Diplomacy in Syria crisis foundering

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BEIRUT -- Disjointed diplomatic maneuvering on the Syria crisis by top foreign officials Tuesday seemed to underscore the lack of any coherent international effort to end the fighting, even as another residential bombing and an assassination rocked Damascus.

"The situation inside Syria is turning grimmer every day, and the risk is growing that this crisis could explode outward into an already-volatile region," Jeffrey Feltman, the United Nations undersecretary-general for political affairs, told a Security Council meeting.

Underscoring that threat, Israel accused Syria of moving tanks into a demilitarized zone of the disputed Golan Heights region captured by the Israelis in the 1967 war and asked the Security Council to address "this alarming development." Mr. Feltman, who answered questions from reporters at the United Nations, said he was concerned about the new Golan tension and called it "another example of spillover from areas that had been previously immune from fighting."

Mr. Feltman also quoted activists as saying 250 people had died Monday across Syria. "We continue to hope that the Security Council can come together and act in a unified fashion on Syria, as this would be critical to any peace effort," he said.

There was no sign of that.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks in Jordan with the highest-ranking Syrian government defector, former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, who attacked Moscow's enduring support for President Bashar Assad as unworkable for a political transition.

Remarks by British Prime Minister David Cameron that Mr. Assad might be granted safe passage out of his country as a means to end the fighting also caused a stir, with his office quickly stressing that he did not mean that Mr. Assad should avoid prosecution.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the international envoy to the conflict, warned that unless there was a greater international effort, Syria risked descending into another Somalia -- which as a failed state became a font of international piracy and other terrorist problems for 20 years. In an interview with the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, Mr. Brahimi said the main effort should be a binding Security Council resolution on a political transition.

In Damascus, gunmen assassinated the brother of the Syrian parliament speaker in broad daylight in a central neighborhood, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported. The victim, Mohammad Osama al-Laham, was felled by bullets fired into his car in the Midan neighborhood while en route to work, SANA said.

The agency attributed the attack to terrorists, the government's standard description for the opposition, and said the motive was to deprive Syria of skilled loyalists needed in the country. Mr. Laham, brother of Jihad Laham, the speaker of the People's Assembly, held a doctorate in agriculture.

Other mayhem in the capital and throughout the country included three bombs that exploded late in the day in Qudsiya, a working-class Damascus suburb, according to SANA and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain with contacts inside Syria.

At least 10 people died, the observatory said. The bombs exploded in crowded Zahra Square, near an area heavily populated by Republican Guards.



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