U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday that the U.S. would throw its weight behind an Arab-backed condemnation at the U.N. of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, which she said was brutally blocking the country's hopes of peacefully transitioning toward democracy. Clinton warned that the escalating violence could destabilize Syria's neighbors in the powder keg that is the Middle East.
“The status quo is unsustainable," Clinton said. "The longer the Assad regime continues its attacks on the Syrian people and stands in the way of a peaceful transition, the greater the concern that instability will escalate and spill over throughout the region."
Clinton said Monday she would join the French and British foreign ministers at the U.N. Security Council to press for a clear message of world support for Syria's besieged people who face soaring violence. "We stand with you," Clinton told them in a statement.
Assad's regime, meanwhile, has been intensifying its assault against army defectors and protesters. The U.N. has said more than 5,400 people have been killed in violence since March. At least 190 more were killed in the past five days, with activists reporting at least 28 civilians killed Monday.
Syrian forces heavily shelled the restive city of Homs on Monday and troops pushed back dissident forces from some suburbs of the capital city of Damascus, activists said. The increased violence occurred as the West tried to overcome Russian opposition and win a new U.N. resolution demanding a halt to Syria's crackdown on the 10-month-old uprising.
The Obama administration was "intensely discussing with the Russians the real deterioration on the ground in Syria," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday. He said it was important that the U.N. Security Council take action, but described the administration as examining "how best to use all the levers" to end what he termed the Assad regime's "appalling and ultimately ineffective and harmful repression."
Without mentioning Russia, Carney cautioned governments who continued to side with Assad's regime. "As governments make decisions about where they stand ... it is important to calculate into your consideration the fact that he [Assad] will go," he said. "The regime has lost control of the country and he will inevitably fall."
With talks on the resolution due to begin Tuesday, a French official said at least 10 members of the Security Council backed the measure, which includes a U.N. demand that Assad carry out an Arab League peace plan. The plan requires Assad to transfer power to his vice president and allow for the creation of a unity government within two months. He has rejected the proposal.
A resolution needs support from nine nations on the 15-member U.N. Security Council to go to a vote. Russia, along with the U.S., Britain, China and France, holds veto power.
An Arab diplomat said that Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby met the Russian, Chinese and Syrian ambassadors in New York on Monday in an attempt to reach a compromise that would facilitate a dialogue between the Syrian regime and the opposition. Assad's representatives reportedly accepted the proposal, but opposition leaders said they would reject any proposal to negotiate with Assad's regime.
Moscow insists it will not support any resolution that could open the door to an eventual foreign military intervention in Syria, the way an Arab-backed U.N. measure paved the way for NATO airstrikes in Libya. Instead, the Kremlin said Monday it was trying to put together negotiations in Moscow between Damascus and the opposition.
Assad's government has agreed to participate, it said. The opposition has in the past rejected any negotiations unless violence stops, and there was no immediate word whether any of the multiple groups that make up the anti-Assad camp would attend.
Russia appeared unwilling to move toward the U.S. position Monday. Clinton tried to reach Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by telephone over the course of some 24 hours, but he was "apparently unavailable" while on a visit to Australia, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. She said Clinton would continue to seek a conversation with Lavrov ahead of the U.N. session.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said the Security Council had to take a stand.
"We have seen the consequences of neglect and inaction by this council over the course of the last 10 months," Rice said. Yet she lamented that a "couple of very powerful members" -- namely Russia and China -- might still be preventing any meaningful action after using a double-veto to block a European-drafted condemnation of Syria in October.
Clinton's statement condemned the Assad regime's latest violence "in the strongest possible terms."
"The government has shelled civilian areas with mortars and tank fire and brought down whole buildings on top of their occupants," she said. She reiterated the Arab League's call for the Assad regime to halt all violence, withdraw military forces from residential areas, permit journalists and monitors to operate in Syria and release all political prisoners.
On Monday the killings in Syria continued, with reports of more than 100 deaths in clashes between military forces loyal to Assad and opposition forces on the outskirts of Damascus.
A senior rebel leader told the British Daily Telegraph that despite Assad's tenacity, he would "end up like Gadhafi," the Libyan dictator who was ousted after 42 years in power and killed by rebels last October.
Meanwhile, Israel has been making preparations for the fall of Assad's regime. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told a Knesset committee earlier this month that Israel was preparing to absorb a flood of refugees from Assad's minority Alawite sect into the Golan Heights.
Israel should also prepare for the possibility that cornered authorities in Damascus could "as a lifesaver ... act against us," Gantz said.
Israeli officials have said they do not expect Assad's government to last more than a few months, but Gantz's remarks were the first indication that Israel is already making contingency plans for the end of the rule.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said earlier this month that Israel was also concerned Syrian weapons could be transferred to the Hezbollah terrorist organization in Lebanon, which he said "we view with great gravity."
Syria is widely believed to possess chemical weapons, which Damascus denies, and has long-range Scud missiles capable of striking Israeli territory.
Barak said that "when central authority weakens [in Damascus] all kinds of factors can create friction to try to act in the Golan Heights, and there are enough bad people in the region."