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June 21, 2012

Rising Death Toll in Syria Prompts Calls for Western Intervention

by Meredith Buel

WASHINGTON - The United Nations says at least 10,000 Syrians are dead and 1 million are in need of assistance in a conflict that appears to be spiraling towards civil war.  The escalating violence is prompting some to call for Western military intervention, as diplomatic efforts appear to be stalled.

The violence in Syria continues to escalate and the death toll mounts.

The Syrian military is now using helicopter gunships and tanks to shell civilian areas, while armed rebels have intensified their attacks on government soldiers.

Opposition activists say the humanitarian situation worsens while the world only watches.

“This is an equal if not greater tragedy that continues to expound daily and that does not seem to have the political will of the international community to, at the very least, protect these people,” said Dr. Abdul Majeed Katranji.

Tens of thousands of refugees are either trapped by the fighting or have fled across the border.

Now some influential voices are saying more is needed.

“We should make U.S. airpower available, along with that of our allies, as part of an international effort to defend safe areas in Syria and to prevent Assad’s forces from harassing them as they will inevitably try to do,” said  U.S. Senator John McCain.

McCain argues the longer the conflict drags on, the more it turns into a sectarian civil war that Syrians alone will not be able to stop.

“The country is being partitioned.  Waiting will allow for the partitioning to actually take effect.  There will be repercussions that will be felt in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Jordan, in Turkey and perhaps even in Israel as well,” Syrian pro-democracy activist Ammar Abdulhamid said.

But some analysts caution against military intervention, warning that important questions remain unanswered. “What is going to happen with Syrian chemical and biological weapons?  If push comes to shove would Assad use them?  If he falls do they matriculate to Hezbollah, do they matriculate to al-Qaida?  How do we control those things?,” noted counterterrorism expert Brian Fishman.

The U.N. has hundreds of observers in Syria, but their mission was temporarily suspended because of security concerns.

International efforts to halt the violence are deadlocked because Russia and China have blocked tougher action in the U.N. Security Council.

There were no breakthroughs despite talks at the recent G20 summit.

“We had a very candid conversation.  I wouldn’t suggest that at this point the United States and the rest of the international community are aligned with Russia and China in their positions. But I do think they recognize the grave dangers of all-out civil war,” said President Obama at the summit

Russia argues that President Bashar al-Assad still has the support of some of the Syrian people.

“We believe that no-one has the right to decide for another nation who should be in power and who should step aside," said Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. says it is not supplying weapons to the rebels, but the New York Times newspaper reports a small group of CIA officers is in southern Turkey helping to coordinate arms shipments from other governments.