What now for Syria as massacre leaves peace process in shreds?

May 27, 2012

More than 90 people, including 32 children, killed as troops shell the village of Houla

CALLS FOR intervention in Syria are growing after the massacre of more than 90 people, including 32 children, in the village of Houla, apparently at the hands of state troops.

Shocking footage and images from the aftermath of the shelling has emerged and, as the victims are buried, the atrocity has "triggered a wave of international revulsion", reports The Observer and left the UN-backed peace process in "shreds". Reacting to the massacre, which took place on Friday, the Free Syrian Army told al-Jazeera that efforts to end the bloodshed were "going to hell".

Major General Robert Mood, head of the UN team in Syria, condemned the attack as "indiscriminate and unforgivable", but stopped short of directly blaming the regime. Despite the outrage UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon "has warned there is no plan B for the situation, which poses an increasingly grave risk to regional security," according to the Observer.

"Houla came under indiscriminate shelling late on Friday afternoon after clashes between rebels and Syrian troops," said The Sunday Times. "Videos posted on YouTube showed horrifying images of children's bodies lined up on the floor of a mosque, some badly mangled. At least one child had part of his head blown away."

The paper adds that the reaction in Damascus, where security has been "stepped up sharply", suggests "the regime of President Bashar al-Assad fears the massacre could be a turning point".

But Assad has little to fear from Barack Obama and William Hague despite the latest outrage, says Alan George in The Independent.

"Damascus knows that Russia and China will continue to veto any meaningful action by the Security Council... Regionally, he enjoys the unwavering support of Iran and the tacit support of neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon."

But he adds that covert support of the rebels by foreign powers could lead to "long and bloody" civil war. "The longer it continues, the more chance of extremist Islamist involvement, the greater the danger that it will spill over into neighbouring states, and the greater the risk of sectarian war, Syria being a patchwork of antagonistic religious and ethnic communities."

Intervention could be the best way of stopping the bloodshed, he concludes.

The massacre was not the first of its kind in Syria and Richard Spencer in The Sunday Telegraph explains the mechanics of what has been happening in the towns and villages around Homs."Regime forces fight the Free Syrian Army, and then the Shabiha or 'Ghost' militias impose terrible consequences on the civilian population... The militias are Alawite, the minority Muslim sect that holds power in Syria; the opposition in this mixed-sect area is Sunni."

President Assad is Alawite, but the sect have traditionally been "underdogs" says Spencer. "They have been told before to fight for their future by any means necessary, and are now being told to again," says Spencer.

There are also fears that the massacre could aid the cause of religious extremists. Earlier in the week Paul Wood of the BBC reported that battle-hardened jihadists were returning from other conflicts and joining the uprising, and the US fears that al-Qaeda could benefit.

"Syria's democratic uprising has rescued al-Qaeda from a crisis. Peaceful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt made them look irrelevant. Now, perhaps, they are back in the game.

"The jihadists thrive on chaos. And they will find plenty of that in Syria."

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