Less than a week after the US, Russia and the other 15 members of the International Syria Support Group agreed in Munich on a "cessation of hostilities" by the end of this week, the five-year-old conflict appears to be closer than ever to erupting into a regional and potentially global conflict.
Syrian President Assad issued a warning to this effect on Monday, saying that any ground invasion of Syria would have "global repercussions" and that Turkish and Saudi forces would find that such an adventure would be no "picnic."
Assad's statement follows similar warnings by Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev, who said last week that such an intervention would pose the danger of "sparking a new world war."
The hysteria being whipped up over the 50 civilian casualties reported on Monday is an indication that the threat of a wider war is steadily growing. The French and British governments followed Turkey in alleging that the Syrian and Russian governments were guilty of "war crimes."
More substantively, German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her support for a "no-fly zone," a long-time demand of the Turkish government, which wants to carve out a cordon of Syrian territory as a means of better organizing the war for regime-change, quelling the Kurds and containing the flow of refugees.
Russia denied responsibility for the attacks on the schools and hospitals, insisting that it had no forces capable of firing the missiles that were said to have hit them. The worst of the attacks took place in Azaz, where Prime Minister Davutoglu vowed Turkey would mount "a severe response" to the Kurdish offensive.
The Syrian ambassador to Moscow, Riad Haddad, charged that one of the hospitals had been the target of a US air strike.
The furor over alleged Russian and Syrian government "war crimes" stands in stark contrast to the utter silence of Western governments and media over the deaths of civilians resulting from air strikes by the US-led coalition, which have killed roughly 1,000 in Iraq and Syria since they began in August 2014.
Amid the growing international tensions, it was announced in Syria that Hashem al-Sheikh, also known as Abu Jaber, has been named the new commander of the so-called "rebels" resisting the Syrian government advance on the city of Aleppo. He was, until last September, the leader of Ahrar al-Sham, a hardline Salafist jihadi militia founded by Al Qaeda veterans from Afghanistan. It has fought in close alliance with Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, the al-Nusra Front, as well as Chechen Islamist fighters. These are the elements that Washington and its allies routinely refer to as the "moderate opposition."
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