In an editorial, The Observer says: Just when it seemed it could not get any worse, it did. Syria’s partial “cessation of hostilities”, on which shaky hopes of peace rest, rapidly unravelled last week. Amid a suddenly mounting toll of dead and injured came reports of renewed atrocities. In Aleppo, a hospital was bombed, killing up to 27 people, including doctors and children. The attack by Bashar al-Assad’s air force fitted an established, pre-ceasefire pattern of deliberately targeting civilians in hospitals, schools and markets. What has changed now is that this murderous regime, buoyed by Russian support and reinvigorated by the ceasefire, barely bothers to deny it.
Aleppo’s plight captured attention, not least because senior UN officials used it to dramatise their pleas to the US and others to rescue the peace talks in Switzerland, described as all but dead. “The violence is soaring back to the levels prior to the cessation of hostilities. There are deeply disturbing reports of military build-ups indicating a lethal escalation,” said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN’s human rights chief. “The Geneva talks were the only game in town. If they are abandoned, I dread to think how much more horror we will see in Syria.”
Less fully reported was the plight of starving Syrians marooned and besieged elsewhere in the country. “Deliberately deprived of food and medicine, many face the most appalling conditions. We must all be ashamed that this is happening on our watch,” said Stephen O’Brien, head of UN relief operations, pointing to the dire situation in Homs, Idlib, Latakia and rural Damascus. Thanks partly to the ceasefire, 3.7 million people received food aid in March, he said. Cross-border convoys so far this year reached nearly twice as many people as in the same period in 2015.
This limited progress is now at risk from renewed fighting, with Assad’s forces, in particular, again obstructing aid convoys. “Last week, on the convoy to Rastan, the Syrian authorities removed medicines from supplies and scissors and anaesthetic medicines from midwifery kits. This inhumane practice directly leads to unnecessary suffering and loss of life,” O’Brien reported. Denial of medical supplies in time of war is a gross breach of humanitarian law, yet it is happening again. There can be no excuse. It is wholly monstrous. An accounting must be made. And, one day, the perpetrators will pay for their crimes.
Or so we say. Sadly, the unpalatable reality is that such vows and declarations, whether issued by UN officials, relief agencies, government ministers, MPs or newspaper editorials, will be contemptuously ignored, as they have been for the past five years, until the principal external actors in this tragedy stop playing power games and start taking responsibility. Foremost among them are Russia and Iran, Assad’s main backers. [Continue reading…]