Ramadan has become a funereal time in Syria.
A year ago there was hope
that President Bashar Assad might stop his brutal crackdown before the month-long
Muslim holiday of fasting, introspection and thanksgiving. But in the early days
of Ramadan 2011, Assad’s forces actually stepped up their cruelty, murdering
more than 200 in a ferocious attack on Hama. The Ramadan Massacre was a portent
of even worse to come.
Assad would willfully ignore the criticisms from
Washington and European capitals, the claims by US President Barack Obama and
others that he had lost his legitimacy, must yield power and step down. The
Syrian leader would remain defiant in the face of mounting US and EU economic
sanctions, the withdrawal of Western and Arab ambassadors from Damascus and the
suspension of Syria’s membership in the Arab League. He would welcome Kofi Annan
to the presidential palace in Damascus and listen politely to the former UN
secretary-general’s proposals for ending the conflict, yet not once during
Annan’s several visits would Assad’s forces cease fire.
ferocity of the assaults – and the fatality rates – rose substantially after
Annan pronounced that Assad had agreed to pull back his forces as part of a
six-point peace plan, and several hundred UN observers arrived to monitor its
implementation. But Assad had never consented.
The regime’s assaults
continued, chronicled regularly in what Fouad Ajami has called “the first
YouTube civil war of our time.”
On the very rare occasions when it was
relatively safe for the UN monitors to travel, they merely confirmed the
massacres carried out by Assad’s forces.
Buoyed by unyielding support
from Moscow and Beijing, Assad continued to besiege and pummel Syrian cities,
carrying out mass arrests, torture and killings. His powerful allies, after all,
are permanent members of the UN Security Council, the body that is supposed to
preserve the peace and protect innocents from the kind of brutality Assad has
Russia and China were unmoved. On Thursday they joined for the
third time in casting a double veto of a UN Security Council resolution on
The world body had once again failed to come to the assistance of
“For the sake of the Syrian people we need effective
leadership from the Security Council and genuine unity around a political plan
that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people,” said Maj.-Gen.
Mood, head of the UN observer mission.
That mission, originally set to
end Friday, got an inexplicable 30-day extension just as the month of daily
fasting for Ramadan began. Syrians already have been scrambling to collect
enough food for the evening meals after each day of fasting.
shelves are common in stores not yet destroyed by the regime’s bombardments. The
shortage of food and medical supplies is a reminder of the failure to establish
minimal humanitarian safe zones.
Syria is the longest-running and most
gruesome of the Arab uprisings, and it is not yet over. Even after the
assassinations of Assad’s top security aides, there is no assurance that Assad
is any closer to falling. He may still be in Damascus or in his own version of
the Alamo, the Alawite redoubt of Latakia.
The situation inside Syria
will get much worse before it can begin, slowly, to get better. Whenever Assad
is overthrown the period of rebuilding and recovery will be extremely
challenging. Instability in Syria and uncertainty about who is in charge will
linger, threatening the Syrian people and neighboring countries. Jordan and
Turkey have taken in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. Israel, already
facing heightened security challenges on its borders with Egypt and Lebanon,
eyes what has been its quietest border for nearly 40 years with deep
Syrians will forever remember the savagery of the Assad family.
They also will remember how the world, especially organizations and individual
nations that claim to stand for human rights, abandoned them in their hour of
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media
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