Western voices have been swift to threaten measures that will escalate the conflict in Syria to the cost of the Syrian people.
The terrible massacre of the innocents in the central Syrian town of Houla should not be allowed to strengthen the hand of extreme and intransigent elements, whether in the Damascus government, the Syrian opposition, the Arab states or Nato.
Certainly, the government's bombardment of civilian areas is reckless and inhumane, creating the conditions in which massacres such as that in Houla can take place. So, too, do the military and terrorist attacks launched by opposition elements.
But only a thorough inquiry backed by the United Nations will establish with credibility exactly how the 32 children and more than 58 adults died in Houla, and whether some or all of them were killed by government bombs, pro-regime Alawite militias or anti-regime forces linked to al-Qaida or the Salafist movement.
The past failure of the Assad regimes to institute far-reaching democratic reforms has undoubtedly contributed to the growth of widespread opposition to Syria's current political system.
It is an opposition that embraces a broad spectrum of viewpoints and aspirations, some of them hoping to throw Syrian society backwards into a far more repressive era than anything experienced since the radical Ba'athist coup of 1966.
The claim by Salafist imam Sheikh Louay al-Zouabi to have sparked the Syrian uprising with his fatwa in March, which called for the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad, may be exaggerated.
His self-proclaimed conversion to a more liberal, tolerant strain of Sunni Islamic fundamentalism should be treated with some scepticism.
However, his opposition to a peaceful settlement in Syria is not in doubt. Nor is the growing supply of military and other assistance that Salafist and other fundamentalist forces are receiving from the reactionary, anti-democratic regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Nato member state Turkey is shipping weapons to the self-styled "Free Syrian Army," which adds still further to the militarisation of the conflict.
Yet the hard, difficult reality is that former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan's peace plan, launched two months ago, remains the only blueprint for a peaceful settlement of Syria's crisis.
It calls for a UN-supervised ceasefire, negotiations between the Damascus government and opposition groups and a process of all-round demilitarisation.
Calls from the West for Assad's resignation, for more sanctions against his regime, for equipping the rebels with heavy armaments and for Nato air strikes only serve to undermine the prospects for peace.
Indeed, one can hear in recent French and British government statements an echo of the propaganda that paved the way for Nato intervention - and a new round of massacres - in Libya last year.
Beating the war drum still louder will only fan the flames of religious and ethnic conflict in Lebanon, turning the first flickers into a calamitous conflagration.
Then there is always the likelihood that the extremist Netanyahu regime in Israel will take advantage of deepening chaos in the Middle East to attack Iran.
One-eyed support for either the Damascus regime or the Syrian opposition will not protect the citizens of that country from state or fundamentalist terrorism. Cool heads are needed on all sides.
Allies of Assad should impress upon him the urgency of military restraint, dialogue and a fresh timetable for substantial democratic reforms.
Backers of the Free Syrian Army and other militias should demand that they, too, cease military action, isolate the terrorists in their midst and demonstrate their readiness to talk peace without pre-conditions.
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