By Damien McElroy and Richard Spencer
The death toll from fighting in Syria’s civil war has escalated sharply, as expectations grow that a foreign military intervention would be necessary to try and contain the bloodshed.
Activist groups that track death tolls said that more than 5,000 people were forecast to die this month alone, substantially above the 4,000 that died in August. By contrast, the worst month in the Iraq conflict—after the initial invasion—accounted for 3,028 lives, in July 2006.
The United Nations refugee agency meanwhile predicted that up to 700,000 Syrian refugees could flee abroad by the end of the year, nearly quadrupling its previous forecast.
Lord Owen, the former foreign secretary who oversaw peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia, warned on Thursday that the scale and nature of conflict would eventually demand a united response from Russia and the West.
"This is a full-scale civil war and my experience is that only an enforceable ceasefire will end it,” he said. “Time is not on our side given the ghastliness of the fighting, the number of massacres, and horrors of sectarian divisions becoming permanent facts on the ground.”
In an article for the Daily Telegraph, Lord Owen today calls on NATO to use its formal ties with Russia to start talks on enforcing a no-fly zone in joint arrangement that would not target the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president escalated the “blame game” with the West, accusing the U.S. and others of sowing chaos in Syria.
“The most important thing is that our partners cannot stop themselves,” he said. “They have already created a situation of chaos in many territories and are now continuing the same policy in other countries—including Syria.”
Michael Clarke, the head of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, predicted Syria’s neighbors would be sucked into choosing sides in what is likely to be a drawn-out battle.
"As this becomes a fully-fledged sectarian war in the next couple of months the whole fabric of the Levant will be torn apart and what you will have is a Saudi Arabia vs. Iranian proxy war involving elements in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan,” he said.
"The West is going to find it harder and harder to resist calls to intervene to contain the problem rather than stop the killing.”
David Cameron condemned the Russian and Chinese government for blocking U.N.-backed action to stop the conflict in a speech to the U.N. on Wednesday.
Douglas Alexander MP, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “The sheer scale of the suffering being endured in Syria demands that the international community renews its efforts to achieve unity and action.”
Arab states have endeavored to end the conflict but are publicly divided over regional military intervention, with comments at the U.N. exposing sharp divisions between major Muslim nations.
Egypt’s new president opposed calls from the Emir of Qatar for a military intervention by Arab League states, while a meeting he had called of the Middle East “quartet”—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran—was canceled after the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, decided not to travel to New York.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi Arabian ambassador to America, told CNN that “NATO and some combination” of other states would eventually be forced to intervene to quell fighting. “That requires military force,” he said. “For somebody to deny this at this time is, I think, deluding themselves.”
Wednesday was the most lethal day of the Syrian civil war yet, according to activist support groups inside and outside the country, as the killing reached 343, according to one count.
Scores of bodies were discovered in the southern Damascus suburb of Dhiyabiyah, men of all ages who had apparently been shot in cold blood.
While Syrian opposition groups put the overall death toll in the 18-month war above 30,000, Amnesty International puts the toll at 21,000-plus.