With Syria lurching closer to sectarian warfare, world leaders on Thursday said the Assad government showed no sign of honoring cease-fire agreements or halting the slaughter of noncombatants, but they remained divided on how to revive a peace process that U.N. officials conceded is in ruins.
As new details emerged of the latest massacre of civilians, U.N. officials spoke for the first time of unspecified “consequences” for the Syrian government. Yet the refusal by Russia and China to embrace new economic sanctions meant that the world body was left without a clear path forward.
“Pressure — substantial pressure — is what this crisis demands,” U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan said during a closed meeting of the U.N. Security Council, according to a diplomat who attended the session. “We will soon reach a day when it will be impossible to keep the crisis from spiraling out of control.”
The warnings came less than 24 hours after news broke of the second mass killing of Sunni civilians in as many weeks. Up to 78 people, most of them women and children, were reported slaughtered in Qubair, a small village in Hama province, by forces loyal to Assad.
Syrian troops blocked U.N. monitors from entering the village, and some observers came under small-arms fire as they tried to approach the town, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said. He provided no details about who had fired at the monitors or whether there were any injuries. U.N. observers have frequently been shot at since their arrival in Syria in April to monitor a fragile cease-fire.
Ban expressed revulsion at the “shocking and sickening” reports of massacres and called on the Syrian government to immediately implement the U.N.-backed plan for a cease-fire and political transition. But later, Ban and Annan acknowledged that the peace plan was approaching a dead end, with both sides refusing to adhere to it.
Ban presented the U.N. General Assembly with a gloomy assessment of conditions in Syria, asserting that the “dangers of full-scale civil war are imminent and real.” He held Assad primarily responsible for the worsening violence.
“For many months, it has been evident that President Assad and his government have lost all legitimacy,” Ban said. The slaughter of civilians in the village of Houla two weeks ago “brought this fact into horrifying focus,” he said. “Men, women, even children were executed at point-blank range, some of their throats slit or skulls crushed.”
Of the Qubair incident, he said the village had been “apparently surrounded by Syrian forces . . . the bodies of innocent civilians lying there . . . they were shot . . . some allegedly burned or slashed with knives,” Ban said. “We condemn this unspeakable barbarity.”