Stop the Syria massacres first, then talk later
No party has successfully delivered any security solutions to end the conflict for over four years
The latest round of international talks on how to end the Syrian conflict took place on the same day as the latest massacre in the country. Regime airstrikes and shelling killed at least 70 people and injured another 550 at a market in Douma, the violence-wracked city located just northeast of Damascus. Doctors without Borders indicated in a written statement that as first responders rushed toward the mangled victims, shelling targeted the chaotic site, worsening the bloodshed.
The barbaric, though hardly unprecedented, attack on the market took place as no less than 17 countries sat down at the table – no Syrian parties were present – to discuss the need for a comprehensive ceasefire. With more talks scheduled for the coming weeks it is relevant to ask if - despite all the talking - any party is actually speaking for suffering Syrians.
It is difficult to comprehend the total exclusion of the Syrian opposition and any Kurdish representatives. One of which will usher in a new era post-conflict and the other which will play a pivotal role in security matters on the ground. In addition to the failure to bring two of the most important parties to the table, it is all but certain the talks will descend into failure. Both Iran and Russia refuse to back any deal that risks Assad’s future grip on the country; meanwhile, the international community’s excuse for not doing more to stop the bloodshed, the “there are no good options in Syria” could very well soon be replaced with “the involved parties failed to agree on Assad’s future.” At the same time, the death toll will continue to skyrocket while both Russia and the Assad regime carry out war crimes with impunity. In addition to the continued, indiscriminate targeting of civilians, Doctors without Borders officials confirmed that at least 12 hospitals were bombed since late September, killing at least 35 people.
No party has successfully delivered any security solutions to end the conflict for over four yearsBrooklyn Middleton
That such attacks are being continuously carried out while over a dozen countries discuss the conflict is absurd; the death toll from the same day the talks took place - alone - should trigger immediate initiatives to alleviate the dire humanitarian crisis and suffering. While not abandoning the position that Assad’s criminal regime must go, the U.S. should use upcoming talks as an opportunity to lead on presenting solutions that address the humanitarian crisis. No party has successfully delivered any security solutions to end the conflict for over four years. Such a reality at this point in underscores the need to prioritize the humanitarian situation over all other issues on the table in the immediate term.
The U.S. and EU should pressure Iran and Russia to agree to measures that immediately mitigate the suffering on the ground. A U.N.-backed meeting, with Doctors without Borders advisors present, should be held for the sole purpose of determining which besieged areas are in greatest need. All parties should then focus on implementing a ceasefire in the designated areas and agree to facilitate the transfer of critical aid. Any party opposed to such measures only further exposes their lack of serious interest in deescalating the conflict and their own culpability in the continued bloodshed.
The statement released by the international community after their meeting in Vienna offers a broad nine-point outline of what the group referred to as matters of “mutual understanding.” The parties very well may be in agreement on the nine issues but not a single one of them can even begun to be addressed without halting the wanton bloodshed first.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.