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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

The Syrian civil war is poised to enter its eighth year with no end in sight

We are teetering on the brink of an all-out confrontation between major powers arrayed against each other

Eastern Ghouta, bombarded afresh on Sunday, has been a scene of a unremitting human suffering for years.     Hamza Al-Ajweh  / AFP
Eastern Ghouta, bombarded afresh on Sunday, has been a scene of a unremitting human suffering for years. Hamza Al-Ajweh / AFP

On Sunday, the Syrian regime ratcheted up its bombardment of the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta – a scene of unremitting human suffering for years – to a new level of ruthlessness. At least 100 civilians, including 20 children, were killed within 24 hours of its launch. That such a large human toll no longer provokes any cries for concerted international action on behalf of Syria’s besieged populace is a grim measure of the irrevocable depths of despair into which the country has been driven by Bashar Al Assad and his foreign backers. But as the Syrian civil war spirals into its eighth year next month, it is questionable if the crisis in Syria, having grown so complex, can be resolved by simply removing one man from power.

The tragedy of Syria is that the fires devouring the country will continue to rage and claim lives even after Mr Al Assad is gone. This will in large part be due to his legacy of mistrust, violence and unholy collusion – but a substantial portion of the blame must also be shouldered by all those who sought to use Syria to advance their own geopolitical interests or settle old scores. The moral compass of the multiple parties competing for supremacy in Syria is so battered that it is impossible any longer to place even a modicum of trust in the analgesic assurances they dispense. A war that was supposedly winding down at the end of last year has expanded and sucked in yet more participants. The fact that none of them calls it a war doesn’t alter the fact that Syria is one stray incident away from a potential all-out confrontation between major powers arrayed against each other.

In Afrin, Turkish forces are very soon likely to come face-to-face with regime forces, who have been despatched by Mr Al Assad to halt Ankara’s advance. Despite recent diplomatic activity between Turkey and the US to avert hostilities, the possibility of a Turkish-American clash is far from remote, given that the latter has troops stationed with Kurdish forces, whom the former is determined to crush. Then there is the deadliest of all possible collisions: that between the US and Russia, Mr Al Assad’s chief ally. As The National reports, there were a number of Russian mercenaries among the pro-regime force decimated by US artillery strikes in retaliation against an attack on its troops in Deir Ezzor on February 7. What if they had been regular Russian soldiers? There would have been tremendous pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stage a reprisal of his own. All of these powers originally entered Syria with lofty claims about wanting to protect the Syrian people. But far from helping to alleviate the suffering of Syrians, they have subordinated the safety and security of Syrians to their own narrow goals. The civil war in Syria is poised to enter its eighth year with no end in sight.