Of all the anti-regime uprisings that occurred as part of the Arab Spring, the conflict in Syria has been the most protracted — protests began in March of 2011 — and violent. More than 36,000 people have been killed in what Al-Jazeera calls a “deadlocked civil war.” Over 2 million people in Syria are now in need of humanitarian assistance for food, water and medical supplies and the number of refugees to neighboring countries including, Turkey and Lebanon, could swell to 710,000 by the end of this year, says the BBC.
Earlier this week, the United Nations and Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said that the crisis could “turn the country into a new Somalia” unless something is done soon to alleviate it. Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991; Brahimi told the Turkish newspaper al-Hayat that “the danger is ‘Somalisation’ and not partition — the collapse of the state and the emergence of warlords, militias and fighting groups.”
The news out of Syria is of fighting, killings, shelling and more fighting with regular reports of casualties. Just on Wednesday, Syrian rebels attacked government facilities and strongholds in Damascus, the capital, with mortars, even as shelling and air strikes by government forces were also reported. Attacks are also occurring through the country, in places such as Houla in the central province of Homs where a grisly massacre of scores of people, many young children, occurred in May.
The Syrian conflict has seeped into neighboring countries, with reports of fighting between Kurdish groups and Arab rebel forces in northern Syria. Fears have been growing of the conflict spilling over into Lebanon and Iraq, and of Jihadist groups entering the fighting.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting a refugee camp on the border of Syria and Jordan, said that Britain is starting talks with armed members of the Syrian opposition in an attempt to unite what has been described as fragmented groups together. Up to 500 Syrians, some of whom had walked for 15 days, have been arriving at the camp every day. Cameron has said that Assad should be allowed “safe passage” out of Syria in the interest of a peaceful transition.
Most of the members of the main opposition bloc, the Syrian National Council (SNC), are exiles who have been accused of being “out of touch” with people actually in Syria risking their lives to fight against Assad. As the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus says, ”at the most basic level, Western governments who oppose the Assad regime need a single address for their diplomatic contacts.” The question remains if the U.S. can succeed to reshape the fragmented Syrian opposition.
Cameron has called on the U.S. and other Western and Arab allies including Saudi Arabia to “come together and try to help shape the opposition, outside Syria and inside Syria, and try to help them achieve their goal, which is our goal of a Syria without Assad.” He enjoined newly reelected U.S. President Barack Obama to make the Syria crisis a priority in his second term and step up U.S. involvement.
According to the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Brown, while Obama in his second term is certainly likely to authorize more support for the Syrian rebels, he will stop short of arming them. Members of the Syrian opposition interviewed by the New York Times expressed mixed views about Obama’s reelection. An opposition figure living in exile in Germany called Obama’s reelection “not a good sign” but a rebel commander on the ground in Syria reiterated Brahimi’s statement, saying that if the U.S. does not intervene more, “Syria will become like Somalia.”
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Photo of a Syrian woman and her child in a refugee camp in Jordan by EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection