World watches Syrians suffer



Syria has become the world’s ugliest reality show. Anyone with access to YouTube can watch grisly videos of Syrian government aircraft deliberately bombing civilians — in mosques, universities, apartment buildings, breadlines and outdoor markets.

No crime is too heinous for Bashar al-Assad’s campaign to terrorize rebellious Syrians into obeisance. U.N. reports say 60,000 have already perished. Foreign Policy cites a secret State Department cable that says Assad probably used poison gas against civilians in Homs last month.

The scale of Assad’s war crimes is reminiscent of those in Sarajevo, Kosovo, and Darfur. The extent of urban destruction resembles that in Haiti after the earthquake. So why has the world kept watching without doing more to help those desperately in need?

The scope of the disaster is outlined in a new report by the International Rescue Committee, a U.S. aid group active in the Mideast: 600,000 Syrians have fled to overburdened neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. They need international help to cope, especially given that the number could rise.

Meantime, two million civilians are displaced inside Syria, trying to survive with little food, medicine, or shelter during a frigid winter. Rapes of women and girls by armed men are common, and the government has systematically targeted hospitals and doctors.

Yet a U.N. appeal for $1.5 billion to aid uprooted Syrians has fallen far short.

One reason, of course, is the difficulty of delivering aid in wartime. A once-peaceful revolt against Assad descended into civil war after Syrian forces attacked nonviolent demonstrators. U.S. policy (which I question) still opposes any military aid to the rebels, who have battled Assad to a stalemate but can’t take Damascus. So the war continues, with noncombatants trapped in the middle.

Yet there are many ways to help civilians in Syria, even as the fighting drags on.

For months, global aid to Syria was largely channeled through international agencies that dealt only with sovereign governments. That meant they worked with Damascus or the Syrian Red Crescent, which wouldn’t deliver aid to areas freed from government control.

More recently, however, several international aid agencies, along with Syrian American volunteers, have found ways to transport tents, medical supplies, and other humanitarian goods across the border. USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development), which has allotted $210 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian crisis, is getting supplies into the country, too.

Within Syria, civilians are organizing local relief committees in liberated areas, as well as volunteer clinics, schools, and bakeries. They are desperately awaiting equipment, money for salaries, and flour.

Getting relief supplies into Syria can be very risky. This week, one activist told me, Syrian refugees were cheered by wonderful, clear weather in the north of the country, but it also gave government jets an opportunity “to come and bomb.”

Still, courageous Syrian civilians are willing to risk all. But their success will depend heavily on whether the United States is willing to expand its role.

In November, U.S. officials helped organize a new Syrian Opposition Coalition, known as the SOC, with broader representation from inside Syria than previous such groups. President Obama recognized it as Syrians’ “legitimate representative.”

The immediate hope was that the SOC could serve as the focal point for coordinating aid to liberated areas of Syria and, with its contacts inside the country, identify needs. But to have credibility inside Syria, the SOC must be able to deliver benefits, which requires resources.

The Arab emirate of Qatar had promised to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars in Qatari banks from accounts belonging to Assad, opposition sources say. That hasn’t happened. Nor have the Saudis delivered on their pledges.

Meantime, private Gulf donors continue to channel funds to Islamist groups in Syria, who distribute charity to desperate civilians and become heroes.

U.S. officials are trying to get donors to coordinate with the SOC, and they hope to deliver new U.S. humanitarian aid through the group. But this process is moving far too slowly, and U.S. officials need to expedite it.

Without resources, the SOC will quickly come to be dismissed as ineffective, like its predecessor, the Syrian National Council. It will not be able to establish itself in liberated areas of Syria or bolster nascent networks of civilian councils. A crucial chance to set up an effective channel to relieve Syrian suffering — and to facilitate a transitional government that might negotiate peace — will be lost.

That would be yet another tragedy heaped on Syrians already tormented by Assad’s war crimes — in full view of the world.

©2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald



    A contrary view on the Pulitzers

    On Monday, my Washington Post colleagues celebrated winning the Pulitzer Prize for public service along with the Guardian newspaper for their reporting on Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency.



    X + Algebra Wall = Pass

    As they prepare to take the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam in coming weeks, many Florida students face an unnerving prospect: to graduate high school, they must pass a test that a good portion of their predecessors have failed.



    Pass this open government bill

    When it comes to having an open and transparent government that is accountable to the people, Florida truly leads the nation. Since the Florida Government in the Sunshine law was enacted in 1967, we have served as a model for other states.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category