The sounds of distant explosions and nearby sniper fire are not new to war-torn Syria, which has been embroiled for nearly 20 months in what some have called civil war. President Bashar al-Assad's military has shelled cities and forced civilians from their homes and into refugee camps in neighboring countries. The rebel-comprised Free Syrian Army have risen up against the regime, and although they have wide international support, the group has also been accused of committing atrocities as gross as the government. A recent estimate puts the death toll at more than 37,000 people. New York Times' columnist Nicholas Kristof recently returned from a trip to Syria. While there he met Khadija al-Ali, a woman who "in the space of a week [went] from middle-class housewife to homeless single mother." Her family was safely out of their home when it was destroyed by a government bomb, but a few days later her husband disappeared and hasn't yet returned. "I just don't know what happened," Ms. Ali said.   In his column, Mr. Kristof asserts that "the existing hands-off approach has failed," citing regional instability and rising sectarianism as two consequences of non-intervention. But stronger action from Western powers may be on the horizon. In a recent news conference with Australian allies, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that "the formation of the new Syrian Opposition Coalition is an important step forward and will help us better target our assistance." The size and scope of that assistance is yet to be seen.