Editorial

Syria truly the worst humanitarian tragedy since Rwanda

Thursday, February 13, 2014    

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ANYONE who doubted the need for the international community to impose sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the members of his Government should read the account of human suffering in the city of Homs as related by Mr Abu Jalal Tilawi .

Mr Tilawi told The Associated Press of children crying and begging for food, and of women picking grass to eat as hunger gripped rebel-held neighbourhoods in Homs, which had been blockaded by President Assad's forces for almost two years.

Mr Tilawi was able to give a graphic, first-hand account of what was happening in Homs after he and approximately 1,300 Syrian civilians — mostly women, children and elderly we are told — were evacuated during a truce this week.

"They couldn't dislodge us with the missiles they rained down on us," Mr Tilawi is reported to have said in reference to President Assad's forces. "The hunger defeated us. The hunger, the hunger, the hunger. I left the city where I was born, where my father was born, where my ancestors were born. I was weeping while I was walking."

We are told that Mr Tilawi's account highlights the experience of an estimated 250,000 civilians living in more than 40 areas across Syria that have been blockaded for months.

The Associated Press reports that most of the sieges are by government forces, aiming to wear down resistance, but rebels have also adopted the tactic in some areas.

On Tuesday this week, France's ambassador to the United Nations, Mr Gerard Araud, said of the Syrian crisis: "We are facing the worst humanitarian tragedy since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994...Starvation is used as a weapon by the regime."

From this distance, and based on reports coming out of Syria, we cannot disagree with Ambassador Araud.

After all, we have seen the brutality of the Syrian regime at work in the past few months as chemical weapons were unleashed on civilian populations. What is surprising is that Russia, despite its role in brokering a deal on the destruction of chemical weapons by Damascus, is still vowing to veto any resolution for the imposition of more sanctions against President Assad and his Government.

So, while the UN appears unable to do anything more to bring about a change in Syria, the atrocities continue, with President Assad and his cabal subjecting more people to pain, hunger, illness, and death, while increasing the flood of refugees into neighbouring countries.

Way more than 100,000 people have already been killed in the fighting between rebel and government forces, and an estimated four million others have been internally displaced.

President Assad has made it clear that he is not interested in seeing an end to this conflict without him retaining his now stained authority.

The United Nations Security Council, it appears, is reluctant to approve joint military intervention in Syria to end the bloodshed. The question the international community therefore needs to answer is, what will?

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