As the anti-Qaddafi Libyan rebels were fighting for control over Tripoli, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford stopped by the restless Syrian town of Jassem for a surprise visit and show of support days after President Obama called for Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to step down. “We have consistently said that President Asad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Asad to step aside,” Obama said on Thursday.
Meanwhile, a UN team arrived in Syria on Saturday after finally receiving permission to access the country since its initial request in May. The team, in Syria until Thursday, will visit towns to “assess the humanitarian situation and condition of basic social services and identify initial assistance needs that could be addressed through a rapid response,” according to one UN official.
The UN Human Rights Council’s special session on the situation in Syria in Geneva on Aug. 22.
The UN team arrived in Syria days after a UN fact-finding mission reported to have found “a pattern of human rights violations” in Syria “which may amount to crimes against humanity.” In addition, on Tuesday, the UN Human Rights Council voted to send “an independent international commission” to investigate Syria’s crimes. The Syrian government may be trying to clean up evidence of its crackdown at this time, however. “There is a whitewash — evidence of crimes against humanity, being scrubbed off the streets before the UN mission arrives,” according to a diplomat with reliable on-the-ground information. It is believed that more than 2,200 people have been killed since mid-March.
As the Libyan rebels move closer and closer to taking Tripoli on Tuesday, it is uncertain at this point what is to come of the Syrian revolt. President Bashar al-Asad has proven his ruthlessness, and there’s no reason to expect that his regime’s killing spree will let up any time soon, even with the UN in town this week. Indeed, the future of Syria and the Syrian people hangs in the balance.