Five-Year War Shows No Sign of Ending
The ongoing battle between troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and various rebel groups has crippled the infrastructure in Aleppo and left two million residents without running water, according to the UN. The crisis was caused by attacks on the electricity transmission station that pumped water to the eastern and western parts of the city.
“Children and families in Aleppo are facing a catastrophic situation. These cuts are coming amid a heat wave, putting children at a grave risk of waterborne diseases,” UNICEF’s representative in Syria, Hanaa Singer told The Media Line. “Getting clean water running again cannot wait for the fighting to stop. Children’s lives are in serious danger.”
Dr. Zaher Shaloul, a Syrian-American doctor told an informal Security Council meeting organized by the US that medical facilities in eastern Aleppo are routinely targeted by Syrian bombings, and that people are dying from treatable conditions. “We don’t need condemnations, prayers or pointing fingers, we had enough of that. I ask you to meet the people of Aleppo and see them as humans. I have one request, besides saving Shahd, visit Aleppo yourself and meet with its doctors, nurses and patients. If three doctors from Chicago were able to do that, you can do it,” Shaloul told diplomats.
His statement came as the World Health Organization (WHO) said that more than 15 doctors who were outside Aleppo when the government laid siege to the eastern part of mid-July were now unable to return. The organization said that there were at least ten attacks on medical facilities in eastern Aleppo just in July.
Aleppo is just the latest example of the grinding conflict that has left an estimated 500,000 dead in Syria and millions displaced as internal or external refugees. International efforts to end the fighting have failed, and Syria only makes the news when the death toll is even higher than “normal.”
“Syria has become the main arena for influence and gain in the Middle East,” Nir Boms, a Syria expert at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University told The Media Line. “This war is being fought by proxies. This is how world wars are fought today.”
On one side of the conflict is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is supported by Iran, Hizbullah and Russia. While many Mideast analysts thought that Assad was on the verge of collapse a year ago, he has since rallied, and with the help of Russian airstrikes, scored some impressive gains against various rebel forces.
The most important of the rebel forces are the al-Nusra Front, a franchise of al-Qa’ida, and the Islamic State which has established a “caliphate” in Raqqa. The US position has been that Assad has carried out atrocities against his people and must leave. At the same time, the US wants to see a transitional administration. Since 2014, the US had conducted airstrikes on Islamic State.
The rebel groups are also supported by Turkey, which has been a conduit for arms and fighters for rebel groups, as well as Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Tensions between these two groups have played out against the background of the Syrian conflict. Turkey and Russia, which used to be close allies, fell out over Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane along its border last year, described by Russian President Vladimir Putin as “a stab in the back.”
The two countries moved toward reconciliation this week, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Moscow this week, his first since an attempted coup last month. The two leaders were all smiles at the visit.
“The region has expectations of us politically. I believe that our solidarity will help toward the resolution of regional problems,” Erdogan said.
One regional power staying out of the conflict is Israel, which has made it clear it has no intention of getting involved. Israel has treated hundreds of wounded Syrians, many of them from various rebel groups, but has not gotten involved in the fighting.
Cynically, some Israelis say that as long as there is inter-Arab fighting, these groups will be too busy to attack the Jewish state. Boms says that there is also fear that the war could spill over.
“This type of war is not good for Israel,” he said. “You don’t want to live in area where there are constant wars.”