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Assad Defiance in Syria Spurs U.S., Allies to Mull New Steps

Arizona Senator John McCain
Arizona Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee, said continued bloodshed in Syria will mean military action by other nations “will receive some kind of serious consideration.” Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s declaration that he won’t “bow down” to international pressure is leading the U.S. and its allies to weigh their next steps amid reports that security forces killed 12 more protesters.

Arizona Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee, said continued bloodshed in Syria will mean military action by other nations “will receive some kind of serious consideration.”

“I see it as more of a consideration than I did a few months ago,” McCain said on Canadian Television yesterday while attending an international security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “At this point in time, I do not see military action.”

The Arab League on Nov. 16 gave Syria three days to end the bloodshed and allow observers in or face economic sanctions. Canadian National Defense Minister Peter MacKay said Assad’s flouting of the Arab League’s ultimatum will require “further action.” Canadian leaders are working with those in the region “as Canada and other countries contemplate our next step,” MacKay told reporters at the conclusion of the Halifax forum.

The Cairo-based Arab League refused to negotiate with Assad’s government to change plans on sending about 500 monitors to Syria, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency reported yesterday. The league informed the Syrian government the previous day that the adjustments they proposed “radically changes” the nature of the mission, MENA said. The league reiterated a call for “immediate measures” to stop the bloodshed, the news agency said, citing a statement.

‘Bow Down’

Assad said in an interview with the Sunday Times of London that “Syria will not bow down and that it will continue to resist the pressure being imposed on it.”

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said in a televised press conference yesterday that the Arab League measures infringe on Syria’s sovereignty and aim to pave the way for foreign intervention in the country. Arab foreign ministers will meet on Nov. 24 to discuss Syria, MENA reported.

“We cannot accept the spilling of the blood of brothers in Syria. Government can only last so long with tanks and cannon,” Turkish Foreign Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said today. “Assad says ‘I will fight to the end.’ Who will you fight? Your Muslim brothers?”

A bus carrying Turkish Muslim pilgrims traveling from Saudi Arabia through Syria was fired on, injuring two, Istanbul-based NTV news reported today, without saying where it got the information.

Armed Opposition

While the opposition in Syria is becoming an armed resistance, any outside military intervention would be pitted against a “really modern air force,” said Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“They know how to use their surface-to-air missiles,” and can draw on an experienced army with thousands of tanks, Cordesman said. “Talking about a casual use of force, something like the no-fly zone we had inside Libya, simply isn’t tenable.”

The eight-month revolt against Assad’s rule has begun to splinter the army, squeeze the economy and weaken support among erstwhile backers. Jordan’s King Abdullah has said that Assad should step down. In the past week, defectors launched a rocket-propelled grenade assault on a military security building in Damascus.

Impact of Sanctions

Syria’s people, not Assad’s government, are suffering from international sanctions imposed because of the crackdown on protests, central bank Governor Adib Mayaleh said. While the Syrian pound is trading within a reasonable range, Syrians should avoid speculation in the currency that would put their assets at risk, he said on state television today.

Assad said military action against Syria would create an “earthquake” across the Middle East.

“The repercussions are very dire,” Assad told the Sunday Times. “Military intervention will destabilize the region as a whole, and all countries will be affected.”

Syrian state forces, and not army defectors belonging to the Free Syrian Army, staged an attack yesterday on an empty Baath Party building in Damascus “to stoke civil strife,” Captain Ammar al-Wawi, a leader of the FSA that aims to topple Assad, said in a telephone interview from Turkey.

Security Forces

Assad’s security forces killed more than 20 people on Nov. 19 in Homs, the suburbs of Damascus and in Hama, Mahmoud Merei, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said in a phone interview. Yesterday, security forces killed 12 protesters in Homs and Idlib, al-Arabiya television reported, citing activists.

The central city of Homs has witnessed sectarian fighting with people being kidnapped or killed according to their ethnic religious background after their identification cards were checked, Merei said.

About 60 percent of the Homs population is Sunni Muslim, with a small Christian minority, and about 30 percent of the remaining portion Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam and the group from which Assad comes.

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