US: Assad no longer potential peace partner for Israel

Syrian President Bashar Assad is not a partner for a peace deal with Israel, a U.S. State Department official said.

Jake Sullivan, director of Policy Planning for the department, said during a special State Department briefing Tuesday in answer to a reporter’s question that it is difficult to consider pursuing diplomatic initiatives with Assad when he is attacking anti-government demonstrators in his own country.

Since the early days of the Obama administration, the United States had been urging Israel to seek a comprehensive peace with its neighbors, including Syria and Lebanon.

“On the peace process side, it is, of course, the case that over the course of the past two years, there have been a number of challenges that have arisen and obstacles that have arisen with respect to Israeli-Palestinian peace and with respect to peace on other tracks as well,” Sullivan said. “And the current situation in Syria is one that – certainly, it is hard for us to see – it’s hard for us to stand by and see Assad and his government engaged in this kind of campaign against their own people and to then think easily about how to pursue the other diplomatic initiatives with him.”

Sullivan said the administration still had not decided whether or not and in what way to impose targeted sanctions on Syria.

At least 120 anti-government protesters were reported killed over the weekend, and 400 since the start of grassroots protests against the Syrian regime in mid-March. Hundreds have also been arrested, according to reports.

News outlets reported Wednesday that the Syrian army deployed dozens of tanks around the coastal city of Banias and Douma, a suburb of Damascus, where demonstrations have been large and vocal.

Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the Syrian army’s violence against the protestors and called for an independent investigation into the violence.

The U.N. Security Council was scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the violence and draft a statement condemning the crackdown on anti-government protestors.