Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

Opinion

Time for EU to face responsibilities on Syria

  • Homs, in western Syria: country has changed unimaginably since peaceful street protests began five years ago (Photo: Chaoyue 超越 PAN 潘)

It is nearly five years since Syrians first took peacefully to the streets in hope of a better future. Since those protests were viciously put down by the regime and that country slid slowly and inexorably into war, there has rarely been cause for optimism on Syria.

Although peace remains a distant prospect, the agreement reached in Munich this February is one of those rare yet fragile moments where optimism has a place. It is a moment though that needs to be grasped and held.

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We have seen before how fleeting such moments can be. A similar agreement was struck in Geneva way back in 2012, when the war was still a relatively local affair.

Lacking in urgency, that agreement went largely ignored and was ultimately unenforced. Today the world - and Syria - are very different places.

Europe is paralysed to act. The US wilfully declines to act. And Russia, currently the biggest bomber of civilians in Syria, acts mostly to obstruct constructive engagement towards any political solution that would mean the end of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s power.

A deeply bitter and unimaginably complex war has taken hold.

Countless UN resolutions, statements, ceasefires agreements and communiques have been issued: all ignored. All the while, warring parties bomb more hospitals and schools and have forced over ten million Syrians from their homes.

It is little wonder that Syrians have little faith in the international community's resolve to end the crisis.

They are understandably cynical about the agreement in Munich and will measure its success in simple terms: if the bombs stop falling and the sieges are lifted.

Any scepticism they have is well founded. The day before the agreement was reached, four hospitals in Aleppo and Idlbib provinces were decimated by pro-Assad jets. In one attack, 25 people were killed when a Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Idlib province was bombed four times in minutes.

Around the world, domestic concerns take precedence over this barbarism in the minds of leaders.

In Russia, for example, public support for the country’s adventures in Syria is running high. When Russian jets bombed around 900 targets in Aleppo in early February, state broadcasters told the Russian public not of the suffering wrought but of the awesome might of Russian bombers and of the heroic feats of its pilots in the skies above Syria.

On one hand, we hear from all corners that there is no military solution to the crisis. But warring parties and their backers in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia or Western countries, are doing their best to prove such assertions wrong. Each day of destruction and vengeance moves everyone further away from peace.

Ongoing carnage serves only to crystallise one thing in the minds of many Syrians: they will never accept a peace deal that keeps a brutal dictator in power or elevates extremist thugs to positions of influence.

If they see this fate coming they will fight on endlessly or flee the country in even higher numbers - and many, many more will arrive on the shores of Europe. European leaders must recognise this now.

It is time for European countries - the same countries from where up to 60 million refugees fled during World War II - to stop bickering amongst each other about how to accommodate 1 million refugees into a vast union of 500 million inhabitants.

It is time for their leaders to stop acting like selfish, short-termist populists that turn away in times of adversity.

It is time for Europe to speak with one voice, to speak loud and clear to leaders and publics alike that now is the time for a ceasefire to start, a ceasefire that offer Syrians genuine protection and sets the stage not for more war but for an agreement that finally respects the hopes and dreams of those brave Syrians who took peacefully to the streets in 2011.

Alain Deletroz is an executive in residence at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a Swiss-based foundation, and a former vice-president of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank

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