Washington, Feb. 23 – A United Nations panel is drawing up a list of Syrian officials that may include President Bashar al-Assad whom it wants to investigate for crimes against humanity in the brutal suppression of the popular uprising against the Damascus regime.
The news came a day after two western journalists were killed in a savage bombardment of the city of Homs. In total, over 6,000 people have already died in the uprising, which is turning into a brutal sectarian civil war.
For the first time, Syria attracted the attention of Republican president candidates in a debate Wednesday evening in Arizona. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich all drew a connection between Assad and Iran -- but none called for U.S. military intervention.
“Syria is a puppet state of Iran,” former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said during the CNN Republican presidential debate. “They are a threat not just to Israel but they have been a complete destabilizing force within Lebanon which is another problem for Israel, and Hezbollah. They are a country that we could do no worse than the leadership in Syria today which is not the case in some of the other countries that we readily got ourselves involved in.”
“Syria is [Iran's] key ally, their only ally in the Arab world,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney added. “It is also their route to the sea. Syria provides a shadow over Lebanon. Syria is providing the armament of Hezbollah in Lebanon that of course threatens Israel, our friend and ally.”
The report by the U.N.-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which is expected to be debated at a special meeting of the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva next week, contains the names of top Syrian officials who should be investigated. It was not clear whether Assad’s name was included, but he presides over a dictatorship in which little goes on without his approval.
“A reliable body of evidence exists that, consistent with other verified circumstances, provides reasonable grounds to believe that particular individuals, including commanding officers and officials at the highest levels of government, bear responsibility for crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations,” said the report by the U.N.-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria.
The United Nations Security Council has failed to pass any resolutions condemning Syria because Russia and China have twice cast vetoes to block action. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called their action “disgusting”.
The Obama administration, while fiercely condemning the Assad regime, has ruled out the kind of international coalition that came together to topple Libya's Muammar Gaddafi last year - saying Syria's complex ethnic and sectarian mix, highly urbanized population, divided opposition and powerful military all argue against that kind of intervention.