BEIRUT: U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon’s futile warning that all warring parties in Syria must stop fighting “immediately” appeared to fall on deaf ears Wednesday, with more fierce fighting across the country killing dozens.
“The violence must stop immediately,” Ban told reporters in Kuwait City, “This is totally an unacceptable situation. We cannot let the situation continue this way.”
With the battle between government forces and rebels encroaching on the Syrian capital of Damascus, and stepped-up Western rhetoric on the “red lines” on the regime’s potential use of chemical weapons, Syria’s bloody war seems to have reached another pivotal moment.
But as one regional diplomat told The Daily star this week: “Things do seem to be moving very quickly, but we know that things can change completely again overnight.”
Aggressive moves by Turkey, who won the approval from NATO Tuesday to station Patriot missiles along their border with Syria, has been matched with increasingly fervent threats from the U.S. and its allies, warning Syria against the use of chemical weapons.
The United States raised the alarm over Syria’s chemical stockpile Monday, with President Barack Obama warning there would be “consequences” if Syrian President Bashar Assad deployed them, after reports emerged that the U.S. had acquired intelligence suggesting Syria was moving materials inside facilities.
Syria has repeatedly said it would not use chemical weapons against its own people, but U.S. officials said the White House and its allies are weighing military options should they decide to secure Syria’s chemical and biological weapons.
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton added Wednesday that the U.S. was worried an “increasingly desperate” Assad could resort to the use of the weapons against rebels, or lose control of them “to one of the many groups that are now operating within Syria.”
The U.S. is preparing to attend a meeting with opposition figures in Marrakech next week aimed at forming an interim government that could manage a united military opposition front.
Concerned about the increasing participation of radical Islamist and Al-Qaeda linked Jihadi elements within the militarized opposition, the U.S. is pressuring opposition groups to overcome their differences with the promise of enhanced military aid, opposition figures say.
Of particular concern is the emergence of Jabhat al-Nusra brigade, which has claimed a number of suicide attacks in recent months and allegedly has loose links to Al-Qaeda.
The Obama administration moved Wednesday to designate the group a terrorist organization, officials said, in a largely symbolic step that will freeze any assets of members in U.S. jurisdictions.
Ahead of the Morocco meeting, rebel groups holding secret talks in Turkey told Reuters they had made progress in uniting under a restructured leadership that would see the units operating under four fronts and headed by an undetermined chief of staff. Jabhat al-Nusra did not participate in the talks.
In other signs of movement, Turkey, which has voiced the loudest condemnation of Assad and has hosted hundreds of military defectors and opposition figures, held talks with Syria’s ardent ally and main arms supplier Russia, with the Kremlin saying they would start working on new ideas to end the conflict.
While President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to differ at Monday’s talks in Istanbul, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed Wednesday diplomats would discuss “some new, fresh ideas,” without giving details. There are some indications Russia may be backing away from outright support for Assad’s stay in power, although veteran opposition figure Ammar Qurabi insisted “Russia’s position has changed in the media only.”
In signs read as Assad’s increasing desperation, Israeli media reported Wednesday that the Syrian president was considering offers of asylum in Latin America.
The U.S. said it was aware that several countries in the Middle East and elsewhere had informally offered to grant asylum to Assad, but said it could not vouch for the sincerity of the offers.
Amid the diplomatic flurry, violence continued on the ground, with government warplanes pounding suburbs of Damascus in a week-long struggle to reclaim rebel-held areas.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 75 people had been killed Wednesday, including some 21 in and around Damascus. – With agencies