UK Politics

What next on Syria?

  • 7 February 2012
  • From the section UK Politics
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Could Homs become the new Hama?

In other words, could Syria's President Bashar al-Assad be about to follow the example of his father President, Hafez al-Assad, who massacred not just hundreds but thousands and, perhaps, tens of thousands of people 30 years ago in order to quell a revolt against his regime? *

That was the fear discussed at a meeting of the National Security Council chaired by David Cameron. It examined the consequences of Russia and China's veto of a United Nations resolution condemning the Assad regime.

Ministers believe there are only two possibilities now - either Russia changes its mind and decides to turn on the Syrian regime, or some of those who wanted a UN resolution will arm the Syrian rebels.

Ministers are concerned that the Syrian opposition are not as organised or co-ordinated as the Libyan forces who assembled in Benghazi. They are keen to do all they can to help whilst trying to avoid the appearance of a rebellion led or organised by the West.

The next key move will be made by the Arab League when it meets this Saturday but the British government has discussed the possibility of staging an international conference on the future of Syria in London to bring together opponents of President Assad.

Many of those interested in the future of Syria are due to be in the UK anyway in a little over a fortnight's time for the London Somalia Conference. That event on 23 February will see senior representatives from more than 40 governments gathering in the capital, along with the UN, AU, EU, World Bank, the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States.

The aim of any conference would be to encourage greater co-ordination between different Syrian factions and open discussions between them and their potential supporters in North Africa, the Gulf States and some Arab states.

Some will draw parallels with the Libya Conference in London last year, which was the precursor to military action. Ministers are clear that there is no chance of that, though once again it is the Qataris who are taking the lead in the region and it is they who are expected to arm the rebels.

* The Hama massacre in February 1982 effectively ended a campaign by Sunni Muslims, including the Muslim Brotherhood, against Assad's regime. Reports of the number killed range from 1,000 killed to 40,000. Witnesses to the attack recall it on this BBC World Service programme.