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The world fiddles while Idlib burns

Heavly damaged buildings are seen after Russian warplanes hit residential areas including a hospital and a bakery, in Ariha district, south of Idlib, Syria on 30 January 2020. [İzzeddin İdilbi - Anadolu Agency]
Heavly damaged buildings are seen after Russian warplanes hit residential areas including a hospital and a bakery, in Ariha district, south of Idlib, Syria on 30 January 2020. [İzzeddin İdilbi - Anadolu Agency]

As the world looks on, the horrors of Idlib are clear for all to see. The last bastion of resistance to the Assad regime, Idlib teeters on the brink. Almost nine years on, and heading into the tenth year of the uprising against the brutal dictator, the international community has failed the Syrian people and failed to uphold its promise to them. Idlib is under heavy fire from the Assad regime as well as Russian forces, and is the last hope of the Syrian uprising. The fall of Idlib brings with it a likely mass exodus as thousands of refugees look to flee to Europe via Turkey.

The people of Idlib are asking the world for their support against the Assad warplanes supported by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. A no-fly zone simply must be enforced. The Geneva political process should be followed but it seems to be too little too late. And whilst the Turkish intervention is a welcome development in the Idlib crisis, Turkey alone cannot stop its fall to the Assad regime supported by Russia, which has used over 215 new advanced weapons in the conflict. The international community's long-term lip service to the Syrian cause has borne little fruit; it would be hopeful but foolhardy to expect much more. The UN has proven remarkably powerless thanks to the Russian veto, utilised an astonishing 14 times to protect the Assad regime legally and diplomatically. While Russia talks of upholding the law and protecting Syria's "sovereignty" — which is ironic as Russia essentially rules Syria akin to a colony — it is clear that the spirit of the law has not been adhered to. In the eyes of ordinary Syrian people, Russia is considered an occupying force responsible for many atrocities; a recent UN report accused Russia of committing war crimes in Syria.

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The US, meanwhile, is preoccupied with the 2020 presidential election; Britain and the EU are still tied up with post-Brexit negotiations; and regional Arab states are in precarious political situations of their own. These are not excuses however. As crimes against humanity and war crimes have been proven to be committed by the Assad regime, states look on, as if at a standstill. After the spectre of Iraq, it is understandable that there is hesitancy to take action, but the cost of inaction can sometimes be even higher than the cost of doing something. The most opportune moments to strike against the Assad regime have long gone (2012, 2013) but at the very least a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib can be averted with decisive action from the international community.

Syrian families, who have been forcibly displaced due to the ongoing attacks carried out by Assad regime and its allies, are seen at a camp in Turmanin in the western rural of Aleppo near Turkish border on a cold winter day in Idlib, Syria on 14 February 2020. [Muhammed Said - Anadolu Agency]

Syrian families, who have been forcibly displaced due to the ongoing attacks carried out by Assad regime and its allies, are seen at a camp in Turmanin in the western rural of Aleppo near Turkish border on a cold winter day in Idlib, Syria on 14 February 2020. [Muhammed Said – Anadolu Agency]

The fall of Idlib and any subsequent reconciliation with the Assad regime won't lead to peace and stability, but precisely the opposite. It'll lead to vengeance and retribution by government forces and the Shabiha; thousands more will likely languish in Assad's jails. Refugees who left will be unable to return with threats of torture and death made against those who escaped to Idlib. The city after all was considered the sanctuary for those who left previously rebel-held areas — Homs and Ghouta — that fell to the regime over the course of the past few years. The Assad regime simply cannot be rehabilitated; that is a simple fact. No amount of "realpolitik" can gloss over the crimes that Bashar Al-Assad has committed. Accountability looms large but the political will is lacking.

READ: As the refugee crisis in Syria worsens, history will record the failures of great democracies

The Caesar files are relevant in any discussion of the Assad regime. The tens of thousands of photos smuggled by the ex-military photographer who defected from the Syrian army in the early years of the uprising are proof of a systematic killing machine. The Times even went far enough to call the evidence "a glimpse of another Holocaust". Nevertheless, nothing of substance is being done to help the Syrian people in their nightmare against the regime. After the horrors of the 20th century more surely has to be expected.

The Syrian people were sorely mistaken, but many of them are still hoping that the advent of spring brings back the spirit of the Arab Spring which started in Tunisia and led to protests in Tahrir Square in Egypt before it reached the Syrians through the children of Daraa in March 2011. The people strive towards a Syria free of Assad; one that is democratic, upholds justice, human rights and the rule of law. In the meantime, though, the world simply fiddles while Idlib burns.

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

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