Amid reports that Syria is devolving ever faster toward a civil war, retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden says, “It’s hard to imagine how it could be worse.”
Hayden’s comment on CNN’s “State of the Union” today came just hours after reports that Syrian opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule stepped up their deadly attacks against government officials as the violence of the past 11 months continues to escalate.
Gunmen killed Syrian Public Prosecutor Nidal Ghazal, Judge Mohammed Ziyadeh and their driver in Idlib, the official Syrian Arab News Agency said. Syrian Revolution’s General Commission, an opposition group, blamed loyalist forces for the deaths, according to a statement today on their website.
Assad won't stop using his forces against his own people, said Hayden, who previously directed the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.
“The real dark scenario is that we stay in this stasis," he said. “There are really no good ideas” on how to stop the months of bloodshed.
Agreeing with that assessment on the same program was former U.S. ambassador to Israel Edward Walker, who said, “There are not really good answers at this point. The answer is not Bashar.”
The international community is divided on how to resolve the conflict as the daily death toll mounts. Forces loyal to the president are using tanks and artillery to try and crush a rebellion aimed at toppling the leader and his regime. Syrian forces killed nine people today, Al Jazeera television reported.
“I’m very worried,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show today. “I’m worried that Syria is going to slide into a civil war.”
On Saturday, Chinaese Vice-Foreign Minister Zhai Jun visited Damascus, where he urged Syria to halt the fighting and restore stability. Zhai, speaking in the capital after a meeting with Assad, backed the Syrian leader’s proposed referendum on a new democratic constitution, set for Feb. 26, according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
Syrian forces intensified efforts to crush the rebellion after China and Russia vetoed a resolution at the United Nations Security Council this month, calling on Assad to step down in favor of an interim government that would hold elections. The U.N. estimates that more than 5,400 Syrians died last year as Assad cracked down on protests that began in March.
Egypt has recalled its ambassador to Syria, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported today, citing Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr. It has joined the Gulf Arab countries in seeking to isolate the Assad government. The Gulf Cooperation Council’s six members announced on Feb. 7 that they were expelling Syrian ambassadors from their capitals and withdrawing their envoys.
The Syrian army resumed shelling residential districts of Homs today, Al Jazeera reported, citing opposition groups. A fuel storage depot at the refinery in the besieged city was bombed overnight by “an armed terrorist group,” the official Syrian Arab News Agency said. Syrian forces stormed the city of al-Sokhna in the center of the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today in an e-mailed statement.
An “armed terrorist group” killed Aleppo city council member Jamal al-Bish on Saturday, the news service said.
Government forces opened fire on protesters on Saturday in the Mazzeh neighborhood of Damascus when thousands rallied in the capital for the funerals of civilians killed a day earlier, the group said.
The unrest aims “at partitioning” the country and hurting its position in the Middle East, Assad was cited by SANA as saying during the meeting with Zhai. The government has blamed the violence on “terrorists” and foreign provocateurs.
The United States, the European Union, and the Arab League, which backed the resolution vetoed by China and Russia, will attend a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Tunisia this week aimed at coordinating support for the opposition to Assad.
The meeting will discuss tightening the economic stranglehold around Syria as part of efforts “to increase the pressure on the Assad regime, to increase the isolation of the Assad regime,” U.K.’s Hague said.
EU governments are moving toward stiffer sanctions on Syria. The 27-nation bloc is considering a freeze on central bank assets and a ban on imports of phosphates and precious metals, an EU official told reporters in Brussels Feb. 8 on condition of anonymity. The Arab League has already suspended Syria and imposed economic sanctions on it.
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