At today’s European Council meeting in Brussels the on-going war in Syria will be one of the top issues on the agenda. But the discussion will be limited to an exchange of views on the conflict in Syria as the agenda says with no decision on any sanctions against Russia for its air bombardment of Aleppo that led to its fall into the hands of the Assad regime and its Shiite allies from Hezbollah and Iran. The bombardment did not distinguish between military and civilian targets, incl. hospitals.
For Aleppo and its civilians who remained in the eastern part of the city during the siege it is already too late. A truce that was supposed to facilitate the evacuation of civilians to rebel hold territory broke down yesterday with the two sides trading accusations and the fighting resumed against the 1 % of the city still in rebel hands.
Desperate calls for help were sent from civilians and unarmed civil society groups – even twitters from children – during the siege but faded unheard. Reports tell about terrible suffering and killings in the city. “Aleppo is being destroyed and burned completely,” a doctor was quoted. The rebel groups face the choice of unconditional surrender – risking summary executions by the victors – or fighting to death.
Contrary to what happened during World War II, when Nazi Germany carried out war crimes without the outside world knowing in real time what happened or without any news reporting from the places where they happened, the Nazis doing everything to hide their crimes and fool their victims, the war in Syria has been ravaging continuously for 4 years in broad day light with daily reporting in newspapers and social media.
Both UN and EU have been sidelined during the siege of Aleppo – that was described by an UN source as “a complete meltdown of humanity” – and their role reduced to observers. US, after having excluded military intervention in the conflict and limited its aid to some air support to the rebels, could only accuse Russia of war crimes in a UN Security Council crippled by Russian and Chinese vetoes. Its UN Ambassador Samantha Power said they should feel ashamed:
“Your forces and your proxies are carrying out these crimes. Your barrel bombs and mortars and air strikes have allowed the militia in Aleppo to encircle tens of thousands of civilians in your ever-tightening noose,” she said. “Three member states of the UN (Syria, Russia, and Iran), contributing to a noose around civilians. It should shame you.”
In Brussels, High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini, when commenting (13 December) in the European Parliament on the Annual report on human rights and democracy in the world, said that “Syria is constantly on our mind, and in these hours in particular, as we are receiving terrible reports from the ground”.
She added that “Those who perpetrate war crimes will be held accountable. The priority now, in these hours, is to protect civilians, guarantee them safe and monitored transit to a place of safety.”
In a press conference after the Foreign Affairs council (12 December), she repeated her belief in the necessity of a political solution involving “power sharing” in Damascus but excluded any discussion in EU about sanctions. She referred to a mandate given to her from the Council to carry on diplomatic talks will all parties in the region. EU is the biggest donor of humanitarian aid to Syria and “will never consider as an option to abandon the civilians in Syria.”
However, the international community could have done much more in an early phase of the conflict to prevent it from escalating into a full-scale civil war with many actors supported by other countries that fueled the war, destroyed Syria, left hundreds of thousands dead and resulted in millions of refugees and internally displaced persons. Instead the continuation of the conflict led to the surge of extremist groups in Syria such as the Islamic State.
This made it possible for the Syrian president Bashar Assad to describe an internal conflict that started as peaceful protests against his dictatorship, for human rights and democracy, as a war against foreign elements and terrorists. It confused the West that did not know which was worse – the Islamic State who fought against Assad and carried out terrorist acts in Europe or Assad who suppressed his people but had guaranteed some stability in Syria.
“The main accusation against the international community is that they hesitated in halting the slaughter during the critical first years of the Syrian civil war,” wrote Zvi Bar’el in Haaretz (14 December). “The anger over this week’ massacre in Aleppo is real but one wonders where the shock was when 300 000 other Syrians were being killed.”
The Brussels Times