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Geneva II — what next?

Feb 04,2014 - Last updated at Feb 04,2014

“If we don’t die from bombardment or snipers we will die of hunger or cold.”

So said a young man in Homs to the BBC last week.

Over 2,000 Syrians have been holed up in the centre of Homs for 600 days. Using “starve or surrender” tactics, the Syrian regime is preventing food, water and medicine from reaching the city’s citizens. People have resorted to trying to eat grass and plants to survive.

Laying siege to a city is the sort of brutal, cruel tactic that was deployed in mediaeval times. Today the Syrian government is using ordinary people as a weapon of war, bombarding them with modern artillery and dropping barrels full of explosives without caring who will be killed or injured by them.

The destruction was illustrated by before-and-after aerial photos that show entire suburbs of Damascus and Hama deliberately razed to the ground by the Syrian army.

These formerly thriving communities have been forced to flee their homes, many moving to other parts of the country or to neighbouring countries.

The United Nations estimates that over nine million Syrians need humanitarian help. There are six million who have fled their homes and are still in Syria; another two million are refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other countries.

Alleviating the plight of these Syrians is a top priority. We have to provide them with food, shelter and medicine.

The United Kingdom has already given JD700 million for this cause. Much has been spent in Jordan, not only in the camps, but also to help the Jordanian communities in the towns and villages where the Syrians are living. This aid will continue.

Ending the bloodshed and violence is also a priority. The only way is through a political process. That is why last week’s conference, known as Geneva II, was an essential step: a way to start a dialogue between the warring parties. Before the Geneva II conference started, it was common to hear people say it wouldn’t work.

Scepticism and cynicism were plentiful and hope was in short supply.

This pessimism was well founded: the willingness of the regime to engage seriously is still to be proven. The presence of extremist groups is a major threat. And after the first week, it is easy to say that the talks have failed.

But Geneva II was never going to be a magic wand bringing an instant solution.

The sides are far apart and there is the legacy of three years of open conflict between them. Yet, under the skilful chairmanship of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, they met every day for a week. Difficult issues were put on the table, including the need for a political transition. And they have agreed to meet again.

The fact is that the only way to bring peace is through a political process based on the Geneva communiqué: agreement on a transitional governing body with full powers, including over the armed and security forces.

This means that President Bashar Assad will have to go; it is inconceivable there can be a political solution while he remains. The longer he stays, the greater the pull-effect for extremists.

These groups bring more death, division and destruction.

What Syrians need is dignity, democracy and development.

Geneva II means that the process has started. The next step is clear: strenuous efforts to achieve an agreement that will bring peace, stability and security to Syria. That will unite all the people of Syria, regardless of sect or origin. That will take account of the views of the women of Syria who need to have a voice at the table. Only then will people be able to return to their homes.

The writer is British ambassador to Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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