Russia, China Oppose Syria Intervention
WSJ- Russia and China reiterated their opposition Wednesday to military intervention in Syria after an attack last week on more than 100 civilians provoked global outrage.
The comments came after French President François Hollande said Tuesday that military intervention would not be ruled out provided it was backed by the Security Council.
However, Russia said Wednesday it was still satisfied that a nonbinding U.N. Security Council statement Sunday was a "strong enough signal to Syria," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said, according to Interfax.
"We believe consideration in the Security Council of any new measures to influence the situation now would be premature," Mr. Gatilov added.
Russia has twice vetoed Security Council resolutions condemning President Bashar al-Assad's government over 15 months of bloodshed.
Responding to Mr. Hollande's remark, Mr. Gatilov said Russia "categorically opposes any external intervention in the Syrian conflict, as it would only aggravate the situation with unpredictable consequences for Syria and the entire region."
Meanwhile, China said Wednesday that it too opposed military intervention, according to Reuters.
Syria's international isolation deepened Tuesday after several Western countries—including the U.S., Australia, Canada, the U.K., France and Germany—said they were expelling Syrian diplomats.
Special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan, visited Damascus Tuesday in a bid to save a tattered United Nations peace plan.
He warned the violence had pushed the country and toward "a tipping point."
The massacre also pushed Syria into the American presidential campaign, with Republican Mitt Romney calling for the U.S. to take a more aggressive posture and arm the opposition.
The U.N. human rights office gave a fresh assessment Tuesday of Friday's killings in Houla, a countryside northwest of the central city of Homs.
U.N. monitors in Syria, whose accounts were corroborated with other sources, found that most of the 108 Syrians killed in Houla appeared to have been shot at close range in "summary executions of civilians, women, and children," the U.N. human-rights office said.
Fewer than 20 people were found to have been killed by government artillery fire, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news conference in Geneva.
While it still wasn't clear who carried out the short-range killings, Mr. Colville said: "At this point, it looks like entire families were shot in their houses."
Witnesses in Houla, a string of villages largely controlled by the opposition, blame the shootings on pro-government militias.
The assessment was likely to further Western appeals for tougher action against Mr. Assad for the attacks, one of the bloodiest single incidents in the country's 14 month-old uprising.
The U.S., which had already downgraded diplomatic relations earlier this year, said Tuesday that Syrian chargé d'affaires Zuheir Jabbour was given 72 hours to leave following the Houla attack.
"We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. "This massacre is the most unambiguous indictment to date of the Syrian government's flagrant violations of its United Nations Security Council obligations."
Ms. Nuland also implicated Iran.
"We took this action [to expel Syrian diplomat] in response to the massacre in the village of Houla—absolutely indefensible, vile, despicable massacre against innocent children, women, shot at point-blank range by regime thugs, the shabiha, aided and abetted by the Iranians, who were actually bragging about it over the weekend," she said.
"Over the weekend we had the deputy head of [Iran's] Qods Force saying publicly that they were proud of the role that they had played in training and assisting the Syrian forces; and look what this has wrought."
Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands also said they would expel ambassadors. Turkey and Japan said Wednesday they had ordered Syrian diplomats to leave their respected countries.
Syria's government didn't comment on the expulsions.
In the U.S., Mr. Romney welcomed the expulsion of Syrian diplomats but said the move underscores the need for "more assertive measures to end the Assad regime."
Saying Mr. Assad's regime has killed more than 10,000 people amid a policy paralysis by the White House, the presumptive GOP nominee called for increasing pressure on Russia to stop selling arms to Syria and for working with partners to arm the Syrian opposition.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the U.S. is working with Russia to increase pressure on Mr. Assad and said the administration is working to aid rebels in ways besides arming them. "We continue to believe that further militarization of the situation in Syria is not the right course of action to take at this time," he said.
Military officials said the focus of U.S. assistance efforts remains on nonlethal aid. But Pentagon spokesman George Little seemed to leave open the possibility of a shift. "Right now our focus is on humanitarian aid, nonlethal aid, and I'm not going to speculate as at where the future might take us," Mr. Little said Tuesday.
In Damascus, Mr. Annan said he appealed to President Assad "for bold steps now—not tomorrow, now—to create momentum for the implementation of the plan."
The peace plan Mr. Annan has brokered as joint envoy of the U.N. and Arab League remains the only diplomatic initiative on Syria, despite daily violations from both government and opposition of a cease-fire and violence that has put U.N. monitors in Syria in danger.
"I made it clear that it is not an open-ended process and that time is coming, sooner rather than later, when the international community will need to make an assessment as to how things are going and what further actions or activities may be necessary," Mr. Annan, who also met with opposition and civil society figures, told reporters after his meeting.
Mr. Annan's deputy, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, will brief the U.N. Security Council at a scheduled meeting Wednesday.
Western states on the council may push for a new strategy, including U.N. sanctions against Damascus, diplomats said. "We would like to see a proper strategic discussion at that meeting about what the next steps are going to be," said Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador.
Tuesday's diplomatic expulsions reflected a broad Western appeal to hold the Syrian government accountable for the bloody attack that some observers say offered a turning point in the Syrian conflict.
Syria's leadership appeared to stand firm in the face of renewed international pressure. President Assad told Mr. Annan the peace plan hinged on the cooperation of foreign governments who have to stop funding and arming the opposition.
Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, meanwhile, denied that Syria had committed "a single violation of Annan's plan or the initial understanding between Syria and the United Nations," while the opposition had not committed "to a single point."
In his comments to reporters later Tuesday, Mr. Annan said he "also appealed to governments around the world not to further militarize this process." But he also appeared to chastise the Syrian government for "pointing fingers always at outsiders."
"Yes, they are involved, but there are measures that we can also take at home, the government can take to really try and end the situation," he said.
Mr. Annan's peace plan is the sole international effort on Syria since the Arab League failed in its initiative earlier this year when league monitors were essentially driven out by surging violence.
The initial mandate for the U.N. mission of 300 unarmed monitors—around 250 of which are on the ground in Syria—expires on July 21. Mr. Annan defended the mission in Damascus on Tuesday, even as a briefing by U.N. peacekeeping head Herve Ladsous in New York cast further clouds on the U.N.'s efforts in Syria.
Mr. Ladsous said that unarmed observers in Syria are being shot at "every day" while riding in armored land cruisers in Syrian towns and cities, presumably from parties on both sides of the conflict.
In Syria, activist network the Local Coordination Committees said 72 people were killed in continued government shelling on Homs, and fighting between troops and rebels in other places. The Houla killings have sparked outrage among protesters and fighters, who appear to have stepped up attacks on soldiers in response.
On Monday in Damascus, shopkeepers in the city's historic Old Souk shut down to observe a general strike called in mourning with the victims of Houla, a significant display of civil disobedience from a merchant class often described as a backbone of Mr. Assad's regime.