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Saturday, September 26, 2020

Empty talk won’t save the Syrians

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© APImages : US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at a press conference following the ‘Friends of Syria Conference’ in Tunis, Tunisia, Feb 24, 2012.
© APImages : Syrians living in Istanbul protest against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad in front of the Syrian Consulate Building, Turkey.

What are the so-called Friends of the Syrian People waiting for? Will they finally act when the Barada River flowing through Damascus turns red with blood? It’s too late for conferences, toothless UN General Assembly resolutions - and the dispatching of envoys to Damascus. Talk is cheap when every day people are dying. What use is verbal censure when the city of Homs has been bombarded for weeks?

Hama, too, is being besieged by government “occupying” forces and is now entirely cutoff from the outside without telephone or internet. Civilians are huddled inside their homes, unable to shop for bread or seek medical assistance. According to activists, Syrian forces are shooting entire families, lining them up execution style.

A video posted on the internet shows the bodies of a man and a woman from a farming community along with their five children, the youngest just ten-months-old. This is the kind of atrocity the Nazis committed during World War II. Who would ever have imagined that the emissaries of the Syrian government would stoop so low!

It took the deaths of two foreign journalists Sunday Times’ war reporter Marie Colvin and the French photographer Remi Ochlik whose safe house in Homs was shelled for the world to understand that there’s no refuge for the innocent as long as the Al- Assad regime retains power. The way they died is tragic; by all accounts they were dedicated professionals devoting to getting out the truth. But unlike the residents of Homs who have nowhere else to go, they chose to put their lives at risk.

For all its sympathetic mumblings, over the 11 months since Syrians took to the streets to demand freedom from oppression the international community has done nothing tangible to prevent the regime from committing crimes against humanity. Unlike the Libyans, whose cries for help were answered, the Syrian people have been abandoned.

Given Ankara’s uncompromising moral stance I had great hopes that Turkey would line-up its military might to send President Al-Assad packing but the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s powerful rhetoric hasn’t translated into action.

Western powers are similarly paralyzed. As long as they persist on going the UN route, their hands will be tied by Security Council vetoes wielded by China and Russia, countries that are turning a deaf ear to the Syrian people’s plight in favor of their own geopolitical and economic interests.

It seems that the UN wants to show its doing something useful, so it has appointed its former Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a special envoy to Damascus. What a waste of time that is! Mr. Annan means well but whoever imagines he can loosen Al-Assad’s grip is dreaming. When the UN’s sitting secretary-general is just a bureaucrat devoid of persuasive communication skills, what chance does Mr. Annan have when his record has hardly been world-altering?

The UN can only be an effective body when its secretary-generals are given real power to their elbow and when the five permanent UNSC member countries are stripped of their vetoes. The same goes for the Arab League. It Secretary-General Nabil Al- Araby is hamstrung by conflicting opinions within the League; all he can do is ask the UNSC to demand a ceasefire. That’s a joke when over 7,000 Syrians have been killed to date and the Syrian President has ignored such appeals from friends and foes alike.

People with real leadership qualities and the authority to make decisions should be heading the UN and the Arab League, rather than clerks. Al-Araby has proved that he lacks wisdom and judgment on several occasions. Appointing a controversial Sudanese general to head the League’s observer mission to Syria was one; selecting former IAEA chief Mohammed El Baradei as a mediator was another guaranteed failure.

We don’t need figureheads at the helm of those bodies especially when our world has become so dangerous. We need genuine leaders able to communicate well in their own language and others, especially English. We don’t need males, we need men.

Bashar Al-Assad has lost all credibility. There’s only one route left to him and that’s out. No leader can represent his people when he’s killing them at the same time. He should be viewed as an occupier, subject to overthrow and arrest. For all the blood on his hands I don’t want to see him killed. He should be dragged before the International Criminal Court in The Hague along with the rest of his corrupt gang, his cronies and his jumped-up family members to the kind of justice he’s always denied to anyone with the guts to stand up to him.

On Friday, various Western and Arab countries calling themselves the “Friends of the Syrian People” – that include representatives of the US, Britain, France, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League – met in Tunis primarily to discuss the means with which humanitarian aid can reach those Syrians who need it, such as the formation of aid corridors.

In the first place, I object to the location. Why Tunis when it has a brand new government with unproven credentials in dealing with high political stakes in the Middle East? Secondly, the Syrian opposition is asking for heavy weapons and a no-fly zone, not food.

My number one hero is the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal who backs the arming of Syrian opposition fighters and is apparently as sick of ineffective talk as I am. He walked out of the Tunisia meet due to “inactivity” on the part of their fellow delegates. “Is it justice to offer aid and leave the Syrians to the killing machine?” the prince asked. Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani wants an international Arab force to be formed to keep the peace in Syria, which I’ve been advocating for months.

Let’s show those powers meddling in our affairs that we can take care of business ourselves. Were an all-Arab army to enter Syria with Arab League support, it would be welcomed by the majority of Syrians whose voices would soon drown-out objections from Russia and China. This is our moment.

I can only hope that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and any Arab State which is a true friend to Syria will grasp it. President Al-Assad has closed his ears to Arab appeals and proposals but even someone as arrogant as he is cannot ignore our collective wrath.

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