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What has become of Syria? A country in crisis

January 23, 2014 at 4:48 am

Syria once smelt of strong black coffee and sheesha pipes. People played backgammon in crowded coffee shops late into the night, whilst the aroma of fresh chicken drifted through the air from street stalls that lined the pavements. Markets were piled high with Syrian soap and wooden boxes with delicate designs, the bakeries filled with elaborate chocolate pastries.

These days are over in many parts of the country, or they are at least tainted by the sound of fighter jets and a bloody conflict overhead. Official figures indicate that 70,000 Syrians have died so far; unofficial figures suggest there are countless more. Many are fleeing what is left of their country after a two-year war continues to devastate their homes, schools and hospitals and make their lives worse than unbearable.

But across the borders a new type of misery waits. Overflowing refugee camps offering scraps of food and disease ridden living conditions have become their new fate. Here, there is barely any access to medical care, warm clothes, clean water, education, or jobs. In Turkey, military police recently smothered Syrian refugees with teargas after they demonstrated against the dire conditions. To the West, those who have made it to Lebanon are accumulating debts – which are impossible to pay – by pitching their tents on land that is charged at 150,000 Lebanese pounds a month.

For those left inside Syria, a grim reality stretches out before them. A report on Channel 4 this week, ‘Agony in Aleppo: a city abandoned by the world’, revealed deeply disturbing images of children. Twelve-year-old Mohamed Asaf, who works in a medical clinic featured in the piece, describes how he has become desensitized to blood after seeing it so often: “Now I see blood as water” he says to the camera. Meanwhile, outside the clinic children play with the casing of a Russian cluster bomb protruding out of the ground. Bodies are pulled out of the river Oweq that divides the rebel and the government strongholds; a ten year old boy is retrieved, his hands tied behind his back.

As for the opposition, things are not looking promising. Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the Syrian National Coalition that attempts to unite the different factions who oppose Basher al-Assad and his government, has resigned. Feuds between rebel factions are deepening; one group Jabhat al-Nusra, recently attacked Abu Azzam the commander of the Farouq Brigades in eastern Syria. Some say it is the reigniting of a long conflict between the two prominent rebel groups; others simply despair at what has become of the revolution, and the loss of a common goal that once saw fighters unite at least in their desire to topple Assad.

Support from the outside for Syria is also split in many different directions. British and French governments are willing to provide arms to the rebels, whilst the American and British public are not in favour. Whilst a close circle still protects Basher al-Assad at home, he is being bank rolled from abroad by Iran and Russia. He shows no sign of backing down, or running out of ammunition.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.