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June 26, 2017

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The time has come for Western forces to enter Syria battle

The bomb that decimated the inner circle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday, July 18 should also shake up U.S. policy toward Syria.

The deaths of Assad's brother-in-law and confidant, Assef Shawkat, along with other top security officials, marks the beginning of the end for a regime that has slaughtered at least 15,000 people. This is a moment that calls for decisive Western action.

Yet, before Wednesday's bomb, the international community was fixated on an irrelevance — whether to renew the mandate of a U.N. monitoring mission in Syria that expires Friday. The U.N. effort, led by Kofi Annan, lacks any authority to compel Assad to quit murdering civilians or to step down in favor of a broad-based transition government.

Meantime, Russia and China have made clear they'll veto Western efforts to give the mandate teeth by imposing sanctions if Assad stonewalls. Without enforcement authority, the Annan mission is toast.

"I've been in constant touch with commanders on the ground," says Syrian journalist-in-exile Eiad Shurbaji, who now does Skype interviews daily from Washington. "As far as the (fighters) are concerned, they have gone beyond Kofi Annan's diplomacy. The real decisions won't be made in New York City, but on the ground or in Damascus."

Too true.

Shurbaji was a rising young Syrian star, who owned a magazine and publishing house before the revolution; he had even interviewed Assad's wife, Asma — twice. When the uprising began, and he wrote about the regime's brutal crackdowns on civilians, he was arrested and beaten. He barely escaped alive to neighboring Jordan. (Three men who helped him escape were caught and shot.) His personal story shows why a peaceful rebellion turned violent under government repression.

Today, he says, Syrian rebels "feel they can only achieve their aims through battle." They view the Annan mission as a smokescreen that enables reluctant Western governments to delay any decision about whether to give military aid to the rebels.

That decision can no longer be postponed.

There are many understandable reasons that the Obama administration has been reluctant to help the rebels militarily. Still enmeshed in Afghanistan, barely out of Iraq, Americans don't want to get embroiled in another Mideast conflict. The Syrian opposition is splintered and disorganized, and no one knows who will take over after Assad.

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