On Monday, it seemed to come just a little closer, in Homs and beyond. An Arab League blueprint for President Bashar al-Assad to surrender power was rejected by the Syrian government, raising the stakes dramatically both for the beleaguered regime and for an increasingly emboldened opposition.
The unexpected Arab proposal also intensified pressure on the international community, which has struggled for months to formulate a coherent response to the Syrian crisis. By seeking U.N. Security Council endorsement for the plan, which envisages a transition of power similar to the one underway in Yemen, the Arab League appeared to open the door for broader international involvement in the Syrian crisis, including, perhaps, military intervention.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the Arab move “really quite remarkable.” America’s priority now, she added, is to seek a U.N. Security Council resolution that would add to the pressure on Assad.
But there was still no indication that Russia is prepared to lift its objections to tougher action at the United Nations, which Moscow fears could lead to international military intervention in Syria, as happened in Libya.
Activist groups inside Syria also rejected the Arab blueprint. “What we heard is not even close to what the revolutionaries in Syria are demanding,” said a statement by the Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union. “We will persist until the fall of the regime, believing in God and trusting the heroic Free Syrian Army,” the group added, referring to the loosely organized rebel army that is claiming responsibility for a growing number of attacks against Syrian security forces.
Syrians on both sides of the widening schism predicted more violence, as the government digs in and the opposition seeks to exploit the advantage of the gradually hardening international resolve.
“Violence will escalate because this Free Syrian Army will think they have won a lot and that now it’s a piece of cake to take power,” said a Syrian journalist in Damascus who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Omar Shakir, an activist in Homs contacted by telephone, said he expected the government to escalate the use of force. “Assad feels the world is against him, and so I think he will get mad and it will be very dangerous,” he said.
On a government-supervised visit Monday to Homs, which has emerged as the epicenter of the protest movement and also the fledgling armed rebellion, the dangers were vividly apparent. This once vibrant city, Syria’s third-largest, resembles a war zone, with earth mounds blocking streets and protecting government buildings, and sandbagged checkpoints dotting residential neighborhoods.