The Syrian war, which we began watching in 2011, is being discussed just when the map has changed, in terms of talk of safe zones and conflicts between countries.
Nobody is paying any attention to the millions of refugees fleeing the country or, more importantly, the civilians living and dying in the conflict zone. People and countries are watching events and developments in Syria through a ghastly veil of familiarity.
A Human Rights Watch report by Kenneth Roth published also in the New York Times on Aug. 5 revealed some little known facts about the Syrian war. Titled, ‘Barrel bombs, not ISIS, are the greatest threat to Syrians,’ it said that barrel bombs launched by the Syrian regime were constantly aimed at civilian targets and that civilian casualties in the country were unbelievably high. Roth provides striking details in his piece, and thinks that all discussion revolving around ISIL whenever Syria is mentioned is diverting people’s attention.
Barrel bombs are hand-made weapons manufactured using extraordinarily primitive methods but that nonetheless have huge destructive power. They are made by packing metal fragments, ball bearings and explosives into oil barrels or the like. Since they are dropped haphazardly by helicopters flying high above the range of anti-aircraft fire, the explosive and shrapnel can spread over a wide area. According to Roth, these bombs are powerful enough to demolish an entire building, pulverize a whole region and leave countless numbers of dead behind them. Even if the barrel does not explode, because of the height from which it is dropped it can still fall right through to the basement of a three-floor building. These primitive bombs are probably more dangerous to the Syrian people than all the violence going on there; because barrel bombs target civilians.
According to recent observations, the Syrian regime generally targets civilians in regions held by opposition groups with its barrel bombs. Schools, stores, mosques, marketplaces and civilian settlement areas, particularly in Idlib, Aleppo and Dara, are targeted by these bombs. An Amnesty International report, ‘Death everywhere — war crimes and human rights abuses in Aleppo,’ says: “At least 3,000 civilians lost their lives in Aleppo alone during barrel bomb attacks between January 2014 and March 2015. Fourteen of these attacks were aimed at market places, 12 at transportation points, 23 at mosques and civilian buildings, 7 at hospitals and 3 at schools.”
These words by Captain Ammar Al-Wawi, general secretary of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), cited in the ‘barrel bomb report’ published last year by Syrian Human Rights Watch (SHRW), are particularly striking: “The regime began its barrel bomb attacks before the Geneva 2 conference and persisted with them afterward.” To put it another way, peace talks have never meant anything to the Syrian regime at any stage.
Civilians in cities are known to have fled to border regions because of the savagery of barrel bomb attacks. The fact that civilians still prefer border areas, the scene of intense fighting with heavy weapons, shows the full horror of the barrel bomb scourge.
Proposals put to the UN Security Council intended to prohibit the bombing of civilian areas, and particularly barrel bombs, or for such attacks to be declared ‘crimes against humanity’ or ‘war crimes,’ as suggested by Amnesty International, are meaningless at this point in the Syrian war. The dirty war in the region has long since forgotten the concept of ‘humanity.’ The really tragic thing is that the situation now also means nothing to a great many countries.
The USA and the coalition powers, which have raised no protest over Assad’s slaughter for the sake of reining in Daesh, have failed to find a solution through aerial bombardments alone and are also far from satisfactory when it comes to the subject of refugees. That being the case, a different strategy needs to be discussed for Syria.
In the upcoming days, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will be visiting Ankara. Zarif is said to have proposed to the Turkish government, which has adopted an anti-Assad stance right from the outset, that only Damascus, Latakia and Tartus remain in the hands of the regime while a new administration is established in regions seized by the opposition. Let us also remind ourselves that this is a solution that we have long since been proposing to end the Syrian war.
It is also essential that forces supporting the regime, such as Hezbollah, pull out of the region and that the US support for the YPG, also an ally of the regime, should cease. If such a plan is implemented, various question marks over the administration of other areas will also inevitably arise.
At this stage, the planned safe zone is of great importance. The inclusion of the disputed area of Aleppo in this zone, and the region being placed under the protection of Turkey, the coalition powers and moderate opposition in the region appears to be the most likely plan at present.
Such a plan clearly contradicts Turkey’s long-term aim of the complete removal of Assad from the region. However, it can still represent a significant step forward, at least in terms of eliminating barrel bombs, bringing about a serious reduction in civilian casualties and slowing the tempo of the dirty war in Syria.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Arab News: