Commentary

Syria Conflict Enters Fourth Year

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

As the Syrian conflict enters its fourth year, various regional commentators and observers have taken the opportunity to underscore the continuing suffering of civilians as well as the seemingly intractable nature of the negotiations. A recent UN report highlighting the increasingly dire conditions for the Syrian population makes it evident that the current status quo is untenable. Judging from the various op-eds and analyses being offered up in the pages of the various regional dailies, it is not clear that there are any good options, even though much ink continues to be spilled in calling for the removal of Assad.

The situation in the country is dire and the prospects for improvement are scant. In an op-ed posted over the weekend, Al Arabiya’s Theodore Karasik suggests: “Syria is a transformed state, bordering on failure. A good metaphor for Syria is the Syrian foreign minister who was rushed to hospital last week for heart surgery; the patient, like the country, is quite ill at this time....Diplomatic measures to deal with the Syrian situation after three years are a mess, with many states to blame. They need not be mentioned but we know who they are. These states, the Syrian opposition and the slew of international and regional organizations involved are all talking past each other....The ‘Syrian Effect’ on neighboring countries is spreading violence, revenge, and challenging the ability to govern, opening up old wounds and creating fresh lacerations against the innocent.”

Similarly, the Khaleej Times editorial comments on the extreme dearth of basic food stuff, which is making the situation for the Syrian population very difficult: “The absence of essential items needed for daily living and the destruction of basic amenities is now the norm instead of the exception....Millions of Syrians without recourse to adequate food and shelter have already weathered a chilling winter, and any furthering of their miseries in unacceptable. This dilemma has been compounded by the eruption of fresh fighting in the camps around the capital, and other countryside areas. Aid agencies say delivering food to these needy people is increasingly becoming a difficult task, and there is dearth of men and materials to achieve that goal....With more than 100,000 deaths and two million people homeless, Syria is in the midst of a human catastrophe. The UN should go back to its earlier resolution calling for all parties involved to agree to a ceasefire, lift the siege and enable aid supplies to reach besieged civilians.”

It is against this backdrop that the Gulf Today (UAE) cited a United Nation’s study reporting that the number of Syrian children in difficulty is on the rise: “The United Nations said on Tuesday the number of children impacted by Syria’s war has doubled in the past year to 5.5 million, many of them trapped in besieged areas and beyond reach....The report focuses on the immense damage caused to children affected by the conflict, including ‘the accounts of children whose lives have been devastated by the three year old war, and highlights the profound traumas many have experienced.’... In host countries, 1.2 million Syrian children are now refugees living in camps and overwhelmed host communities, and have limited access to clean water, nutritious food or learning opportunities.”

Meanwhile, as Arab News’ Harun Yahya points out, the Kurdish population in Syria continue to feel abandoned not only by the Syrian government but by the international community as well: “The Kurdish people have generally been left abandoned in the northern Middle East and have been treated as second-class citizens, especially by dictatorial regimes. There is a large Kurdish population in Syria that is not regarded as Syrian citizens and who even have no identity cards. The Kurdish people are also one of the worst victims of the ongoing Syrian conflict. Targeting Kurds is perhaps the traditional policy of the Ba’athist mindset. Another tradition of the Ba’athist mentality is the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons.”

The need for greater support, especially from the West, is also the theme of an op-ed on the pages of the Daily Star (Lebanon) by Saleh Muslim Muhammad, Chairman of the Democratic Union Party of Syria, who attempts to offer an olive branch to the Syrian government: “Since the outbreak of protests in 2011 against President Bashar Assad’s regime, and long before, one group of Syrians, the Kurdish community, has consistently sought peaceful change and respect for the rights of all....The Kurds have never sought to achieve democratic goals through violence....Syria’s Kurds are ready to build a more democratic country. But we need Western support and expertise to consolidate the free society to which everyone aspires. By ignoring us, Western governments are disregarding the secular, democratic values that they claim to uphold. Worse, our fragile democracy risks falling victim to extremists who pose a mortal danger not just to Syria, but also to the wider Middle East and the world.”

No reconciliatory gestures are forthcoming from Ahmed Jarba, president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, who takes advantage of the anniversary to call the Syrian people to arms: “Because the great Syrian people are so full of dignity and magnanimity, we depend on them as they continue their civil struggle. We support all their choices regarding any and all possible solutions. This revolution cannot suffer between the hammer of regional polarization and the anvil of international interests. The revolution will continue. The Syrian people, after all the sacrifices they have given, will not give up their dreams of freedom and dignity. In the name of the greatest revolution in the history of the world, they are heroes demonstrating in the name of freedom. The ‘One, one, one, the Syrian people are one!’ slogan that has echoed across Syrian from the first day of the revolution will live on, until victory has been achieved.”

Invariably, one of the main questions commentators are trying to answer is whether the future will be any different from the present, or as Asharq Alawsat’s Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed puts it “Who will fall in Syria’s fourth year?... As the Syrian revolution enters its fourth year, the question remains as to whether President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime will exit power or whether it will finally be able to eliminate the opposition and subjugate the majority revolting against it. The enormous number of daily battles across Syria certainly shows that three years of suppressing the Syrian people has not yielded results, despite the support the regime used to enjoy....In all cases, Syria today is not as it was yesterday, and it will not be like a future Syria. The country’s situation has changed forever. Assad and his regime are part of a history that has been decided no matter how hard he, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia try. We hope for less pain and for a quick transition. Unfortunately, the world insists on prolonging the bloodshed, pain and brutality.”

There are genuine fears that the war in Syria is becoming a forgotten one, which is why the Qatar-based daily The Peninsula urges the U.S. government to recommit to find a solution for “what is happening in Syria. Though there have been indications of changes in US policy on the conflict, they haven’t been substantial in a way that can make a change on the ground. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns recently stated that Syria now presents enormous challenges to US interests that require a steady, comprehensive American strategy. But the Obama administration is yet to take serious note of those challenges.”


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