x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 September 2017

Accountability is certain after Syria massacre

The Syrian regime's brutality and total disregard for civilian lives is a serious miscalculation – Hafez Al Assad's murderous collective-punishment strategy will not work today.

The so-called Hama rules no longer apply. Thirty years after Hafez Al Assad's forces massacred civilians, killing tens of thousands, the landscape of Syrian and international politics has changed. The Syrian people have shown that they cannot be intimidated. And state-sanctioned murderers cannot hope to escape justice.

While details are still emerging about this latest attack on the village of Tremseh in Hama province, the killing fits a pattern. President Bashar Al Assad's forces pounded the village with artillery, tanks and helicopter gunships, before infantry moved in and conducted execution-style killings. More than 200 people were killed, although it is unclear how many were combatants. UN observers are reporting systematic Syrian air-force operations in civilian areas.

The world has been at a loss about how to end the violence. But the Syrian regime's brutality and total disregard for civilian lives is a serious miscalculation - Hafez Al Assad's murderous collective-punishment strategy will not work today. Indeed, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed outrage yesterday, saying that more massacres were inevitable in the absence of international intervention. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned: "Those who committed these atrocities will be identified and held accountable." Justice for the perpetrators may not arrive tomorrow, but it is inevitable.

Information and international scrutiny make this an entirely different situation from that of 1982. It is this knowledge that is increasingly a factor in defections by senior officials. The defection last week of Nawaf Al Fares, Syria's ambassador to Iraq, demonstrated that Assad loyalists will be under increasing pressure from their own communities because of the regime's brutality.

The regime's days are numbered, but each one of those days costs lives. US intelligence sources confirmed yesterday that the Syrian military had moved chemical weapons, possibly carrying Sarin nerve gas, to the region of the city of Homs, although the move could be meant to prevent the weapons from falling into rebel control. The folly about "weapons of mass destruction" that led to the Iraq War argues strongly for caution about drawing conclusions, but the weapons, in either side's hands, are a serious concern.

There remains no clear solution to end the violence, although a critical mass of defections would topple the regime. But, in this information age, what is beyond doubt is that these perpetrators will have nowhere to hide when the regime does fall. Neither Syrians nor the world will forget Tremseh.