US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday condemned the Syrian government for new reports of “simply unconscionable” violence, accusing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of intensifying a crackdown on a national uprising that has already killed thousands.
Providing the first US reaction to what Syrian opposition groups were describing on Wednesday as a new massacre, Clinton said: “We’re disgusted by what we see happening.”
“The regime-sponsored violence that we witnessed again in Hama yesterday is simply unconscionable,” she said. “Assad has doubled down on his brutality and duplicity, and Syria will not, cannot be peaceful, stable or certainly democratic until Assad goes.”
One organization claimed pro-government militiamen killed at least 78, including women and children, in the central Hama Province, with some stabbed to death and others burned. The exact death toll and circumstances remain impossible to confirm. Syria rejected the claims as “absolutely baseless,” blaming armed terrorists for what it described as a smaller attack.
Speaking in Turkey after meeting foreign ministers and senior envoys from 16 European, Turkish and Arab partners, Clinton outlined a set of principles that she said must guide the world in trying to solve the crisis. Foremost among them, it seemed, was al-Assad’s eventual ouster — and departure from Syria.
The demand appeared non-negotiable as Washington and its allies seek to broaden diplomatic efforts and win Russian and Chinese support for a structured end to the four-decade Assad regime.
However, with neither Moscow nor Beijing present at the closed-door meeting in Turkey late on Wednesday, and both remaining hostile to the idea of global sanctions against the Syrian government or any Libya-style military intervention, prospects for a breakthrough were unclear.
Later yesterday, UN mediator Kofi Annan was scheduled to propose tasking a group of world powers and key regional players, including Iran, to come up with a strategy to end the 15-month conflict, UN diplomats said.
Meetings could also take place on the sidelines of this month’s meeting in Mexico of leading rich and developing nations, including a possible tete-a-tete between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Clinton acknowledged that the US and its partners haven’t been successful yet in bringing through the kind of international action to end the violence, but she urged nations to remain united.
She said she was sending a senior envoy, Fred Hof, to Moscow yesterday for talks with the Russian government, and that she would meet with Annan today.
Meanwhile, Russia yesterday said the new massacre was a provocation aimed at undermining Annan’s faltering peace plan.
“There is no question that certain forces, not for the first time, are using the most brutal and vile provocations to undermine the plan of Kofi Annan,” Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in televised comments to a regular media briefing.
Additional reporting by AFP