The crisis in Syria does not feature high on the agenda at this weekend’s G7 summit in Biarritz. The absence of two key players – Russia and Turkey – means any substantive initiatives are unlikely. Donald Trump has washed his hands of the conflict, although Pentagon chiefs are resisting his demand to withdraw all US forces. European leaders, beset by many other urgent problems, seem to prefer not to think about Syria at all.
This attitude is intolerably shortsighted. Western governments’ neglect of the eight-year war and, in particular, its impact on civilians is a sadly familiar phenomenon, but no more acceptable for being predictable. Their involvement has been sporadic and uneven, spurred from time to time by headline events such as chemical weapons attacks or war crimes too horrific to ignore. The campaign against Islamic State (Isis) was given priority.
The price of this collective failure to tackle head-on one of the greatest strategic challenges of our time is now being paid, once again, by Syria’s population. In Idlib, north-west Syria, more than 3 million people are under fire from Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian bombers and artillery. More than 800 noncombatants have died since April. At least half-a-million civilians, many previously displaced, have fled towards the Turkish border.
Despite repeated appeals for help by the UN, aid agencies and local organisations such as the White Helmets, the slaughter and mayhem are intensifying following last week’s fall to Bashar al-Assad’s troops of the southern Idlib town of Khan Sheikhoun. The plight of the fleeing population is compounded by Turkey’s reluctance to accept more refugees and its determination to force many among 3.6 million Syrians already in Turkey out of the big cities and back across the border. [Continue reading…]