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Politics & press news – Embassy 37

Civil war in Syria ‘quite likely’ – envoys

London’s heads of mission have given a bleak assessment of the situation in Syria, with two thirds saying further escalation of violence was “quite likely” to tip the country into civil war.

According to an Embassy poll of ambassadors conducted on the eve of the Syrian referendum and the meeting of the Friends of Syria in Tunisia,  a negotiated settlement between the regime and opposition groups was “unlikely” or “very unlikely”.

The majority felt regime change was now “quite likely”, a sentiment echoed by the decision taken by leaders of the Friends Group to recognise the Syrian National Council as “a legitimate representative of the Syrian people”.  

But ambassadors poured cold water on demands from members of the Syrian opposition for military assistance, ruling out the likelihood of armed intervention.

Heads of mission admitted that without consensus at the Security Council, the international community had “very few effective tools”, apart from tighter sanctions, to stem the violence, predicting that bloodletting in hotspots was “very likely” to continue.

“The only tool would be a threat of direct military intervention backed by the respective UN Resolution,” said an EU Ambassador.

Key players ambassadors identified were the Syrian National Council, President Assad, the Arab League, the UN, Russia, China, Turkey, Iran and “the Syrian people”.

One diplomat remarked that, like in the Kosovo war, Russia’s initial non-cooperation may make it useful in future talks, “but must Syria boil before that happens?” he asked.

Detractors on the circuit pointed out that support for the Assad regime should not be underestimated, while the opposition remains fractured. “Our concern is that supporters of the regime and those states who have an interest in removing the regime are both flooding Syria with fighters and weapons that will fuel a civil war,” said one.

Another head of mission has been monitoring Israel’s reaction. “They have kept to the sidelines yet they know the players inside-out so that tells you something.“

The ambivalent sentiment was echoed by a one-time anti-Assad protester. “The islamists have hijacked our revolution so I don’t bother protesting at the Embassy any more,” he told Embassy. “I think this referendum and a multiparty system is the least bad option. And if I had to choose, I’d rather have a secular tyrant than an Islamic one.”  

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