Fickle friends

A Syrian girl, Aya Abdulhay, 5, who fled her home in Aleppo with her family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, takes refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

The “Friends of Syria” have convened periodically during the 17-month uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but the Syrian people have to harbor increasing doubts about whether the concerned individuals actually deserve the label.

Shortly after the revolt erupted, a number of countries made statements to the effect that the violence should stop. Months and months of diplomatic wrangling finally produced a “peace envoy,” in the person of Kofi Annan, as well as an unending string of meetings, statements and ultimatums – without teeth – directed at the Syrian authorities.

The end result was that “friends” of Syria, whether they were supporting Assad’s regime or calling for its downfall, were completely unable to halt the killing and destruction, which have killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Aid agencies and other groups have long warned that Syria has been heading straight for the abyss of a humanitarian catastrophe as the fighting rages, with no end seemingly in sight.

For the “Friends of Syria,” the mission has been scaled down – namely providing urgently needed aid and assistance to the Syrian people – but even this task has proven to be beyond their grasp.

This week, the United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross have sounded their loudest-yet alarm bells, detailing the appalling situation in terms of basic needs such as food, water and shelter.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homeland, ending up in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Even more are internally displaced, and the city of Damascus, for example, has seen its public schools and parks fill up with refugees.

Amid the harrowing scenes of refugees streaming across borders, the end result of the various meetings conducted by foreign officials and international organizations has led to little in the way of useful action. A whole series of “zones” are being discussed – safe zones, liberated zones and buffer zones – but as with the political ultimatums that were previously delivered to Assad, the world is told that such measures will remain ineffective because they cannot be implemented.

There are two huge problems staring the world community in the face. One is outside Syria, where refugees have gathered in host countries – many with their own internal problems – now asked to offer adequate facilities and assistance. The second is inside Syria, where the horrific level of destruction is generating a catastrophic drop in the ability for people to survive.

The world should remember that Syrians of “both stripes,” namely those for and against the regime, are in need of help immediately.

Since a new United Nations envoy to Syria is taking up his job, and little in the way of a political breakthrough is expected, perhaps the most useful mission for Lakhdar Brahimi would be to focus on a serious initiative to alleviate the human suffering that is threatening to tear Syria apart.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 01, 2012, on page 7.




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