Aleppo’s agony

Our view: Chances for peace ap­pear slim, but U.S. must try to help Syr­ian civil­ians

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry is set to ar­rive in Lau­sanne, Switzer­land, to­mor­row to try once more to forge a cease-fire in Syria’s five-year civil war that will al­low hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to reach hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians trapped by the fight­ing in Aleppo and other cities. Given past fail­ures to achieve a pause in the car­nage, the prospects for suc­cess this time ap­pear re­mote at best. Nev­er­the­less the U.S. must at least try to avert an on­go­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe, if only to protest the crim­i­nal vi­o­lence be­ing in­flicted on in­no­cent civil­ians by Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad and his Rus­sian and Ira­nian al­lies.

The des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion in Aleppo, the coun­try’s sec­ond­largest city, has be­come em­blem­atic of the As­sad regime’s bru­tal­ity to­ward its own ci­ti­zens. Some 250,000 civil­ians in the rebel-held eastern part of the city have been cut off for months with­out ac­cess to food, fuel, fresh wa­ter, medicines or elec­tric­ity. Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and Rus­sian mil­i­tary air­craft have sys­tem­at­i­cally tar­geted schools and hos­pi­tals in de­fi­ance of in­ter­na­tional law, re­duc­ing much of the his­toric city to rub­ble. Mr. Kerry and French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande have both sug­gested the sav­agery might be grounds for the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court to open an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble war crimes by the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and its Rus­sian and Ira­nian en­ablers.

Af­ter the col­lapse of last month’s U.S.- and Rus­sian-bro­kered cease fire less than a week af­ter it went into ef­fect, Mr. Kerry is pin­ning his hopes this time on the com­bined ef­forts of diplo­mats from Iran, Turkey, Saudi Ara­bia, Qatar, Rus­sia and the U.S. Mr. Kerry be­lieves that the mul­ti­lat­eral pres­sure from all the coun­tries that have the great­est stake in the con­flict might at least make pos­si­ble an agree­ment to reim­pose a cease-fire in Aleppo that could even­tu­ally cre­ate the con­di­tions for a po­lit­i­cal res­o­lu­tion of the broader Syr­ian con­flict.

The first task would be en­sur­ing that U.N. aid con­voys are per­mit­ted to cross Syr­ian gov­ern­ment lines to reach the city’s be­lea­guered civil­ians in the eastern part of the city. Last month the As­sad regime backed down on its pledge to is­sue the tran­sit pa­pers that would have al­lowed aid to flow into the rebel held ar­eas. As a re­sult long lines of trucks were left stalled on the roads wait­ing for per­mis­sion. Then air­craft from Rus­sia or the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment (the na­tion­al­ity of the planes re­mains in dis­pute) at­tacked the con­voys, de­stroy­ing their car­goes and killing dozens of aid work­ers and oth­ers in the area.

Mean­while, Iran has re­mained a stead­fast sup­porter of Mr. Syr­i­ans walk over rub­ble fol­low­ing air strikes on the rebel-held Far­dous neigh­bour­hood of the em­bat­tled city of Aleppo. As­sad, pro­vid­ing him with weapons, ad­vis­ers and fight­ers from Hezbol­lah, the Le­banese mili­tia, and Shi­ite mili­ti­a­men from Iraq. The over­rid­ing goal of Tehran and Moscow ap­pears to be to help the As­sad gov­ern­ment re­take all of Aleppo just as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­pares to leave of­fice in or­der to put them­selves in the strong­est pos­si­ble po­si­tion at any fu­ture peace talks con­vened by the next U.S. pres­i­dent.

What­ever hap­pens at Saturday’s talks in Lau­sanne, the U.S. strate­gic in­ter­est in Syria re­mains the de­struc­tion of ISIS in or­der to pre­vent its spread to other coun­tries in the Mid­dle East and be­yond. Mr. Kerry ought to do ev­ery­thing he can to help re­lieve the suf­fer­ing of civil­ians in Aleppo and other be­sieged cities where hun­dreds have been killed in re­cent months, but he also must be clear-eyed about what we can and can’t ac­com­plish there. And we can ex­pect lit­tle help from our hoped-for al­lies in Moscow and Tehran.

Can the U.S. ever forge a last­ing ac­cord with part­ners who have shown such du­plic­ity and com­plete dis­re­gard for civ­i­lized norms of be­hav­ior? The Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and Rus­sia have demon­strated that they can­not be trusted to keep their word. Much as we want to see the prospects for a ma­jor breakthrough in Syria im­prove, the chances of that happening seem slim so long as the only lev­er­age Mr. Kerry can bring to the ta­ble is Amer­ica’s good­will.


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