Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Syrian people pay the price

By the time you read this editorial, US President Donald Trump might have ordered a new military strike against Syria in retaliation for the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in the town of Douma, close to the capital, Damascus. While the use of chemical weapons is an atrocious crime, and is absolutely prohibited under international humanitarian law, many observers are left to ask whether any likely US strike would actually help in putting an end to the long, catastrophic plight of the Syrian people that has led to death of nearly 400,000 people and the displacement of millions more.

The firm answer is: No. Exactly a year ago, and in response to similar reports that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against its own people in Khan Shaykhun in northern Syria, Trump ordered the launch of 59 missiles that hit military targets. Neither the strike a year ago, nor any possible strikes now, even if it happens in coordination with other countries such as France and Britain, would change the complicated realities on the ground or lessen the suffering of the Syrian people.

As a matter of fact, a possible US strike against Syria right now would not only make the situation worse on the ground but would also threaten, for the first time since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia. For some mysterious reason, Trump, who is under investigation over alleged Russian support for his presidential campaign in 2016, has been escalating his rhetoric against Russia in recent weeks, and particularly following allegations that Moscow was involved in the poisoning in the United Kingdom of a former Russian intelligence officer who served as an American spy, using a nerve agent.

Moscow has denied any involvement in the attempt to assassinate the former Russian spy, along with his daughter, and has also strongly denied that any chemical attack has taken place in Douma, northern Ghouta, where its intelligence officers have been negotiating with the only remaining militant group there, Gaish Al-Islam, in order to evacuate the area, and head, like thousands of other militants, to cities in northern Syria that are controlled by the Turkish army. Thus, the Russians argue that it makes no practical sense that the Syrian army would use chemical groups against a defeated group which was going to leave Douma anyway.

Moreover, considering the complicated situation on the ground in Syria and the fact that many armies and interests are fighting against each other, it would be absurd to launch a new US military strike against Syria before conducting a thorough, independent investigation into the allegations on the use of chemical weapons in Douma. In a tense session at the UN Security Council on Monday, the Russian ambassador claimed that Russian medical teams and experts on weapons of mass destruction found no traces of chemical weapons in Douma. He also declared that Russia was ready to cooperate with international experts willing to visit Douma and investigate the claims themselves. That’s an offer worth taking.

Meanwhile, and while the use of chemical weapons, in particular, is an addition to the horrible nightmare the Syrian people have been suffering over the past seven years, many Syrians are left to wonder why Washington is claiming to be so humane and ready to respond to the alleged attack in Douma while it has been blinded as hundreds die on a near daily basis in shelling and fighting on the ground in other incidents. The same Trump administration, which is now using harsh language and threats in reaction to reports to alleged attacks in Douma, was very diplomatic and cautious in its reaction to the Turkish invasion of Afrin in northern Syria, attacking Kurdish groups which were allied and financed by Washington in order to fight against Islamic State terrorists. After all, any loss of human life in Syria should not be tolerated.

Israel, and in the midst of the controversy surrounding the alleged chemical attack in Douma, also saw a golden opportunity to carry out one more strike against Syria, bombing an airport near Homs, allegedly because it was being used by Iranian officers who provide support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. For Trump, of course, this is friendly fire not worth mentioning or objecting to.

The ugly reality is that Syria has now turned into an open front to settle regional and international conflicts, whether between the United States, its Western allies and Russia, or to expand the regional ambitions of powerful countries such as Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. While the Syrian regime holds a major part of the responsibility for such a disaster for failing to deal with the democratic, peaceful demands of its people, regional and international intervention has only made the situation much worse. In the middle of all this are the Syrian people who continue to pay the heaviest price. One more American military strike will certainly not change this sad reality.

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