DESPITE a UN ceasefire that has barely held, Syria is slipping deeper into the abyss. The UN Security Council has come down hard on the Syrian regime for a reported massacre in the town of Houla. Over 100 people — mostly women and children — were killed in the assault last week while around 300 were injured. Reports indicate Syrian troops shelled the town while pro-regime militants moved in afterwards to continue the carnage. The body count has been verified by the head of the UN’s monitoring mission in Syria. There were also reports of fresh violence in Hama on Monday. Though Damascus has denied involvement in the Houla episode, such protestations are becoming increasingly difficult to believe. While it is true that the Syrian situation is incredibly complex, with a variety of groups forming the opposition — including militants believed to be linked to Al Qaeda — it is President Bashar al-Assad’s government which bears major responsibility considering the regime still controls Syria. And unless Mr Assad relaxes his rigid stance, the country is well on its way to civil war.
Mr Assad’s non-compliance with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan and his repeated assaults on civilians shows the Syrian’s leader’s disregard for human rights and the international community’s concerns. Unlike Muammar Qadhafi, the Syrian president has been given several options. However, his position of no compromise with the opposition and relentless targeting of civilians has made a solution to the crisis very difficult. If there is civil war, Mr Assad will bear most responsibility for allowing the conflict to grow to such proportions. All stakeholders — the government and opposition in Syria as well as the international community — should realise there is a strong possibility a civil war will likely mutate into a regional conflict. Sectarian clashes linked to the Syrian crisis have already broken out in Lebanon. Kofi Annan is in Damascus for an attempt to control the situation. Mr Assad must seize this opportunity; the onus is on him to respect the Annan plan and order his troops to hold their fire so that a solution can be found.