To Syrians the world offers sympathy and little help

Uri Friedman writes: You can calculate the number of people who have died in a conflict, the relative strength of various factions, the amount of territory each holds. Hope is much harder to measure. But it’s no less a factor in the arithmetic of war. Hope is a bulwark of humanity. In many cases, hope is all that civilians beset by violence have left.

Consider the Syrian Civil War: Hope — for the most basic international action to ease the suffering of Syrians, let alone efforts to halt hostilities or end the war — is in especially short supply these days. The shortage is evident in the reaction this week to the images and video of a stunned, bloodied five-year-old boy being whisked from a bombed building to an ambulance. The visuals are being widely shared online, but often with dark resignation. There’s little expectation that world leaders will be moved to do what’s necessary to resolve the humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo, which for months now has been starved of food, water, and medical supplies as Syrian government and rebel forces battle for control of the city.

“Watch this video from Aleppo tonight. And watch it again,” the Australian journalist Sophie McNeill tweeted on Wednesday, in reference to the footage of the Syrian child. “And remind yourself that with #Syria #WeCantSayWeDidntKnow.” This is less a call to action than a challenge to stare straight at collective inaction—and not turn away in disgust. McNeill’s message has been shared thousands of times.

The shortage of hope is also evident in a letter that 15 of the last doctors in rebel-controlled eastern Aleppo recently sent to Barack Obama. The physicians spoke of horrors that haven’t gone viral on the internet: attacks on medical facilities, often by suspected Russian or Syrian government warplanes, occurring roughly every 17 hours; four newborn babies suffocating to death after an explosion cut off oxygen to their incubators. The letter’s signatories urged the U.S. president to exert more pressure on the various parties in the conflict to protect civilians and lift the siege on the city. But a number of doctors declined to sign the letter, believing the plea for international support to be futile. And when the BBC asked one of the signatories about that decision by her colleagues, she admitted that she didn’t expect the United States to actually help either. [Continue reading…]

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