What others say: World must not look away from Aleppo

  • Wednesday, December 14, 2016 5:40pm
  • Opinion

On Monday, as pro-government forces in Syria continued their brutal bombardment of east Aleppo, reportedly capturing the last urban stronghold of the faltering rebels, at least 83 civilians were killed — the latest atrocities in a war that by any standard has been marked by extraordinary horror.

Women and children were shot in the streets as they tried to flee the fighting. Civilians were executed in their homes by pro-government fighters. Children were trapped in burning buildings, their screams audible from the streets. It was, in the words of one United Nations official, “a complete meltdown of humanity.”

Much of the horrific Syrian civil war could be described this way. Since 2011, when the conflict began, some 500,000 people have been killed and many more injured. Roughly 11 million Syrians have been displaced, prompting the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

As in Aleppo this week, over the last 5 1/2 years the government and its supporters have committed sickening crimes with impunity. President Bashar Assad has unleashed warplanes and, allegedly, chemical weapons on the people of Damascus, massacred civilians in Houla, rained down Scud missiles on Aleppo and committed ethnic cleansing in Banias. The dictator’s effort to crush Syrian democratic aspirations while cynically claiming to be fighting terrorism created a vacuum that has been filled by the real thing.

Yet in the face of these monstrous acts, the international community has looked on helplessly, unable to stop the fighting, provide aid to those most in need or hold bad actors to account. The UN Security Council has shown itself totally inadequate to its peacekeeping mandate, every effort of its member nations to rebuke Syria or provide humanitarian assistance blocked by Russia and China, strategic allies of the Assad regime.

Canada has shown admirable leadership in trying to organize aid and speaking out against Assad, not to mention by taking in more than 25,000 Syrian refugees. But we and other outraged onlookers have done little to move a global peacekeeping and humanitarian machinery paralyzed by realpolitik. The notion that the West might be able to prevent the next Srebenica or Grozny now seems hopelessly naive.

In the wake of Monday’s atrocities renewed diplomatic efforts apparently resulted in a tentative deal to evacuate the last rebel-held corners of Aleppo. Whether the agreement will actually be implemented and what will happen to the area’s roughly 250,000 inhabitants is far from clear. History is not a hopeful indication.

Regardless, the world must not look away. The war is not over and there are other sieges to come. At the very least, we must continue to use every means available to express our outrage and get aid to those in need. To meet Aleppo with a shrug is to give permission to Assad and others who would reproduce its horrors.

— The Toronto Star, Dec. 13

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