All Sorts of Things

Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.

Syria: Refugees Wait for Support while Rebels Prepare to Receive Lethal Aid

The growing violence of Syria’s two-year old Arab Spring uprising has claimed 70,000 lives and made four million of the country’s 22 million residents refugees. While the international community argues over whether it should arm anti-government forces, neighboring countries are straining to support the growing number of exiles.

In the meantime, the rebels are becoming progressively unpredictable, fundamentalist and vicious thereby increasing the chances that any western nation which arms them will likely see those weapons fall into the hands of fundamentalist Islamists or global militant movements.

Despite these concerns, France and the United Kingdom recently urged the European Union (EU) to lift its arms embargo on the Syrian opposition so that they can provide advanced weapons to the opposition – the French have raised the possibility of anti-aircraft missiles – in order to scare President Assad into a dialogue.

This demand by Paris and London shows how the level of government concern as the EU’s ban will expire on May 31. A renewal must be approved by all EU member nations and, since the French and UK governments have already announced they will not support this measure, its unlikely to occur.

The subsequent question, therefore, is whether both these governments will break the ban before its term expires. This is quite likely since the UK has already effectively undercut this measure by convincing the EU to allow non-lethal aid such as armored vehicles to the rebels. Providing actual arms is the logical next step and, given the dire security conditions in Syria, the French and UK governments are likely to take this action in the immediate future.

President Hollande and Prime Minister Cameron, however, must be considering about how this decision will affect their relations with Germany and Russia who don’t support arming the opposition. The former nation is concerned that arming rebels could lead to the proliferation of weapons to undesirable entities while the latter is a long-term Assad ally and provides military support to the central government.

While Moscow’s decision could be termed as self-serving, Berlin’s worries are shared by a wider group of non-partisan organizations such as Amnesty International and the International Institute for Strategic Studies who have reported on the abuses committed by the rebels caused by a lack of central authority, fundamentalism and disunity.

These human rights violations reflect the highly sectarian nature of this conflict, which, according to reports, have been fanned by support from Iran (and its proxy Hezbollah) and Saudi Arabia. Tehran provides aid to Shi’ite groups and Assad’s Alawite sect while Riyadh Saudi aids the Sunnis. The battlefield success of these groups has been due to this assistance and they have used this influence to increase their power throughout the country. For example, following the capture of the eastern city of Raqqa, the Islamists created a Shariah Board with its own police force.

The Syrian regime, on the other hand, is fast running out of geography and loyalists. Damascus, while ostensibly under government control, has recently experienced shellings and car bombings, and, according to multiple reports, the number of troops loyal to the regime has declined to under 65,000. Faced with these larger losses, the government has resorted to using lethal weapons such as cluster bombs and air attacks on residential areas.

Given this evidence, it could be argued that western governments should increase their influence with moderate groups by giving them the resources to stand up to both the Syrian regime and the Islamists. This would be a logical decision but the nations providing need to make sure their weapons don’t fall into the hands of the Islamists in Syria or are transported out of the country.

Furthermore, they also need to ensure the creation and acceptance of a central authority. As proved by the recent kidnapping of United Nations peacekeepers, the opposition movement needs institutions that direct its actions and stamps out the increasing abuses. Indeed, the United States’ recently announced $60 million aid package is directed towards supporting local councils and “transition initiatives.”

There is one area, however, where the global community can make the largest and quickest positive difference and that is in the treatment of Syrian refugees. Nations such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq are buckling under the fast rising number of innocent civilians crossing their border to escape the violence in their homeland.

In the meantime, these hosting nations have only received approximately one-fifth of the promised funds. Consequently, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if these countries, unable to handle the masses of people, close their borders plunging the region into even further crisis.

Military support may well help bring about the transition of the Syrian government but without adequate humanitarian support, a larger crisis could waste all the lives lost and sacrifices made.

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This entry was posted on March 14, 2013 by in International Affairs and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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