Massacre in Houla - World can’t stand idly by on Syria

The Reuters photographs of lines of bodies at Ali Bin al-Hussein’s mosque in Huola in Syria put our debate about this week’s EU referendum into perspective.

Though hugely important to how we confront our difficulties and try to get Europe’s economies on a footing approaching sanity, Thursday’s vote won’t kill anyone.

Though weekend polls suggest the amendment will be endorsed, the margin is tight enough to encourage the treaty’s opponents and serve as a warning to those who want it passed. In any event, it is a problem the people of Syria would far prefer to have than the murderous one they are dealing with every day.

Though the Syrian government — if the tyranny it represents can be so defined — has accused rebel forces of carrying out the massacre in which at least 109 people — including 32 children under one year of age — were murdered, it is widely believed that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are responsible. This is the latest outrage in the 14-month revolt against the Assad dynasty which has cost around 10,000 lives.

Opposition activists say Assad’s shabbiha militia, loyal to an establishment dominated by members of the minority Alawite sect, hacked dozens of people to death or shot them at close range, reminding us of our capacity to treat each other with savagery.

The charge that UN monitors were told of the massacre while it was going on but refused to intervene is chilling and recalls similar accusations in Bosnia.

Like many communities besieged by forces determined to crush them, and remembered with regret by history today, Syrian opposition groups hope this will be a turning point and convince the outside world that it must intervene. Unfortunately, history, even the more recent, is replete with instances where the same moral case for international intervention existed but inter-vention came either too late or not at all.

Despite myriad and good reasons not to intervene, western nations are pressing for a response to the massacre.

The US has called for an end to Assad’s “rule by murder”. Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council this week to try to decide on a meaningful response. France said it would call a meeting of the Friends of Syria, a group of Western and Arab countries keen to see Assad deposed. Kofi Annan will also convey international outrage to Damascus. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton spoke of a “heinous act perpetrated by the Syrian regime” and the head of the European Parliament said it could amount to a war crime.

These calls seem inevitable after Friday’s slaughter confirmed the six-week-old UN ceasefire plan has no prospect of success. Once again we have reached a point that has challenged and perplexed the world for centuries. Conflict in Rwanda, Bosnia, Palestine, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, invasions in Poland, Korea, Kuwait, and, on a slightly different scale, the Falklands. Haiti, and Grenada asked the age-old question: Whose sons and daughters will be sent to stop a murderous tyrant? And might intervention make things worse?

Assad’s indifference to the standards expected of a civilised, humane leader mean he must be removed.


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