IT is all quiet on the diplomatic front while the slaughter in Syria continues. Damascus, according to eyewitnesses, is unrecognisable. A week’s fighting in one of its suburbs has led to 500 undocumented deaths, making it one of the bloodiest weeks in 25 months of civil war. The world community’s indifference to the misery of the Syrian people is to be seen in the transformation of the Syrian scene. The hopes aroused by the Arab Spring have vanished in the Levant, for the anti-Baathist revolt has fallen victim to a larger conflict that has acquired a sectarian and geopolitical character. For all practical purposes, it is now a proxy war, with regional states and world powers training and arming rival militias. The battle lines are not difficult to see.
Iraqi and Syrian factions loyal to Al Qaeda have come together and caused dissensions in the Free Syrian Army. Iran has supplied the government of President Bashar al-Assad with arms worth $12bn, while Hezbollah, Iran’s ally, is in action on the government’s side. America is training the FSA’s moderate, Jordan-based factions, which are also getting arms and money from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. The American camp, however, has slightly reduced arms supplies to the FSA for fear they may fall into Al Qaeda’s hands. The result of this manoeuvring is that neither side is able to clinch victory. The silver lining is that Russia and China, the Baathist regime’s backers, no more insist on President Assad’s political survival. Both are willing to go for a settlement in which Assad loyalists will have a place but not the president himself. Peace can perhaps come to the blood-drenched land if rival powers pressure the opposition into accepting this proposal.