The welfare of Syrians is not a factor in the regime's cold calculations. It must be the chief priority for the world
Syrians are spending yet another Christmas trapped in Al Assad's nightmare
As 2017 comes to a close, Syria remains traumatised by a seven-year war and a legacy of brutal political repression, terrorist violence and excruciating human misery. The loud claims by Bashar Al Assad’s regime and its foreign backers that the country is back on the path to normality were again contradicted over the weekend when Iraq was compelled to scramble its Popular Mobilisation Forces after its army was repeatedly targeted by gunfire emanating from the Syrian side of the border. For all Mr Al Assad’s boasts, large parts of his country are still overrun by militants, vulnerable to pockets of insurgency from within and the influence of imposters from without. The only victims in this battle for power are the long-suffering Syrian people, whose wounds run deep, whether they have lost loved ones, their homes, are living in abject misery or dislocated thousands of miles from their homeland. Those stranded in this never-ending crisis are facing yet another harsh winter without the promise of either peace or stability.
The human catastrophe created within Syria by Mr Al Assad and armed groups, far from abating, continues to intensify. Some 400,000 people, besieged by his regime, are starving in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs outside Damascus. There was some hope that the most recent UN-mediated peace talks this month might result in progress – but the regime did everything it could to sabotage them, resulting in spent efforts. Another round of talks is likely to take place in January, but no one should underestimate the regime’s determination to undermine them, or make the mistake of treating Mr Al Assad as a good faith negotiator. His sole objective is to preserve his own hold on power; the welfare of Syrians is not a factor in his cold calculations.
Syrians must, however, remain the chief priority for the rest of the world as an attempt is made to forge a post-war future for the country. Last week Brett McGurk, the US special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, presented a potential roadmap for the future, which would either see the US maintain a long-term military presence or a political settlement agreed with Russia. While Moscow remains fixated on "terrorists", excluding armed groups fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime, Washington signals that extremists and Iranian-backed militias must be driven out and kept out for good, and the world’s population of Syrians must be allowed to vote on their future in UN-monitored elections. “The only way to bring an end to this conflict is through Geneva,” Mr McGurk said.
Putting any plan into action will take time – and time is something Mr Al Assad is adept at exploiting to his advantage. Syrians, meanwhile, are facing another miserable winter while world powers determine their fate. As millions of families around the world come together for the holiday season, let us spare a thought for those caught up in Mr Al Assad’s nightmare.
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