In this image grab obtained by AFP from YouTube on March 25, a Syrian protester tears up a poster showing former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad from a banner upon the entrance of a military officers club in the Syrian city of Homs, north of Damascus.
Washington and other world powers have harshly condemned the scale and brutality of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on his own people, particularly in Homs, the country's third-largest city and one of the centers of the pro-democracy protests that erupted two months ago. In accounts posted on Facebook and Twitter, Homs residents say Assad's forces indiscriminately shelled the city, killing dozens of people and demolishing entire apartment buildings. Syrian human-rights activists estimate that as many as 900 demonstrators have been killed since the protests began, while more than 10,000 people have been detained.
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But Western powers are doing little to bring the violence to an end. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Assad's family and many of his top aides, but the Syrians kept little money in American financial institutions, so the measures are having little bite. The European Union spent weeks warning Assad it would soon impose sanctions, but has yet to do so. Russia and China blocked a UN Security Council resolution formally condemning the Syrian government's violence against the protesters. Senior U.S. officials acknowledge there's no prospect of an armed military intervention into Syria modeled on the ongoing operation inside Libya. The Obama administration hasn't even decided whether to publicly call on Assad to give up power.
The Western inaction in the face of Assad's ruthless attempt to suppress his country's unrest comes from what U.S. and European officials describe as a blunt assessment that using force against Assad would run the risk of significant coalition casualties and a harsh Syrian counterattack against Israel and other U.S. allies in the region.