Syrians have just been through one of the bloodiest weeks in their modern history splattered as it is with the ravages of war. During this calamitous period alone up to 500 people were killed in a series of deadly bombings carried out mainly in the suburbs of Damascus. And the world has at last partially awoken from its deep slumber. The 30-day ceasefire called by the UN Security Council under a unanimously passed resolution was a much-needed gesture but it is unclear whether the parties involved in the conflict will ever comply with it fully.
Earlier the Security Council vote was in itself hit by procrastination. Many hundreds of lives could perhaps have been spared had its members acted more swiftly. The credit for the UN resolution must eventually go to Sweden and Kuwait for sponsoring the move and succeeding in winning over Russian objections to the ceasefire. For the present, however, the focus is on delivering humanitarian aid to millions and evacuating those critically ill or wounded in the latest escalation of hostilities. If we do not see any cessation of hostilities, there won’t be any decent flow of humanitarian relief, and thus another opportunity would be lost. Emergency aid is needed by 13.1 million people in Syria, including 5.6 million people, almost half of whom are living in besieged locations. Only a durable humanitarian pause can ensure immediate access to humanitarian aid and services. The Security Council is likely to discover sooner than later that implementing the ceasefire resolution is going to be harder than adopting it.
For years now a political settlement has eluded the Syria conflict. Russia, one of the strongest backers of Damascus, believes the cessation of hostilities is an unrealistic objective as such and can only be guaranteed by concrete, on-the-ground agreements. To address all the major irritants would perhaps be impossible but instead, it is worth striving for small steps to end the war. Through these steps of say, temporarily halting the fighting or declaring no conflict zones one could achieve smaller objectives that could each serve as a turning point. But before that happens all sides in the conflict will have to bring their influence to bear.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2018.
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