White House condemns Syria’s Assad as death toll mounts

The Obama administration has stepped up its condemnation of Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime for "indiscriminately" killing its people, and renewed its calls for Assad to leave power. The calls came as the advance team for an Arab League monitoring mission entered Syria on Thursday after weeks of negotiations during which hundreds more Syrians were reportedly killed.

"The United States is deeply disturbed by credible reports that the Assad regime continues to indiscriminately kill scores of civilians and army defectors, while destroying homes and shops and arresting protesters without due process," the White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a written press statement Thursday.

Saying the Assad regime has "no credibility," Carney reiterated that the United States "continues to believe that the only way to bring about the change that the Syrian people deserve is for Bashar al-Assad to leave power."

Despite Washington's repeated assessments that the Assad regime's days are numbered, however, analysts said they did not see signs that the international community was moving to endorse a Libya-type military intervention in Syria.

"I'm not reading any action--probably diplomacy," Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Yahoo News Thursday by email, when asked about the more urgent White House statements. Such action "depends on the Turks, and they don't seem to be keen to act."President Obama, joined by European allies, called in August for Assad to "step aside," and the United States along with the European Union and Canada have passed numerous rounds of sanctions against the Damascus regime demanding a halt to the bloodshed.

But the regime crackdown against the unrest has now dragged on into a ninth month, and killed more than 5,000 people--with few signs the regime is facing imminent collapse.

Pressure is continuing to mount on Assad as Syria's Muslim neighbors have increasingly blamed him for the bloodbath. Turkey and the Arab League announced this month they would impose sanctions on Syria.

Last week, Russia--which had previously rebuffed calls by Europe and Washington for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Assad--circulated a draft resolution condemning violence in the country, while explicitly ruling out any Libya-type military intervention there.

The State Department signaled impatience with the draft, saying the resolution is too even-handed in its attribution of responsibility for the violence. And it implored both the U.N. Security Council and Arab League to take faster action.

"We've got lots of promises as the government continues to mow down its own people," the State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told journalists at the press conference Wednesday.

But violence in Syria "is increasing rather than decreasing," she continued, saying Washington is frustrated. "It is absolutely time for the international community to increase the pressure on Syria and to do what it can to enforce our ability to protect civilians."

Among the actions Washington would like to see, she said: a tightening of sanctions on Syria, as well as trying to get international monitors "into as much of Syria as possible" to document what is happening and who is responsible. Nuland also called for humanitarian support for Syrian civilians in need.

Under the agreement signed by Assad Monday, the Arab League will send 150 monitors to Syria, as early as the end of this month. They will "demand free access to hospitals, prisons and other sites across the country," Reuters reported, citing Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby.

The United States along with several other countries on Wednesday also issued increasingly urgent warnings to their citizens to leave Syria, while there are still commercial flights, and said it is withdrawing some embassy staff and reducing consular services.

Syria's ambassador to the United States Imad Mustafa--long seen by the State Department as an apologist for Assad--also quietly left Washington this month, apparently with the public explanation that Damascus had appointed him its next envoy to China.

Meantime, there were tentative signals the United States was moving towards recognizing the main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, as the official representative of Damascus, including praise of the group's legitimacy from the top State Department Middle East hand, Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman, in an interview Wednesday.

(Above, citizen video of an anti-Assad regime protest in the city of Homs, Syria Thursday posted to YouTube.)

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