As the deadline approached for President Bashar Al Assad to withdraw his forces from Syrian cities, the only surprise on the ground was the ‘shock’ expressed by the negotiator who brokered the attempted ceasefire.

Kofi Annan, the United Nations-Arab League special envoy to Syria, said on Sunday that he was ‘shocked by recent reports of a surge in violence and atrocities in several towns and villages in Syria’.

Mr Annan’s shock has been felt by many for a long time. Indeed, Mr Al Assad’s intentions were clear even before the ink dried on the latest bid to stem the violence: hold on to power at all costs. On Sunday Damascus hinted at this tactic when the regime demanded ‘written guarantees’ that rebel forces would lay down their weapons, and promises that foreign states would not fund anti-regime fighters. He is unlikely to get either and Mr Al Assad knows it. With nearly 10,000 killed what’s truly shocking is that the international community continues giving the Syrian president the benefit of the doubt.

It remains to be seen where Syria’s crisis goes from here. But one fact is clear: a lack of international consensus, and the continued support of Russia, China and Iran, have given Mr Al Assad the strength to fight on. The question now is how will the world community respond.

Few palatable solutions present themselves. So far, the stance taken by Russia and Iran in particular has ensured little effective pressure is put on Mr Al Assad. The UN plan, already weak and vacillating, is now highly unlikely to deter Mr Al Assad’s forces. A fractious opposition has further worried would-be partners.

So what can be done? For a start, Syria’s opposition parties outside the country must stop bickering and display genuine unity. That, together with increased economic sanctions and support to beleaguered rebel groups, might succeed in keeping Mr Al Assad at bay while more army generals and fence-sitters defect to the opposition. Moreover, international actors must do a better job in crafting a unified, and diplomatically tough, response. At present there are too many strategies in play. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are headed in one direction (paying opposition salaries) while US and European partners are agonising over levels of support.

President Al Assad is responsible for the bloodbath in Syria. But it is the failure of the global order to translate universal ‘shock’ into action that allows the killing to continue.

–The National editorial