Stop the Assad killing machine before Syria talks
By : Brooklyn Middleton
The key demand made by the High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian Opposition (HNC) ahead of peace talks in Geneva is at once utterly basic and deeply important: Stop killing our people before we even think about sitting down with you. The opposition’s demands are predicated on forcing Bashar al-Assad’s barbaric regime to uphold already passed UNSC resolutions and begin respecting fundamental humanitarian principles.
While deadly starvation remains rampant and civilian safe zones are non-existent, prioritizing the halting of bloodshed is pivotal in the immediate term. As I have written previously, the notion that there can be agreements made over the most complex issues of the conflict, while war crimes remain ongoing, is not rooted in reality.
Meanwhile, the United States should fully and publicly back the opposition’s demands. If the Assad regime fails to indicate it is finally serious about halting the war crimes it carries out and allows Russia to execute on its behalf, HNC’s pulling out of talks is justifiable. Continued negotiations and paper victories abroad – that have no impact on the ground in Syria – serve only the regime and its backers.
Reports indicate the HNC has demanded that the Assad regime stops targeting civilians, lift all sieges and release several thousand women and children being held as prisoners. In an interview with the Guardian, opposition adviser Farah Atassi noted that women with newborn babies are the detainees’ whose release they are prioritizing first.
“Then we will move to the next list,” she said. No reports of progress on that demand were immediately made public. The second demand regarding the lifting of sieges in opposition-held areas should be non-negotiable. According to Doctors without Borders (MSF), at least 16 more people have been starved to death in Madaya since humanitarian aid was finally transferred to the town on Jan. 11, after months of being choked off by the regime.
MSF cited the fact that “the Syrian government-led coalition blocks life-saving medical supplies” as one of the reasons the death toll continues to rise. The final demand regarding the halting of attacks on civilians is one that should finally be addressed in a meaningful manner. The rise of nefarious militant groups, including ISIS, has often distracted attention from Assad’s own barbarity. Nonetheless, the regime has killed far more than ISIS and with total impunity.
The international community cannot wait another day to address Assad’s crimes and it should fully back this HNC demand, which is simply a request to uphold international law. Parties must demonstrate they will begin to uphold the agreements they have already entered into – including resolution 2,254 – which was implemented in December 2015 and then violated continuously ever since.
The United States must support the opposition’s demands publicly and emphatically. The HNC’s unwillingness to negotiate with representatives of a criminal regime until their people see a shift on the ground is the natural response to years of Assad’s butchery. No party can sincerely assess any long term solution can be facilitated until the outlined demands are met. The US must acknowledge this.
If the opposition proves successful at pressuring the regime to respond to its demands, it will mark a major victory. If they do not, it will further underscore Assad’s total disregard for both the humanitarian crisis and for ending this bloody conflict.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama’s policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad’s continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.
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