We anti-Assad Syrians hail the U.S. strike — but fear it could be an empty gesture

Haid Haid writes: Syrians opposed to the Assad regime – like me – have largely welcomed the US missile strikes against a regime airbase in Homs. However, their praise is mixed with fears over the US endgame in Syria. Is this a one-off retaliation attack to send a warning against any future use of chemical weapons? Are the Americans, once again, interested only in preventing chemical assaults? Or are the US strikes part of a wider strategy to protect Syrian civilians from all types of war crimes? In other words, does the attack represent a significant shift in US policy towards the Syrian regime and will they do anything about it?

It is a pleasant surprise for Syrians who have been resisting the regime for more than six years to see the US acting against Bashar al-Assad for the first time. But their cautious optimism is mixed with regret that the international community did not act sooner. “I could not believe it when I heard the news about the US strikes,” said Rami Khalil, a Syrian activist who witnessed Assad’s chemical attack in Ghouta, in the Damascus countryside, in 2013. “It felt good to know that someone still cares about us. But my heart aches when I think that my family members and friends who I have lost could still be alive if Assad had been stopped,” he added.

The limited US focus on preventing chemical attacks will not stop the killing of civilians. The signs communicated by the Trump administration largely indicate that there is still no significant shift in the US administration towards Syria. The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said the strikes did not indicate a shift in US policy. In other words, Islamic State, not Assad, is still the priority in Syria for the US.

The strikes, therefore, seem to be an aggressive warning to ensure the prevention of any further use of chemical assaults in Syria. But it is likely to have only a limited impact, if any, on Assad’s continued use of collective punishment tactics, such as barrel bombs and starvation, against civilians in their homes, hospitals, markets and schools. [Continue reading…]

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