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By Wolf Blitzer, CNN
(CNN) - The situation in Syria is exploding with death and destruction.
The United Nations now says 6,000 people have been killed since demonstrations erupted almost a year ago, and opposition activists say the death toll has topped 7,000. Many of the victims have been peaceful activists.
Tens of thousands have been injured. Thousands have been arrested; others have simply disappeared. And beyond that, thousands of refugees have fled to neighboring Turkey, Jordan and even Iraq.
This is truly an international disaster.
In the meantime, the United Nations Security Council can’t even pass a simple resolution demanding that President Bashar al-Assad step down. That’s because of a Russian and Chinese veto.
The Russians continue to provide weapons to the Damascus regime, even while the violence continues, although the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. tells me the Russians support the Syrians “for the time being.”
Ambassador Susan Rice says she believes al-Assad’s days are numbered. When I asked her if the U.S. would support arming the opposition, as Sen. John McCain and others have suggested, she said, “our strong preference is not to fuel what has the potential to become a full-blown civil war. Assad is off the reservation. …”
She also hinted that the United States is indeed considering all its options, saying, “before we start talking about military options, we very much want to ensure that we have exhausted all of the political, economic and diplomatic means at our disposal."
As we all know, there is no real appetite in the U.S. or among the NATO allies to take direct military action, even along the lines of what was done most recently in Libya (“the no-fly zone”) and back in the 1990s in Bosnia and Kosovo.
The Arab world, the Europeans and the United States can certainly intensify the diplomatic and economic pressure on the al-Assad regime, but these kinds of sanctions are unlikely to achieve much, given the economic and diplomatic support the Damascus government receives from Russia, China, Iran, Lebanon and even from the supposedly pro-U.S. Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Amid all this, the al-Assad regime is stepping up its military assault on the anti-regime forces.
The U.S. is certainly using stronger language. When I asked Rice to look into the camera and speak directly to al-Assad, this is what she said:
“The United States stands with the people of Syria, fully and unequivocally, in their aspirations for peace for democracy and for a brighter future. Your days are numbered, and it is time and past time for you to transfer power responsibly and peacefully. The longer you hang on, the more damage you do yourself, your family, your interest and indeed your country."
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