The coming days are likely to see an escalation of violence in Syria, as the regime of President Bashar Assad unleashes its armed forces for an assault on rebel strongholds in Aleppo, Foreign Secretary William Hague warned yesterday.
Hague said that the regime’s reliance on violence, rather than negotiations, in responding to challenges to Assad’s rule, could lead to “a collapse in all authority” in Syria. The Foreign Secretary added that following Russian and Chinese vetoes of British-backed resolutions at the UN Security Council and the resignation of Arab League-UN envoy Kofi Annan, the situation on the ground might require further deterioration to trigger the return of international diplomatic efforts to stop the violence.
Hague told Sky News: “There has been fighting in Aleppo over recent days, but it does seem that the Syrian armed forces have been building up to something bigger. We are likely, sadly, to see even more fighting, more bloodshed, probably a bigger flow of refugees over the coming days. This is, I’m afraid, the situation we warned about for a long time – that there would be a collapse in Syria and an even more deadly conflict if we didn’t bring enough pressure to bear on the Assad regime to implement the peace plan of Kofi Annan. Our Security Council resolution was vetoed. We won’t give up on the diplomatic work, but given this situation, we will step up our humanitarian assistance but also our practical help to the opposition in Syria, who are in such a desperate situation.”
Hague added that the “prime responsibility” for the conflict, which has claimed at least 19,000 lives since the first pro-democracy protests in Syria, lay with the Assad regime.
Meanwhile, reports from Aleppo – Syria’s largest city and commercial hub – indicate that Assad’s forces are using heavy artillery, planes and a helicopter gunship to bombard rebel positions in a battle that could determine the outcome of the 17-month uprising.