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25 February 2018
After three days of wrangling, the UN Security Council yesterday 24 February 2018 unanimously adopted a resolution urging a 30-day truce “without delay” in Eastern Ghouta, an enclave adjacent to the Syrian capital Damascus where rebel forces are holding out against troops loyal to the sanguinary Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, henchman of the ruthless Russian tsar Vladimir Putin.
The resolution is a dead letter.
Only hours after the UN resolution, Syria commenced a ground offensive against the rebel enclave and continued to pound it with improvised barrel bombs and shells.
The UN resolution was agreed to permit aid deliveries and medical evacuations but – the price for Moscow’s agreement to the resolution – operations against fundamentalist jihadist rebel groups are not covered by the truce.
This get-out clause is, naturally, being cited by the Syrian regime to justify its continued attacks on the enclave.
Which, of course, was the reason that Moscow insisted on exempting certain rebel forces from the truce. It agreed to the cease-fire in the knowledge that it would be impossible to implement in practice if certain rebel groups were still fair game for the regime.
Since the enclave is relatively small and all the rebel factions are necessarily in close proximity within it, the Syrian regime can happily continue with its attacks, claiming that it is targeting only the jihadist groups. However, the bombs themselves, many of them (according to reports) improvised unguided barrel bombs, do not distinguish between the various rebel groups or between rebel groups and civilians.
Nearly 400 000 people, mostly civilians and including non-combatant women and children, are trapped in Eastern Ghouta. About 520 people are said to have died, including more than 120 children, in Eastern Ghouta since a relentless barrage of regime rocket fire, shelling and airstrikes began last Sunday 18 February 2018. The regime has also been targeting bombs at hospitals in the rebel-held area.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said the situation in the Eastern Ghouta is like “Hell on Earth”.
Today 25 February 2018 Pope Francis said the violence was “inhuman” and called for an immediate halt to the deadly bombardment to allow access for humanitarian aid.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied targeting civilians and said it is trying to liberate the Eastern Ghouta from “terrorists” – a term it uses to describe both jihadist militants and mainstream rebel groups opposed to the regime – basically, anyone who opposes the bloodstained dictatorship.
[The above account is a conflation of reports today in the BBC and the UK’s online Guardian newspaper]
Here are some excerpts from an analysis today of the latest events in Syria by the Guardian commentator Simon Tisdall, a journalist with whom we often find ourselves in agreement:
“The first signs from Eastern Ghouta are not encouraging. A day after the UN Security Council finally agreed a ceasefire, it was back to bombing-as-usual for Syria’s regime. It is as though the vote for a truce in the besieged enclave, so long in coming and so contentious, never happened at all.
Bashar al-ASssad, Syria’s president, is primarily culpable. He probably no longer cares what the world thinks. He has no reputation to lose. Perhaps he calculates one final push by his ground forces will finish the rebels, before a ceasefire takes hold.
But the larger burden of responsibility lies with Russia. It was Vladimir Putin who rescued Assad when he was losing the war. Russia’s president has protected his Syrian poodle from war crimes charges and blocked inquiries into his use of banned chemical weapons. Putin has bathed in the kudos of seeming to supplant the US as the Middle East’s big mover and shaker.
And it was Putin who delayed the UN ceasefire last week, even as Ghouta’s children were dying, watering down its provisions. He ensured, in effect, that anybody Assad deems a “terrorist” is still fair game for his barrel bombers. That is why the fighting continues unchecked.
The Syrian conflict began as a popular, internal uprising against a dictator. But since Russia jumped in militarily it has become Putin’s war. It is Moscow’s biggest foreign military adventure since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Remember how that ended [Antigone1984: the Russians were forced to pull out ignominiously ten years later]….
Russia’s global prestige, geo-strategic interests and political and military credibility are now inextricably linked to Assad. Increasingly that looks like a bad bet that Putin cannot afford to lose.
Syria is a shocking, baffling mess. For ordinary Russians, it is a waste of men and money. For a watching world, appalled by scenes of relentless brutality and cruelty in Ghouta, Aleppo, and a thousand other towns and cities, it is Putin’s mess. It’s up to him to fix it.”
In general, we are opposed to western military intervention in the Arab world. It usually leads to interminable conflict and the emergence of anarchic failed states (Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria).
However, when it is a question of the butchery of innocent men, women and children, our resolve falters somewhat. As it did in Bosnia, with the genocide of more than 8 000 Muslim Bosnians by Serbs in Srebrenica in 1995. As a result, the subsequent intervention in Serbia by NATO in 1999 we welcomed.
What if, instead of planning to give a bloody nose to North Korea, particularly at a time when it is seeking a rapprochement with South Korea and apparently (according to the South Koreans) would be happy to have talks with the US, the United States instead intervened on this occasion to give Putin a helping hand in “fixing” this mess (as Guardian commentator Tisdall puts it)?
What if, on humanitarian grounds, the US were to give Bashar al-Assad a bloody nose (and more) by taking out his airforce and maybe the Syrian presidential palace as well? The last US President Barack Obama had the chance to do just that some years ago when Assad attacked a civilian settlement in Syria with sarin gas. The use of chemical weapons was supposed to be a red line for the US at that time.
Obama chickened out and sat on his hands.
Perhaps the current US president could trump him?
If, in doing so, he helped put a stop to the carnage in Syria, who knows, he might even get some liberals to back him.
Just a thought.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
- Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
- Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
- The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
- Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
- .Ladder (21 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
- tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
- Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.