EU: Syria Risks Slipping Into Civil War

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Friday warned that Syria faces the risk of slipping into a full-fledged civil war in wake of the recent increase in violence in the Middle East nation. She squarely blamed the regime headed by President Bashar al-Assad for the deteriorating situation.

In a statement released after attending a meeting of the Friends of the Syrian people in Paris, Ashton noted the overwhelming response of so many States and organizations shows the strong commitment of the international community to support the Syrian people as the tragic situation on the ground continues to deteriorate.

The Friends of Syria, led by France, the United States, Britain, Germany, and Arab nations Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is a contact group that brings together officials from international organizations and more than 60 countries, including most European Union and Arab League members. The forum seeks to co-ordinate Western and Arab efforts to stop violence in Syria.

Ashton on Friday noted the level of violence and number of casualties has risen to "unimaginable levels" in Syria in recent weeks, and warned that the "risk of full civil war has become even more real" in the Middle East nation.

"The regime is clearly responsible for the brutality of the repression. Instead of freeing detainees and withdrawing its troops and heavy weapons from urban areas, Assad's regime continues with the shelling of innocent civilians," she said.

Ashton cautioned that any further militarization of the conflict will have a serious impact not only on the Syrian people but on the region as a whole. She said serious effects can be seen in neighboring countries who shoulder the largest and most difficult burden. The EU foreign policy chief reiterated the European bloc's continued support to those nations.

She also urged the UN Security Council to take necessary measures for implementing the six-point peace plan proposed by joint UN-Arab League envoy for resolving the conflict in Syria, and the "roadmap" agreed at the Action Group meeting in Geneva last Saturday.

Annan's six-point peace plan calls for an end to violence that has gripped the Middle Eastern country, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.

"We now have a concrete roadmap for a Syrian-led transition and a clear mandate for Kofi Annan to take this forward. He has an extraordinarily difficult task. Now, collectively, we will have to ensure its implementation and increase the pressure on the regime," Ashton said.

Stressing that the unity and coherence of the international community is essential for resolving the Syrian crisis, Ashton added: "The humanitarian plight of the Syrian people has worsened and we will remain at the forefront of the efforts to bring assistance to those in need. Lack of access remains the biggest obstacle."

The UN estimates more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, dead in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. The Opposition claims the death toll to be much higher. Notably, the Assad regime still blames "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign mercenaries for the violence.

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