On My Mind: Ramadan in Syria

The ferocity of the assaults and the fatalities rose substantially after Annan pronounced that Assad had agreed to pull back his forces.

July 23, 2012 23:46
3 minute read.
Smoke is seen rising over Damascus

Smoke is seen rising over Damascus 370 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

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.

Indeed, the 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 delivered.

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 Syria.

The world body had once again failed to come to the assistance of Assad’s victims.

“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.

Robert 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.

Empty 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 concern.

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 need.

The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.

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