using the cease-fire as a delaying tactic, allowing him more time to root out the opposition and resupply his forces. The few observers inside the country since mid-April have documented violations of the cease-fire by both sides, though the daily death toll has dropped from as many as 100 to about 20, according to U.S. officials who track the violence. U.N. officials estimate that as many as 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011.

Assad’s ability to continue the crackdown in the face of sanctions and international condemnation has led Western and Middle Eastern intelligence agencies to revise their assessments for how long his regime can survive. While they are confident that Assad will eventually fall — an outcome viewed as inevitable as the country’s economy hurtles toward collapse — many analysts now predict that the regime will survive into 2013, barring a surprise development such as a military revolt or assassination. The gloomier assessments are predicated on the belief that the country’s fragmented opposition will have no significant outside help, other than money, emergency aid and perhaps light weapons from Arab neighbors.

Source: The Washington Post

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