Syrian forces thrust into the rebellious city of Homs on Wednesday, killing as
many as 100 civilians by the accounts of opposition activists, and Turkey
appeared to be preparing a new diplomatic push against President Bashar
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who is readying an
initiative uniting Western, Arab and other states that have called for Ankara’s
former ally Assad to step down – telephoned outgoing Russian President Dmitry
Medvedev, and afterward issued a statement repeating that Assad had lost
The Kremlin said Medvedev told Erdogan the search for a
solution should continue, including in the Security Council, but foreign
interference was not an option. The Turkish premier, who described the Russian
and Chinese veto of the UN resolution over the weekend as a “fiasco,” faces a
hard sell with Moscow.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has condemned
Western “interference” of the kind seen last year in Libya as a “cult of
Putin – who first won the presidency after his military
assault on the rebel Russian city of Grozny – is expected to return to the
Kremlin via an election next month, in which the Russian leader accuses the West
of aiding his opponents.
Moscow’s foreign minister, having visited Assad
in Damascus on Tuesday, made clear Russia was still opposed to any peace talks
that were conditional on Assad first stepping aside.
In Washington, White
House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters a “friends of Syria” meeting
could be held soon, but did not give details.
CNN reported on Wednesday
that the US military is beginning to review its options on Syria. The report
said the US Central Command – which is responsible for the Middle East – is
beginning a “scoping exercise” to see which capabilities are available, given
other US military commitments in the region.
Top military officials told
CNN such planning exercises are typical for the Pentagon, which is tasked with
providing options to the US president, if and when they are asked
The White House continued to stress it was not actively considering
“We never rule anything out in a situation like
this. But we are pursuing a path that includes isolating and pressuring
the Assad regime so that it stops its heinous slaughtering of its own people,”
James H. Anderson, an expert at the George C. Marshall
European Center for Security Studies, said he believes the administration is
still not seriously considering military action, and the Pentagon’s preparations
are merely contingency planning.
“I’d take the Pentagon at their word –
it’s their job to think of all the bad things that could happen,” Anderson told
The Jerusalem Post from Germany.
“For its part, the administration has
been saying it has absolutely no interest in such military activity. All that
said, it’s possible that at least some of those options are likely to be
considered with greater seriousness moving forward. The Assad regime seems to be
baring its fangs in a way that will make it increasingly difficult for the US and its partners and European friends to not respond.”
Brussels, a senior European diplomat said EU governments had reached an
agreement in principle to impose sanctions on the Syrian central bank this
month, as part of new measures intended to force Assad out of power.
diplomat said details of the new sanctions were still being worked out, but the
EU’s 27 capitals were behind the push, which should be formally approved by
“Obviously, details are crucial. But [EU] member states
agree on the principle,” the diplomat said. “It is still a matter of discussion
to what extent we can take such a measure without damaging overall trade,
because it is not the intention to halt trade completely.”
He added that
a European ban on trading with the Syrian government in phosphates, diamonds,
gold and other precious metals was being planned. European countries buy 40
percent of Syrian phosphate exports.
The new sanctions, which are
expected to be approved by EU foreign ministers at their next meeting, would
follow several previous rounds targeting Assad’s government. In September, EU
governments agreed to ban imports of Syrian crude.
Meanwhile, a newspaper
close to the Turkish government said Ankara is planning to organize a conference
with Arab and Western governments in Istanbul. A NATO member and rising Muslim
power in the region, Ankara is sheltering Syrian rebel army commanders and has
spoken of creating havens for refugees.
As the diplomatic gears turned,
the military offensive in Homs and elsewhere showed no sign of let
Residents of the city told the BBC they were under the heaviest
shelling yet. They also accused militiamen of slaughtering three families in
their homes – the latest in a series of incidents fueling fears of a descent
into more widespread, Iraq-style sectarian killing.
The onslaught on
Homs, one of the bloodiest of the 11-month revolt against Assad, has not
relented despite a promise to end the bloodshed that the Syrian leader gave to
Russia, which saved Damascus from UN Security Council action on
In the latest assault on Homs, troops fired rockets and mortars
while tanks moved closer to Bab Amro, the district hardest hit by bombardments
that are believed to have killed nearly 200 people in the past two
A group known as the Syrian Revolution General Commission called in
a statement in the afternoon for outside humanitarian protection, and that the
day’s death toll stood at 100.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
said countries with influence over the Syrian opposition should press them to
enter a dialogue with Assad.
Lavrov was speaking in Moscow a day after he
met Assad in Damascus, where he said both nations wanted to revive an Arab
League monitoring effort that was suspended due to violence.
“It is not
really the international community’s business to try to determine the outcome of
national dialogue in advance,” he said.
French Foreign Minister Alain
Juppé dismissed Syrian pledges of peace as deceit, saying, “we’re not going to
fall for it.”
For his part, Putin insisted Russia was acting in good
faith, and said he was wary of Western motives in Syria: “We of course condemn
all violence regardless of its source, but one cannot act like an elephant in a
china shop,” he told Russian religious leaders.
“Help them, advise them,
limit, for instance, their ability to use weapons but not interfere under any
circumstances,” he said. “A cult of violence has been coming to the fore in
international affairs in the past decade.”
Pro-Assad militiamen shot dead
at least 20 civilians in Homs when they stormed their homes on the outskirts of
opposition areas overnight, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
Activists said the unarmed victims were a family of five, one of
seven and one of eight.
One activist said bombardment intensified in the
early morning, targeting the Sunni districts of Bab Amro, al-Bayada,
al-Khalidiya and Wadi al-Arab, all hostile to Assad, whose minority Alawite sect
has dominated Syria for five decades.
Australian Foreign Minister Kevin
Rudd called in Syria’s chargé d’affaires, Jawdat Ali, on Wednesday and told him
it was time for Assad to “find an exit strategy before the situation in Syria
degenerates further and more lives are lost.”
Russia’s veto of the
Security Council resolution on Syria went beyond protecting an ally and arms
buyer, analysts said. It showed Moscow’s determination to crush what it sees as
a Western crusade to use the United Nations to topple unfriendly
The same holds true for China, which followed Russia’s lead
and joined Moscow in striking down a European-Arab draft resolution that would
have endorsed an Arab League plan for Assad to transfer power to his deputy to
prepare free elections.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister said 11 kidnapped
Iranians in Syria were released on Wednesday, but 18 others are still being held
“Luckily, efforts here have gained the release of 11 Iranians
kidnapped and there are continued efforts to get the release of 11 other Iranian
visitors who crossed into Syria by land,” Hossein Amir Abdollahian said.
“Efforts are also ongoing to secure the release of seven engineers.”
month, Syrian rebels released video of seven men they said were Iranian soldiers
aiding Assad’s crackdown.