Almost five years after the first shot was fired, the Syrian crisis is becoming more complex and promising to be sustained; either with or without President Bashar al-Assad in power.
IT was hardly any surprise when another Syrian peace effort hit the rocks again. But two days after the deadlock, a UN-backed initiative agreed on a funding formula to bring succour to migrants and countries receiving them. It has become apparent that the battle for peace may have been lost for now and stakeholders are more interested in contingency plans.
The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) admitted on Thursday to have under-estimated the size, complexity and pace of the Syrian crisis.
As the second biggest bilateral donor to the Middle East behind the US, Britain recently pledged to double funding to the crisis for education, jobs and humanitarian protection in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
But the UK government originally believed the fighting in Syria would tail off, paving the way for a more desirable regime. According to the DfID’s report, “For a significant period. DfID’s strategic position appeared to assume (and the UK appeared to desire) that the conflict would be limited, a new regime would be put in place and that displacement of refugees would be temporary.”
The Syrian government has also shifted its hard line posturing by approving access to seven besieged areas.
With dim prospects for success, world powers had earlier gathered in Munich, Germany, to find ways to end the bloodletting and open channels of desperately needed humanitarian aid, but this has also failed to achieve success.
US and European diplomats rejected the Russian cease-fire proposal, saying it had to be immediate. “The future of Syria and Syrians is in our hands,” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.
Moscow, which is backing the Syrian government, proposed a cease-fire to begin on March 1. Russia now seem to have a clear military advantage.
Almost five years after the first shot was fired, the Syrian crisis is becoming more complex and promising to be sustained; either with or without President Bashar al-Assad in power. While the Russian intervention may have added a new dimension to the conflict, Middle East sectarian feud, opportunistic infiltration of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Levante (ISIL), Western animosities and duplicity of regional hegemonies may have added fuel to the inferno. The conflict, according to the United Nations, has claimed over 250, 000 lives and displaced more than 11 million people.
The UN also claims that there are evidences that all parties to the conflict have at one point or the other, committed war crimes, including murder, torture, rape and unexplained disappearances. They have also blocked civilian access to food, water and medicine. Consequently, the world governing body demanded that all parties put a stop to indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas, including dropping of barrel bombs, allegedly by government aircrafts.
But with the February 3 stalling of the peace talk and the endorsement of increased funding 24 hours after, the impression might have been created that hopes for peace may have diminished and the world has chosen to fund the conflict.
Though, the UN insisted that the last peace talk has not technically failed, but suspended and to be resumed on Wednesday, February 25, the announcement by British Prime Minister David Cameron of humanitarian aid of over $10bn by the Syrian Donor’s Conference, a figure surpassing the UN’s request of $7.73bn, may have driven home the point.
The conference co-hosts Britain, Norway and Germany were the first to announce their pledges, followed by the United States, the European Union, Japan and other nations.
Britain and Norway promised an extra $1.76bn and $1.17bn respectively by 2020, while Germany said it would give $2.57bn by 2018.
However, Cameron may have painted the colour and duration of the conflict when he told the conference: “Today’s achievements are not a solution for the crisis … we still need to see a political transition.
“But with today’s commitments … our message to the people of Syria and the region is clear –– we will stand with you and support you for as long as it takes.”
UN’s special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, also admitted that “there’s more work to be done.”
Meanwhile, main parties to the conflict continue to trade blame, as the head of the Syrian government delegation, Bashar Jaafari, blamed the opposition for the suspension, accusing them of acting under the orders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey “to bring about the talks’ failure,” the main opposition, High Negotiations Committee (HNC), in turn heaped the blame on the door-step of the government. The HNC said they would not return until conditions improved on the ground.
It was always obvious, according to a BBC report, that these talks would be difficult, but no-one expected them to end after just two days of negotiations.
While their conditions of negotiations were poles apart, negotiation proper has never got off the ground. “Hardly any of the planned meetings with UN negotiators actually happened, the two sides were never even in the UN at the same time, let alone in the same room,” the report noted. While the opposition wanted sieges lifted and prisoners released, the Syrian government played for time, asking for a written agenda and a full list of participants.
As the government forces increasingly gain footholds into major towns, particularly Aleppo, Syrian second biggest city and commercial hub, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu underscored the desperate situation on the ground. Tens of thousands of Syrians were on the move towards Turkey to escape aerial bombardments on the city of Aleppo.
Turkey, according to the UN, is already hosting more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees. Jordan and Lebanon are the other countries bearing the brunt of the Syrian refugee exodus.
Painting the picture of despair, Jordan’s King Abdullah, lamented: “Looking into the eyes of my people, and seeing the hardship and distress they carry, I must tell you we have reached our limit.”
While the situation of refugees was bad, that of Syrians trapped inside the country enduring bombardments, sieges and, in some places, starvation was far worse.
In the words of US Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, during the London conference: “With people reduced to eating grass and leaves and killing stray animals in order to survive on a day-to-day basis, that is something that should tear at the conscience of all civilized people and we all have a responsibility to respond to it.”