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The Syrian catastrophe and the world's deafening silence

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Friday, 14 August 2015


The word tragic has often been used to describe the civil war in Syria, but it is a pale description of the raging madness on the ground. The bloodletting and massive destruction that has swept the nation is not a mere tragic event; the magnitude of the destruction and loss of lives is catastrophic by any measure unseen since the horror of World War II. The world is largely watching with apathy, and those with unique interests in the conflict play politics with the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who died in vain as there is no salvation in death while unspeakable anguish and pain still awaits the living.

Just imagine the scope of the catastrophe that has been inflicted on a country and people by a vicious dictator who is determined to stay in power even at the expense of subjecting his country to wholesale destruction:

When 250,000 men, women and children are slaughtered and four million people become refugees languishing in camps, this is a catastrophe.

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When more than seven million are internally displaced, 14 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, tens of thousands of people are prevented from fleeing and unable to receive international aid, and half the country is in ruin, this is a catastrophe.

And the most catastrophic of all is when a whole generation of young Syrians is lost as it bears long-term disastrous consequences from which the Syrian people will suffer for decades to come.

Sadly, the Obama administration's assistance to spare the lives of tens of thousands of innocent civilians has been lukewarm at best. The Arab states, though providing some assistance to the Syrian rebels, remain unwilling to place ground troops which has and continues to be essential to defeating ISIS.

Russia and Iran stood by their ruthless ally, Assad, and spared no effort to provide him with the military, financial, and logistic guidance he needs to continue to mow down his people with his killing machine. Their political and strategic interests in Syria trump the welfare of the country, and they will do anything to protect their national interests and shape the country's future to fit their needs.

While the US and some of its allies are busy fighting ISIS from the air, they left Assad free to drop barrel bombs, killing indiscriminately thousands of people each month and obliterating whole neighborhoods with near impunity.

Now, however, that Assad has admitted he is losing ground and lacks sufficient number of troops to fight the rebels on all fronts, and Iran and Russia fear that the rise of ISIS could divest them of their influence in Syria, they have all begun to search for a political solution:

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Out of desperation, Assad dispatched his foreign minister Walid Moallem to explore a new opening for peace talks with the Syrian rebels to be arranged by Oman.

Iran has presented a peace plan personally conveyed by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif to Assad that includes a ceasefire and a power-sharing government with Assad remaining in power, at least for now.

And Russia has invited representatives of the Syrian rebels and the Assad government to visit Moscow for peace talks.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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