THE reports emerging from Syria over the past couple of days are worrying, and the faint hope of a negotiated end to this brutal war is fading fast. On Monday, government forces pounded rebel-held parts of Damascus, a day after militants had launched a surprise attack on the Syrian capital. Moreover, the Israeli defence minister made a reckless announcement on Sunday promising to “destroy Syrian air defence systems” after reports had emerged that Israeli jets had struck targets inside Syria. The Syrian government had claimed that it had shot down the Israeli intruder. Last week, nearly 50 people were killed — most of them reportedly civilians — after American warplanes hit a mosque in Aleppo province; the US denied it had hit a mosque and claimed it had targeted Al Qaeda militants instead. All this makes for a grim build-up to the Syrian peace talks, sponsored by the UN, that are due soon in Geneva.
The key problem is that in Syria, there are far too many parties creating problems. The civil war, which has now completed its sixth year, was internationalised when the West, Turkey and the Gulf states saw an opportunity to topple Bashar al-Assad’s regime. On the other hand, Mr Assad’s allies — Iran, Russia and Hezbollah — were not ready to see the government in Damascus fall. In the middle of all this, sectarian extremists gained ground and now threaten the security of the region. Israel — long a force of instability in the Middle East — has also not helped matters with its arrogant rhetoric and irresponsible forays into Syria. Already, hundreds of thousands have been killed in the Syrian war, while millions have been displaced. A once functioning country has been turned into a hollow shell of its former self. It is hard to be optimistic about Syria’s future in such circumstances, but it must be said that regional states — Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia particularly — need to go the extra mile and make greater efforts to resolve the conflict to avoid further destruction and suffering.
Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2017