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Grim anniversary

March 19, 2018

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IT has been seven long years since Syria descended into the pit of civil war — a war marked by intense brutality by all sides. What had originally been an uprising against Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, apparently part of the Arab Spring, very quickly took on ugly sectarian colours as militants from the four corners of the globe flocked to the ‘jihad’ in the Levant. Regional players and international powers also decided to jump into the fray to settle strategic scores. The result of all this chaos has been utter misery and devastation for the Syrian people, condemned to either face death at home, or to try to make it to safer climes, risking their lives in the process. While there have been highs and lows over the years, the past few weeks have witnessed a great deal of bloodshed. On Saturday, there were reports that civilians fleeing the Kurdish enclave of Afrin had been hit by Turkish fire. Turkey — which denied it had hit civilians — had entered Syrian territory in January to battle the Kurdish YPG militia, whom it has termed ‘terrorists’ allied to its arch-nemesis, the PKK. Meanwhile, in the Ghouta area near Damascus, there have been a large number of civilian casualties as Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russian airpower, launched a relentless assault last month to retake the area. The government in Damascus also claims it is fighting ‘terrorists’ in Ghouta.

As claims and counterclaims mount, with each side blaming the other of committing atrocities, one thing is beyond doubt: all sides — whether it is the government, the rebels, their respective foreign backers or the jihadis — have displayed a stunning lack of compassion for human life during this war. Nearly half of the population, over 10m people, of Syria is either internally displaced or has fled abroad, while at least 400,000 have reportedly been killed. And there is little hope that the violence will end soon. If anything, with the involvement of so many external actors — Turkey in one part of Syria; Israel and Iran eyeing each other ominously; the American presence; various jihadi groups — there is a very real possibility that the violence may turn even bloodier. Multilateral actors — the UN, OIC, EU etc — have roundly failed to bring peace to Syria, mainly because the belligerents and their foreign backers have shown no eagerness to lay down arms. It might sound a tad trite, but the fact is that the world has failed Syria and its people.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2018

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