- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Two other senators have endorsed Sen. John McCain’s call for airstrikes to stop Syrian President Bashar Assad’s lethal, 11-month-long crackdown on dissenters.

Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said the use of air power is the only “realistic way” to stop the “slaughter and save innocent lives.”

More than 7,500 Syrians have been killed in the uprising against the Assad regime that began on March 15, according to the United Nations.

On Tuesday, Syrian activists reported heavy clashes between the regime’s forces and the Free Syrian Army in the Al-Kashef neighborhood in the southwestern city of Daraa.

A fierce firefight also was reported near the town of Jassem when a group of soldiers tried to defect.

“If requested by the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, the United States should help organize an international effort to protect civilian population centers in Syria through airstrikes on Assad’s forces,” Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Graham said in a joint statement with Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican.

Military intervention should include Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Qatar, and allies in the European Union and NATO, especially Turkey, they said. The goal of the airstrikes should be to protect civilians and establish safe havens where opposition forces can organize.

The senators acknowledged that there are “dangers, and risks and uncertainties” in this approach.

“For example, it is often said that we should not assist the opposition in Syria militarily because we don’t know who these people are, or that by doing so, we could end up benefiting al Qaeda or Hamas,” they said.

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri in a recent video urged militants to join the fight against the Assad regime.

The senators said that “the surest way for al Qaeda to gain a foothold in Syria is for us to turn our backs on those brave Syrians who are fighting for their lives.”

“[O]ur current policy is not succeeding, and the current course is no longer strategically or morally sustainable,” they said.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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