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Is Assad scared of a war crimes trial? Assault on Homs suggests not. (+video)

Diplomats critical of Syria are using terms such as 'crimes against humanity' and 'war criminal.' But the Homs assault suggests Assad sees defeating the rebels as more vital for his survival.

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Bashar al-Assad’s pull-out-the-stops assault on civilians holed up in the city of Homs Thursday offers an answer to questions about how much the Syrian leader fears international threats to charge him with crimes against humanity: apparently not much.

“Bashar knows that if he loses this struggle, he’s dead, so some threats of possible international charges at some point in the future aren’t his first concern right now,” says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

Besides, he adds, “He knows he can count on the support of Russia and China at least for a while, because they still see him as a possible survivor.”

Thursday’s fight, with reports of the Syrian regime sending in tanks and rooftop snipers to finish off the rebel stronghold in the Baba Amr neighborhood, comes within days of high-profile international condemnations of Assad.

Last week the United Nations Human Rights Council suggested Assad is reaching a point of no return from war crimes charges, and on Tuesday Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Assad fits the definition of a war criminal.

Yet even as the assault intensified on a neighborhood that rebels claimed was abandoned by all but 4,000 desperate civilians, Assad could proceed with the assurance of protection from high places: the lopsided Human Rights Council vote condemning Syria last week was 37-3, with Russia, China, and Cuba opposed.


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