Syrian hell unleashed

Friday 12/02/2016

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon chose the word “hell” to refer to how serious living conditions in Syria have become following almost five years of bloody conflict. The inferno does not seem likely to be letting up soon and the international body over which Ban presides is at a loss for a solution which would stop the bloodshed.

Ban’s comment came after the first round of the Geneva 3 talks, which resulted in nothing of importance. UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura could hardly hide his disappoint­ment at not being able to bring together the belliger­ent parties in one session. For four days, he shuttled between their places of residence trying to bridge the gap between positions and points of view but he knew from the beginning that his mission was almost impossible.

One of the reasons for such an assessment has to do with the Syrian government’s delegation, which had gone to Geneva carrying a clear declaration of war. Not once did the delegation indicate any desire to reach a peaceful solution.

The opposition delegation had insisted on implementing UN Resolution 2254 as a prerequisite for the talks. The resolution calls for an immediate ceasefire and the lifting of the siege on certain zones and allowing aid to the civilian population to go through. This has not happened and is not going to happen soon. All signs from the field indicate that the war goes on unabated.

Russia has increased its sorties despite the announcement by its government that it is serious about achieving a peaceful settlement of the Syrian conflict. At the same time, it will not stop fighting those it calls terrorists, even though 70% of the victims are civilians.

Russian forces continue to provide intensive air cover for Syrian government forces and their Iranian militia allies as they advance and occupy more territory. By contrast, the rebel forces are experiencing a shortage of weapons.

It seems that the Syrian government’s tactic of one small bite at a time is working. In recent days, entire regions which had been under rebel control for three years have fallen to the Syrian armed forces. At the same time, strikes by Russian planes forced new waves of migration towards Turkey, which made clear that it seriously wishes to grab what it can of the frag­mented and crumbling entity south of its borders while there is time for it to do just that.

In the opposite camp, Russia cannot claim that it has seriously damaged or limited the capabili­ties of the Islamic State (ISIS), whose fighters appear unruffled and in control of their territories.

Recent declarations by Briga­dier-General Ahmed Asiri, adviser to the Saudi defence minister, have had the effect of a bomb. Asiri insisted that Saudi Arabia was willing to commit ground troops to the war against ISIS. This development means that the battle zone in Syria is likely to expand and that the next round of the UN-sponsored peace talks, slated by de Mistura for February 25th in Geneva, is likely to repeat the same out­come as the first one, namely nothing.

In the middle of all this brouhaha, the Syrian regime seems collected and confident, eagerly awaiting the conclusion of the mission of the Russian forces in Syria. This mission seems to have been that of drawing the borders of the future Alawite state mentioned by British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

In the meantime, millions of Syrians inside and outside the country continue to go through hell.