Leaders: Syria | Union Square project

Syrian refugees gather for food aid at a refugee camp in Kurdistan, Iraq. Picture: AP

Syrian refugees gather for food aid at a refugee camp in Kurdistan, Iraq. Picture: AP

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HOW many times must red lines in Syria be crossed before the West is compelled to intervene to hasten an end to this bloody conflict?

It was in August last year that President Barack Obama told the White House press corps that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be a “red line” which, if crossed, would trigger a more interventionist attitude from the United States.

As gruesome pictures emerging from Syria yesterday now show – adding to evidence that has been available since May – this red line has undoubtedly been crossed.

The situation in Syria is most depressing, and new reports and pictures – including images of dead and dying children – are particularly distressing. They now pose a question to western powers who seem caught between the moral peril of intervention and the moral peril of standing on the sidelines while the slaughter continues.

Through the fog of war, disinformation about chemical weapons is perhaps inevitable. And so we have some suggestions that the chemical attacks are really the work of the rebels. Do we really believe that the anti-Assad forces are sufficiently ruthless to attack their own people, with the loss yesterday of hundreds of lives, for a propaganda coup?

Occasionally, things are as they seem.

In July last year, the Syrian government appeared to confirm it had stocks of chemical weapons, believed to be mustard gas and sarin nerve agent. Government officials claimed the weapons were intended to be used against an external attack on the country, not within Syria itself.

Recent evidence, however, suggests that in the Assad regime’s desperate struggle for survival, this self-denying ordinance has been overruled. The question now is simple: can this be tolerated by the international community?

Whenever the West is poised to intervene in another country, the question by sceptics is asked: what is the endgame? And if a ready answer is not forthcoming, the sceptics say it would be foolish to get involved.

Their position has a reassuring simplicity, but the world does not work like that. Who is to say what the outcome of a western-assisted overthrow of Bashar al-Assad would be? Similarly, who can forecast the consequences of a Syrian civil war that reduces that country to dust and blood? Inaction, as well as action, has consequences.

As things stand, Britain and the US are in the worst possible position – our leaders talk tough, but they will not act. We are revealed as not having the courage of our convictions.

But this is no longer about politics and diplomacy, it is about the sort of war crimes that see children killed by chemical weapons. Surely no nation can stand by and watch that continue, and if Assad knew all nations were ranged against him, implacably, determined to stop these outrages, then he would capitulate.

Wood’s generosity may yet bear fruit

THE saga of the on-off development of Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen is a sorry tale. But it might yet have a happy ending.

Sir Ian Wood, who has become one of Scotland’s richest men on the back of the oil industry, had offered £50 million of his own money for the futuristic development that would have transformed the gardens at the heart of the city.

But when political control of the local authority changed hands in the council elections last year, the scheme was thrown out. It looked as if the £50m too would be lost to the city. Now Sir Ian has told the city authorities he is still willing to use his £50m for the good of the Granite City. He has challenged them to come up with a proposal that will help transform a city centre that he says is a poor advert for Aberdeen.

Sir Ian should be congratulated for his patience and his perseverance. After the past few years of wrangling, few people would have been surprised if he had taken this donation off the table and looked for another good cause on which to spend it.

But, showing the resilience that has made him one of Scotland’s leading industrialists, Sir Ian has refused to walk away. He has now given the council a deadline within which to come up with new plans.

Aberdeen’s council leader has made clear the Union Terrace Gardens project is “dead”. It remains to be seen what the council can come up with elsewhere in the city centre that would provide as much of a step change in the city’s profile as that ill-fated scheme.

The city would be foolish to spend any more time looking this particularly generous gift horse in the mouth.

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