The latest round of peace talks on Syria fell apart after only two days with the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) rightly refusing to meet with representatives of Bashar al-Assad’s disgraced regime without any prior guarantee of basic humanitarian relief on the ground. Meanwhile, Assad regime forces – backed by Russian airstrikes – staged a major offensive to retake Aleppo, forcing tens of thousands to flee to Turkey’s border.
Any hope that the most recent opportunity for progress would be made in Geneva – if only just on the humanitarian front – has been shattered. In the immediate term, the international community needs to recommit to financially supporting U.N. efforts, as they continue to deal with influx of fleeing Syrians. In the longer term, the reality that the war cannot end without confronting Assad’s crimes must be accepted.
Assad regime’s failure to respond to a single one of these demands underscores its total lack of interest in alleviating the sufferingBrooklyn Middleton
In the lead up to talks in Geneva, the HNC had made several basic demands, with humanitarian needs being prioritized over all other issues. Yet, talks remained on the brink of failure even before they began, with Russia attempting to dictate which parties were even allowed to be present. Meanwhile, brutal attacks targeting civilians continued unabated on the ground. The Assad regime’s failure to respond to a single one of these demands underscores its total lack of interest in alleviating the suffering in any serious manner.
In an interview with Reuters, HNC chief coordinator Riad Hijab said that the whole world sees who is responsible for the failure of negotiations. “Who is bombing civilians and starving people to death.” The world does see this, yet, Assad’s killing of civilians with impunity for years has only emboldened his regime. With Russia’s full backing allowing for gains on the ground, Assad may now be less inclined than ever before to make even the most modest of concessions.
That said, with as many as 70,000 Syrians fleeing an imminent siege of opposition-held areas in Aleppo, the inconvenient truth that the Assad regime and its backers remain the number one threat to the majority of Syrians has once again been made evident. Continually failing to address this fact will ensure indefinite bloodshed. In a potentially significant development, Saudi Arabia reportedly vowed it would deploy ground troops to Syria if requested to do so by the U.S.-led coalition.
While ground troops may ultimately be needed to deal a definitive blow to ISIS, without comprehensive plans in place for urgent medical evacuations and safe zones, Riyadh’s involvement will also not alleviate Syria’s suffering. The HNC’s approach to talks with the regime – with immediate focus on dire humanitarian concerns – should be emulated by all parties concerned.
While Aleppo braces for what will be yet another brutal chapter in Syria’s all too long war, the international community must escalate efforts to financially support the U.N.’s operations in Syria and neighboring countries. The BBC reported that only 43 percent of the $2.9 billion pledged to the U.N. for Syria was actually funded. The report also indicated that the U.S. was the number one donor while one of the eight largest contributors was Kuwait.
In the most recent donor meeting, parties have vowed to contribute $10 billion in aid. They must deliver and states that have thus far failed to directly fund U.N. efforts must finally contribute. The bloodshed in Syria is likely to significantly worsen in the coming weeks and the international community must prepare for this eventuality.
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.