Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Syria: So many questions, so few - if any - solutions


‘If you dare give those to Bashar al-Assad, I swear I’ll find you and beat you up.’
They’re growing up quickly these days in Syria and surroundings - both the adults ageing faster than they should, and the children looking somehow much younger than their years. And traumatic ordeals.
The threat above came not from a Kalashnikov-toting militant but a knee-high three- or four-year-old, taking umbrage at an aid worker taking time out to take a few photos.
Such is the suspicion. Such is the desperate aggression. Such is the politicisation - however simplistic, if authentic - of everyone, anyone, embroiled.
Another line sticking in the memory from a memorably intense few days in Lebanon and on the Syrian was delivered not in anger, but despair, by a local guide and activist: ‘So many questions - no answer.’
Not to the posers of how to stop Assad’s remorseless bloodshed; whether much-mooted and - here - much-wanted air-strikes would help; whether Hezbollah might attack Israel and thus provoke vengeful destruction on Lebanon; which extremists might emerge; and could any future Syrian regime prove acceptable let alone desirable?
Certainly a sense of helpless despair could easily envelop, whether looking on from the outside or exploring not only Syria but those surrounding countries facing humanitarian crises of their own.
Lebanon is the nation now taking the heaviest influx of Syrian refugees, almost 720,000 officially registered with the United Nations - yet with almost as many again thought to be concealed, whether supporting themselves or fearing betrayal back home.
And still they keep coming, whether pouring into Jordan’s 120,000-strong-and-expanding Za’atari camp or spreading more disparately in basements, garages or in ragged campsites across Lebanon.
The only comfort such starving, soon-shivering refugees can feel is to have escaped Syria, an achievement that may be denied many more as Lebanese border officials are ordered to turn sterner with new applicants.
Those crossing over are no longer being shelled - for the most part anyway.
And yet the war is already spilling into Lebanon as well, with increasingly-frequent bursts from across the border and bomb blasts in major cities especially tense Shia/Alawite battleground Tripoli.
‘There’s no house in Lebanon without a pistol, M16 or Kalashnikov,’ revealed another warning testifying to the nation’s ‘tinderbox’ nature.
Meanwhile, more than one arriving refugee pointed out, ‘Everone in Syria has been affected somehow’ - made clear by the gruesome tales of terror, murder and kidnap slipping from every interviewees’ lips. Often delivered in jarringly matter-of-fact fashion.
Take, as momentous and yet also mere examples, three 13-year-olds.
Majed, who saw his best friend shot down while attending a funeral for 15 victims of a massacre both had barely survived.
Mahmoud, forced to flee from Syria without both his parents following their abduction - and presumed murders - on the same stretch of road where he found a family of five’s tortured bodies.
And Ramy, whose family managed to flee as their village came under fire - only to somehow only later realise elder brother Bilal was lost along the chaotic way.
All harrowing ordeals, among so many, to long-haunt here at least.
Widespread Syrian anger at the word’s lack of action - and only, two-and-a-half years on, much talk yet still prevarication - is understandable, however more divisive the benefits of military strikes might be.
Much of recent discussions back in the West, however, have suggested military strikes as the be-all-and-end-all as far as intervention goes.
All the while £1.9billion - or 40 per cent - of UN-targeted donations go begging, while what aid has been delivered to the region too frequently gets blocked or swallowed up by Assad-regime dominions.
Save The Children are among the organisations not only striving against immense odds to get what help they can to some of those millions in agonising need - yet also imploring UN members to unite at least on not only boosting aid but expanding access.
Foreign policy has been described as the art of choosing the least-worst option of all bad ones available. Few examples might prove so defining as Syria right now.
And yet some small solutions should prove easier than others, at least improving the lives of many more than the few.

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