- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2012

U.S. and Turkish officials condemned the mounting bloodshed in Syria on Monday but declined to endorse calls by the Arab League for the creation of a U.N. peacekeeping force to quell the violence.

“No one wants to see a civil war in Syria,” said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who announced plans to attend a Feb. 24 gathering of leaders in Tunisia to determine how to bring an end to violence.

Clashes between the Syrian army and opposition groups calling for the ouster of President Bashar Assad worsened over the weekend when a Syrian general was gunned down on a residential street of the nation’s capital.

“We have to encourage the Assad regime and those who support it to understand that there’s either a path toward peacemaking and democratic transition, which is what we are promoting, or there is a path that leads toward chaos and violence, which we deplore,” said Mrs. Clinton, who appeared beside Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Washington.

But Mrs. Clinton stopped short of supporting a call made Sunday by the 22-member Arab League for the creation of a U.N. peacekeeping force to halt the violence in Syria.

“The peacekeeping request is one that will take agreement and consensus,” she said, echoing remarks made earlier by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who said there “are a number of challenges” posed by the Arab League’s request.

“First and foremost, you would need a new U.N. Security Council resolution, and it’s proven difficult to get any U.N. Security Council resolution,” said Ms. Nuland, referring to recent vetoes by China and Russia.

China has remained silent on the issue, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who traveled to Syria for meetings with the Assad government last week, was quoted on Monday as saying a peacekeeping mission could only happen if a cease-fire were achieved in Syria first.

Syria’s top diplomat in Cairo, Yusuf Ahmed, responded that the peacekeeper plan is a reflection of the “hysteria” of Western and Arab governments.

Meanwhile, the European Union appeared eager to stand behind the peacekeeper plan.

“The EU’s first goal is an immediate cessation of killings,” said Michael Mann, spokesman for Catherine Ashton, 27-member EU’s vice president and high representative for foreign affairs. “We are very supportive of any initiative that can help achieve this objective, including a stronger Arab presence on the ground in cooperation with the U.N.

The U.N.’s top human rights official said Monday that the Assad regime had “sharply escalated” human rights violations and has not spared even children in the crackdown on opposition.

“The gross, widespread and systematic human rights violations have not only continued, but also sharply escalated,” Navi Pillay told a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

“Children have been killed by beating, sniper fire and shelling from government security forces in several places throughout Syria,” she added.

The General Assembly is considering a resolution that condemns human rights violations by Syria.

The U.N. has stopped estimating a death toll in Syria due to the complicated situation on the ground. Its last estimate, early in January, said more than 5,400 people had been killed in the crackdown on the 11-month-old uprising.

Ashish Sen contributed to this report.



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