Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Waiting for nothing in Syria

As Russia and the US continue to bicker at the UN Security Council, the Syrian people’s misery is ongoing, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

As Russia continued to bombard the eastern districts of Aleppo, which is under the control of the Syrian opposition, this week, UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura proposed a new initiative that appalled the Syrian opposition who said it was a recipe for failure.

While the Russian and Syrian air forces bombarded Aleppo in northern Syria with conventional and internationally banned missiles, the UN envoy called on 900 combatants from the Al-Sham Front (formerly the Al-Nusra Front) to leave the city in order to prevent its destruction by Russian and regime forces.

De Mistura said he was willing to “personally escort” the fighters out of Aleppo if this would help the proposal to succeed.

The Al-Sham Front rejected the initiative, describing it as “an international blessing for division and displacement… consistent with recent statements by [Syrian president] Bashar Al-Assad of eliminating all armed elements in Aleppo.”

 “Can de Mistura escort the sick children of Madaya to the closest hospital? Or deliver a relief package to a single area under siege? Can he stop the bombardment of Aleppo for one hour? Or prevent the bombing of international aid caravans belonging to his employers,” an Al-Sham Front spokesman asked.

Russia agreed to the initiative, saying it should have been proposed earlier. It said it would argue the merits of the initiative with the Syrian regime, but the Syrian opposition, whom de Mistura did not consult, rejected it entirely, saying it was tailored to the desires of the Syrian regime and Russia.

Both the military and political opposition were outraged by the proposal, saying it was heading for certain failure because it lacked guarantees confirming that Russia and the regime would halt their strikes and the destruction of the city.

The proposal evacuated combatants from Aleppo in order to enable regime ground troops to surround the city supported by Iranian militias.

The opposition also cast doubt on de Mistura’s integrity, claiming that he was working for the benefit of the regime and Russia, especially as he had earlier said that there were 8,000 opposition fighters in Aleppo.

This statement had been used as justification by Russia to launch air strikes under UN cover, and the opposition has accused de Mistura of contributing to the clearing of areas under opposition control.

He had played a key role in changing the demography of the country, the opposition said, and the interim opposition government therefore demanded his dismissal, saying it would sever communications with him and his team.

The UN envoy’s latest plan was “contrary to humanitarian principles and the professional standards of the organisation he represents,” the opposition said, adding that “instead of condemning the regime’s attacks with all kinds of weapons, including banned weapons against civilians and demanding an immediate halt to them, de Mistura has accepted the version of reality put out by the thugs in power in Damascus and the Russian occupiers of Syria, giving them a pretext to continue their aggression.”

The armed opposition factions paid little attention to de Mistura’s call, but their spokesmen said the UN envoy was no longer credible and turned down any form of bartering.

Russia then drafted a proposal to counter a joint European Union and French plan presented to the Security Council calling for a no-fly zone over Aleppo and saying that those supporting it were “sponsoring terrorism.”

Russia vetoed the draft UN resolution, allowing the strikes and destruction to continue.

The proposal was presented by France, not the US, which Syrian opposition figure Fouad Azzam explained as meaning that “the US is withdrawing from its responsibilities as a major power. This just confirms that it has effectively withdrawn from the Syrian conflict.”

The US representative also walked out of the UN Security Council session with the UK representative as the Syrian representative began his address. This was not seen as a symbolic move boycotting the regime, however, but instead was viewed as the US stepping away from its responsibilities and leaving the stage to Russia.

Bashar Al-Jaafari, the Syrian government’s representative at the UN, commented on the US exit by saying that “they have given me their status as a permanent member of the Security Council.”

Before the Security Council session began, the Americans lambasted Russia for its actions in Syria, causing it to respond with unprecedented escalation. Moscow has bolstered its military arsenal in Syria and the Mediterranean and has now deployed S-300 missiles.

US President Barack Obama may decide to launch a direct US military operation in Syria before the end of his term in office after Washington suspended the Russian-US agreement.

The US media has reported that Washington intends to launch a military strike against the Syrian regime, causing Russia to respond violently. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country was able to defend its interests in Syria if the US decided to bomb Syrian airbases.

This was “a very dangerous game,” he said, especially as Russia was “present in Syria on the invitation of the legitimate government”.

The Russian parliament has ratified an agreement between Russia and the Syrian regime that guarantees Russia’s “right to remain indefinitely” in Syria in full sight of the US.

After the Security Council failed to adopt the French proposal because of the Russian veto, Azzam told Al-Ahram Weekly that the “failure of the Council to halt the military strikes by the Syrian regime and Russia on Aleppo is proof that the diplomatic process to restart the talks between the conflicting parties is blocked.”

 “It is likely that the violence will escalate across the country, and the Syrian people anticipate the worst from both sides.”

Russia’s military operations in Aleppo, its challenge to Europe, and its threats to the US have made many ponder the response by the West to Russia’s acting as if it were the sole superpower.

Bassem Al-Hussein, a Syrian commentator, said the West did not have a response to the Russians.

“It is impossible that the West will leave Russia to do as it pleases in the Middle East and continue its military actions in Aleppo and Syria in general,” Al-Hussein said.

“While it is almost impossible for the West to intervene militarily to confront Russia in Syria, it will likely provide the Syrian opposition with anti-aircraft weapons. The opposition would be capable of expelling the regime forces if the air strikes stopped. The regime’s ground troops, supported by Iran, would not stand a chance against the fully-armed opposition,” he said.

Some Syrian opposition figures believe the West wants to lure Russia further into the Syrian quagmire and involve ground troops. However, it is questionable if the West will hand over anti-aircraft weapons to the Syrian opposition, especially since it fears that these weapons may fall into the hands of the Al-Sham Front and other groups categorised as terrorists.

Syria is now caught between de Mistura’s proposal, which is not actionable and which benefits the regime, and Russia’s insistence on supporting the regime and quashing the opposition at any cost.

Many believe the US wants to postpone a solution until the new US president is sworn in next January, while the Russians want to reach one before Obama leaves office as a settlement with him could be better than with his successor.

Amid these challenges, the Syrian catastrophe continues to worsen. The Syrian people are waiting for anything to end their misery, but many fear they may be waiting for nothing.

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