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A Times Editorial

Syria's descent into death, chaos

The crisis in Syria continues to cry out for immediate global attention. Both sides in the nearly 2-year-old civil war ramped up their attacks in recent weeks, raising the civilian death toll and dampening hope for a political settlement to halt the fighting. The United Nations needs to redouble its efforts to arrange a cease-fire and move more rapidly to address the dire and deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Two explosions earlier this month ripped through the campus of Aleppo University, Syria's oldest science institute, killing at least 87 people and injuring more than 160. The blasts went off as students took exams, and they amounted to the most audacious attack yet on civilians in the 22 months since the war began. The rebels said government forces of President Bashar Assad attacked the campus with airstrikes, while the government blamed the deaths on rebel rocket fire. The attack was followed by a spate of car bombings and rocket attacks across the country, many of them government soldiers, that killed at least three dozen people.

By last week, opposition figures and human rights activists were reporting that forces loyal to the government had massacred more than 100 people, including women and children, in a village near the central city of Homs.

The targeting of civilians and the reprisal attacks reflect the deadlock in the fighting, as both sides seek advantage by waging terror in the population at large. The United Nations condemned the attacks on civilians, called on the combatants to show restraint and pleaded for Syrians to step forward and demand a political solution to a crisis that is tearing apart the country.

Assad has shown no intention to put his countrymen's interests before his own, and the blame for the continuing slaughter rests primarily at his feet. More than 60,000 people — most of them civilians — have been killed in the fighting. The refugee crisis has already shaken the region as hundreds of thousands have sought safety in Jordan and other neighboring states. The heightened attacks on civilians will only cause the crisis to spiral further downward, making this regional problem a pressing international one.

The United Nations and the West need to keep pressuring Assad to leave. And they should be more frank in public about enlisting Russia's help. Moscow has resisted using its nominal influence with Assad out of larger strategic concerns of keeping Western interests in check. But a protracted war only plays to Islamist militants in the opposition. Russia needs to move beyond recognizing that Assad's days are numbered and see that hastening his withdrawal would improve the chance for a truly stable and inclusive post-Assad government.

Syria's descent into death, chaos 01/23/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 5:45pm]
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