- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2013

British Prime Minister David Cameron took a more aggressive stance on Syria’s civil war than President Obama Monday, signaling heightened international concerns about the Syrian opposition’s fate.

The prime minister, speaking in a joint news conference with Mr. Obama at the White House, expressed concern about the punishment being inflicted on the Syrian rebels as Western democracies continue to resist direct military action in the bloody civil war.

“Syria’s history is being written in the blood of her people and it is happening on our watch,” Mr. Cameron told reporters, noting that 80,000 people have been killed and 5 million have been forced from their homes as a result of the conflict.

“The world urgently needs to come together to bring the killing to an end,” he said. “None of us have any interest in seeing more lives lost, in seeing chemical weapons used, or extremist violence spreading any further.”

Mr. Cameron pledged to double nonlethal support, including armored vehicles, body armor and power generators, to Syrian opposition forces in the coming year.

“There will be no political progress unless the opposition is able to withstand the onslaught and put pressure on [Syrian leader Bashar Assad] so he knows there is no military victory,” Mr. Cameron said.

He also welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s agreement to push for a political solution, although he acknowledged that “formidable” challenges remain.

Mr. Obama was more muted, pledging to work with Britain to keep pressure on the government of Syria and work to push for an end to Mr. Assad’s regime.

Last Tuesday, the U.S. surprised some allies when it announced it would join forces with Russia in attempts to convene an international conference to assess the use of chemical weapons in that country’s civil war and try to achieve a negotiated solution.

“The transitional body would allow a transfer of power from Assad to this body,” Mr. Obama said Monday, and would get to the bottom of Mr. Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons. “Those facts will determine our next steps.”

Britain is backing the international conference, but has indicated a greater willingness to help support rebels seeking to overthrow the Assad regime. Mr. Cameron said he was pressing ahead with plans to amend a European Union embargo on Syria that would allow the United Kingdom and France to transfer weapons to the Syrian opposition.

The United States and other Western powers have been reluctant to embrace the Syrian opposition entirely because of suspected radical Islamist factions who have taken arms against the Assad regime.

Fierce fighting continues inside Syria, with The Associated Press reporting Monday that government troops have taken full control of a town near the highway linking the capital Damascus with Jordan, a new advance in the regime’s campaign to drive rebels from the strategic south.

Rebels are trying to carve a pathway from the Jordanian border through the southern province of Daraa, in what is seen as their best shot at capturing Damascus, which is still strongly in Mr. Assad’s grasp.

• Susan Crabtree can be reached at scrabtree@washingtontimes.com.

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