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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Vultures destroy Syria as big powers debate

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Al Habtoor Group
© Shutterstock

I never imagined I would see the day when a regime that slaughters, gasses, tortures and starves unarmed civilians is free to do so with impunity. You’ve shuddered at videos of Syrian infants with protruding bones and distended stomachs. You’ve read the stories of children and elderly folk in the city of Homs forced to consume grass, leaves and beetles just to survive – and they were the lucky ones. We’ve all been bombarded with transmissions showing victims of chemical attacks convulsing as they fight to get air in their lungs, so terrible, they’re often prefaced with “Viewers discretion is advised”. Millions – by some estimates 9.5 million - who fled to neighbouring countries are biding their time in dreadful conditions, feeling humiliated and unwanted. When will enough be enough!

In theory, this situation warrants the intervention of the United Nations (UN), founded in 1945 following the carnage wrought by World War II, to give civilian populations “freedom from fear”. Moreover, UN Security Council Resolution (UNSC) 1674, adopted in 2006, reaffirms its responsibility to protect civilians caught up in an armed conflict. But, {this week}, the UN lost whatever minute shred of credibility it still retained. Its headquarters is little more than an impressive building gracing the New York skyline; an expensive edifice where highly-paid officials mull the world’s problems with their hands tied behind their backs.

On Thursday (May 22, 2014), a draft UN Security Council resolution, aimed at referring those responsible for committing war crimes for investigation by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, was vetoed by Russia and China, even though 60 countries, including 13 UNSC member states, supported the text. Isn’t there something seriously wrong with a system that permits just two countries, both with vested interests, to hold the rest of the world hostage? China and Russia solidified their cooperation recently, sealing a US $400 billion dollar gas deal which some pundits believe is the seed of a new economic, diplomatic and military bloc set to face off against the US and Europe.

China’s poor human rights record is a matter of record and Russia’s government becomes more autocratic and nationalistically-fuelled by the day. Both are engaged in venting their geopolitical muscles; Beijing has frayed relations with some of its Westernoriented neighbours over a territorial row over uninhabited islands in the South China Sea and also with Vietnam due to a Chinese oil rig positioned just 120 nautical miles off the Vietnamese coastline.

Moscow’s links with the US and its European allies are hanging by a shoestring due to its annexation of Crimea and continued interference in eastern Ukraine. Their leaderships care not a jot for the suffering endured by the Syrian victims of an east-west tug of war. It’s no wonder that UN/Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi threw up his hands and quit!

The nub of the problem faced by the family of nations on Syria is undoubtedly President Putin’s support of the Assad regime and its Iranian counterpart, the parent of the Shiite militias in neighbouring countries, that - as the intelligence services of world powers are well aware – is the source, sponsor and safe house for terrorist groups in Syria, such as Daash (The Islamic Republic in Iraq and Greater Syria) and Al Qaeda despite ideological differences, according to a report in Alsharq al Awsat. It’s been lately revealed that the Iranian Republican Guards are recruiting Shiite Afghan refugees to fight in Syria on the promise of US $500 monthly plus housing and residency. Iran is severely compounding the pain, but neither the West nor the Arab world deserves to be let off the hook.

The Syrian capital Damascus and the largest city Aleppo are among the oldest continuously inhabited cities on the planet and are repositories of history, religion and culture in danger of being lost to future generations. Even if we set aside human suffering, those facts alone should galvanise the international community to stepin. Importantly, Syria is an Arab heartland; the Syrian people our brothers and sisters. Yet, what have we Arabs done to help them aside from throwing some money their way to help ease our consciences? Why do we bother to have armies, why do we bother to purchase sophisticated weaponry if all we do is cry into our teacups watching massacres and destruction?

I still remember the time when the words ‘proud’ and ‘Arabs’ were twinned. But whatever our achievements how can we feel proud when for three years we’ve sat in our armchairs witnessing the mass murder of 160,000 by a criminal posing as an Arab leader who’s so proud of his own accomplishments, he’s putting himself forward for reelection on June 3rd!

Syria’s cities are scarred with charred shells that were once smart apartment buildings; people are without potable water or electricity and basic foodstuffs are a luxury in some areas, and what does President Al-Assad do in response? He campaigns to hang on to his chair. And what’s more, he’s being cheered on by some Arab states under the sway of Iran and tolerated by others. At the time of the caliphs, those who captured camels or goats, let alone human beings, would be chased by armies.

So, the Arabs dispute and sigh, Western leaders wring their hands, the UN beats its chest and aid workers cry out for anything or anyone that can bring an end to this cruel war. And all the time the situation worsens; more bombed, more gassed, more displaced. There was a fleeting moment when President Obama looked decisive but then he changed his mind and instead of acting he entered into a bargain with the devil permitting the killer to continue with his onslaught provided he refrained from using chemical weapons. America’s weak-kneed approach reflects an absence of political will when contrasted with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that was deemed ‘illegal’ by Kofi Annan, then the UN’s Secretary- General; not forgetting Washington’s role in the 1990s’ Balkan wars without the UN’s blessing. We can only conclude when it comes to Syria that the world’s self-appointed policeman has gone fishing just when he’s needed most while Arab leaderships appear to be saying ‘wake us up when it’s over’.

Why is the world turning a blind eye to atrocities in Syria while reacting strongly to events in Ukraine? Could it be because there’s a white paper somewhere to throw Sunni majorities in the Middle East under a bus? That’s a discussion for another day, but, in the meantime, I’ll leave you with the thought.

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