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Only option for Syria

Feb 18,2014 - Last updated at Feb 18,2014

The second session of the second Geneva conference on Syria ended last Friday with no agreement.

The delegations returned to where they came from empty handed.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy who played a key role in trying to locate conversion points in otherwise distant positions of both sides of the conflict, has admitted failure.

All he could offer in conclusion was an apology to the Syrian people for the poor outcome of what looks for the time being like the last diplomatic venture to end the destruction of Syria.

Brahimi also promised to report back to the UN secretary general and to discuss the situation with the American and Russian foreign ministers.

So the destruction of Syria is likely to continue, indeed continue with increased ferocity and renewed belligerent resolve, on both sides, to make drastic military gains on the ground in the hope that the battle would soon be settled.

It has generally been believed, not only by the immediate combatants but by their external backers as well, that there is no military solution for the raging war in Syria.

The return to Geneva after almost two-and-a-half years from the first unsuccessful reconciliation attempt in this same city, therefore, was a default emergency exit rather than a consensus policy endeavour to explore political opportunities.

Both sides headed back to Geneva with determined intent to secure by negotiations what was impossible for them to achieve in the battlefield.

That was not possible, so the military failure is now compounded by diplomatic deadlock.

What comes next?

The tendency is to blame the Assad regime for not offering any meaningful concessions to an opposition that is destined to eventually lose.

By insisting to fight terrorism before discussing the opposition’s demand to create a transitional governing body, the official Syrian delegation was actually asking for the maximum.

Practically, this Syrian regime demand implies helping the Syrian forces to clear the country of all the opposing fighting groups, terrorists and non-terrorists, because in the Syrian government’s view, anyone carrying arms on Syrian territory against the legitimate forces is an illegal fighter if not a terrorist.

Therefore, they all have to be annihilated before any discussion of other issues can start.

This actually means much more than just that: it means that the Syrian government wants to be enabled to settle the war in its favour first, to clear the country of any armed opposition, to regain complete control of the land and then discuss other matters.

But what cards would the opposition have left in its hands to be able to obtain any political gains once all that had happened?

To confirm such suspicions, there were news reports by the BBC last Sunday that the Syrian authorities have already blacklisted all the members of the opposition delegation to the Geneva talks as terrorists, and confiscated their property and assets.

It is not clear if this maximalist Syrian regime position was fully endorsed by Syria’s Russian allies, whose role in the talks was instrumental. If so, it would be rather unhelpful.

What would have been more appropriate indeed, would have been to have a transitional administration in Damascus trusted by both sides and charged with the task of clearing the country of terrorists for the benefit of all sides, with adequate international guarantees. But that was not considered.

Neither do we know what kind of advice the opposition received from its many Western and Arab supporters, although it did not seem to have pushed for impossible demands.

Clearly its modest condition for the establishment of a transitional administration in accordance with the agreed-upon outcomes of Geneva I should not be viewed as extreme in any sense.

There is no question that the stumbling block in the face of any progress was the regime’s representatives’ adamant stand that terrorism should be cleared first.

The question, again, is what comes next?

There are ominous signs that the opposition would be receiving advanced arms and probably other forms of military assistance to improve its standing on the ground.

Even if that is partly meant to be a warning to the Syrian government, it remains ill advised and a counterproductive escalation.

No amount of military support will, at this stage in the battle, tilt the balance in the opposition’s favour, but it will prolong the fighting and aggravate the situation tremendously.

The number of Syrian deaths, now standing at 150,000, and that of Syrians displaced and refugees, now in the millions, will continue to rise, and so will the destruction of the country.

This war will last for years, particularly when external supporters continue to pour oil on fire and feed extremism and sectarian hatred.

But that should not mean that the non-terrorist opposition should be left exposed in the face of the ruthless military might of the Assad forces. There must be other options to explore.

Maybe the Geneva II diplomatic promise, no matter how faint, should be retried.

The foreign actors, the US and the Europeans on one side, Russia and other regional powers, on the other, should convince their Syrian allies to demonstrate flexibility and allow some political compromise.

It is clear that this war is not going to be settled on the ground any time soon. It will go on endlessly, destroying Syria, and it will eventually spread in the region and cause vast damage.

This war should be stopped so that the suffering of the Syrian people can come to an end, too, and the Syrian refugees should be allowed to return home and reconstruct their shattered lives.

This is a pressing regional and international responsibility that all will have to share.

If those concerned do not take it seriously, we will all pay for our carelessness and indifference.

Continued killing in Syria is not just proof of a gross regional and international moral and political failure; it is complicity as well.

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