Mar
07

Syria: UN’s Valerie Amos flies in as Obama rules out military action – live updates

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• Bashar al-Assad vows to fight on against ‘terrorists’
• Amos due in Damascus to lobby for humanitarian access
• More reprisal killings alleged in Homs

9.17am: China is bringing workers home from Syria in what Reuters sees as an apparent attempt to avoid a repeat of last year’s eleventh-hour rescue of Chinese nationals from Libya.

China’s commerce minister Chen Deming said only about 100 Chinese workers will be left behind to guard work camps and equipment.

Reuters reminds us that China was caught off guard last year when a civil war erupted in Libya. Nearly 36,000 of its nationals exited the country, some by hastily chartered ships, while others fled by foot or by bus into Egypt.

8.40am: (all times GMT) Welcome to Middle East Live. The UN’s Valerie Amos is heading for Damascus to urge the Assad regime allow humanitarian access to devastated cities as Barack Obama rules unilateral US military action.

Here’s a roundup in more detail:

Syria

The UN’s humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and the joint UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan are due to visit Syria this week in the latest international efforts aimed at ending the violence, al-Arabiya reports. Amos is due to arrive in Damascus today to try persuade the government of Bashar al-Assad to allow humanitarian access to areas devastated by army bombardment.

The five permanent UN security council members and Morocco met behind closed doors to discuss a US drafted resolution urging an end to the Syrian government’s crackdown on demonstrators, a text some Western envoys said was too weak, Reuters reports. The draft demands “unhindered humanitarian access” and “condemns the continued widespread, systematic, and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities and demands that the Syrian government immediately put an end to such violations.”

Syria continues to refuse to allow aid into the Baba Amr area of Homs amid mounting evidence of human rights abuses, including the torture of victims at a hospital inside the city. State television claimed residents were now slowly returning on foot to Baba Amr, but locals said the reports had been fabricated.

Syrian authorities and anti-government activists accused each other of reprisal killings in the central city of Homs, the Los Angeles Times reports. The bodies of 18 Baba Amr residents, all members of the Sabouh family, were found stabbed to death after security forces raided homes in the neighbourhood, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. A pro-regime TV station aired graphic images of people who, it claimed, were the victims of the Free Syrian Army.

A defiant President Bashar al-Assad said he was determined to go on fighting what he called “foreign-backed terrorism”. He said: “The Syrian people, who have in the past managed to crush foreign plots … have again proven their ability to defend the nation and to build a new Syria through their determination to pursue reforms while confronting foreign-backed terrorism.”

Barack Obama has ruled out unilateral US military action in Syria, after a call by John McCain for air strikes. The president told a press conference:

For us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think is a mistake. What happened in Libya was we mobilized the international community, had a UN security council mandate, had the full cooperation of the region, Arab states, and we knew that we could execute very effectively in a relatively short period of time. This is a much more complicated situation … Ultimately, this dictator will fall, as dictators in the past have fallen.

US officials are finalising plans to aid both the internal and external Syrian opposition, according to Foreign Policy magazine. The plans stops short of providing any direct military assistance to the armed opposition, it says.

After wounded Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy compared Baba Amr to the 1990s Balkan massacre in Srebrenica, the Independent’s Robert Fisk examines the parallels.

Then there are the terrifying mirrors of Srebrenica and Homs with which these reflections began; no Red Cross entry, no journalists, men and boys separated from women, the female refugees and their stories of slaughtered menfolk, men taken away in trucks. The failure of the “international community”.

In fact, there are a lot of differences, too, enough to take our foot off the indignation pedal for moment. In Srebrenica, Christians were killing Muslims – because they were Muslims. In Homs, Muslims are killing Muslims, albeit that one side is biased towards Shia Alawites, the other towards Sunnis. The UN had granted Srebrenica “safe haven” status. Indeed, the Dutch UN battalion (albeit one of the world’s more pathetic military units) was there at the time, watching the Serbs taking the men away. Neither the UN nor Nato had blessed Homs with such dodgy protection.

The example of other Middle Eastern uprising suggests the fall of Bashar al-Assad’s is far from inevitable, writes Chris Philips international relations expert fro Queen Mary, University of London.

Recent historical examples in the region illustrate how difficult it is to unseat a ruling regime without the assistance of western firepower. In its absence, those seeking to topple Assad must thus consider how best to erode those pillars in a manner least damaging to Syria in the long run. For those wondering about Assad’s next move, however, policymakers could do worse than look at the past Algerian, Iraqi and Syrian examples for a dictator’s handbook on how to survive an uprising.

Libya

Libyan tribal leaders have unilaterally declared nearly half of the oil-rich east of the country to be semi-autonomous in a move that opponents fear is the first step towards a carve-up of Libya six months after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. Thousands of tribal representatives, militia commanders and politicians told a conference in Benghazi that the new state, known as Barqa, would have its own parliament, police force and courts to run its own affairs and place its capital in Benghazi.

Matthew Weaver

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