WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday trying Syrian President Bashar Assad for war crimes could make it harder to get him to give up power.
With the United Nations saying it has credible reports "the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including women and children," Clinton told a Senate Appropriations Committee, "I think that based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category," CNN reported.
The United Nations has said the death total is "certainly well over 7,500" since the uprising began.
"I think people have been putting forth the argument (to try Assad for war crimes), but I also think from long experience that could complicate a resolution of a difficult, complex situation because it limits options to persuade leaders perhaps to step down from power," Clinton said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday it is not clear to what extent al-Qaida is active in Syria, but the main goal is to get Assad to step down.
"We are aware of the fact that al-Qaida and other extremists are seeking to take advantage of the situation created by Assad's brutal assault on the opposition, and to try to pretend -- contrary to their history, their rhetoric, their reason for being -- that they are on the side of greater freedom and democracy for the people of the region -- in this case, of Syria," Carney said.
"It's not clear right now the extent to which al-Qaida extremists are working with the Syrian opposition. … Our position … is that now is not the time to further militarize the situation in Syria. We are working, rather, with our allies, through the 'Friends of Syria,' to isolate and pressure Assad, and to try to get him to realize that his days are numbered and to cease the brutality that he's been waging against his own people."
U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said she has received "disturbing reports of a rapidly deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation."
"Recent reports further indicate that Syrian military and security forces have launched massive campaigns of arrest, arbitrarily detaining thousands of protesters, as well as activists and others suspected of anti-government activities," Pillay said.