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Syria is being destroyed before our eyes – UN peace envoy Brahimi

Published time: January 29, 2013 21:08
Edited time: January 30, 2013 12:40

International peace envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.(AFP Photo / Fabrice Coffrini)

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The UN must unite to prevent Syria’s destruction, UN-Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has warned. He made his statement hours after dozens of bodies of executed men were found in Aleppo in an area previously controlled by opposition groups.

­Special envoy Brahimi urged the UN Security Council to act immediately, and to “clarify” the implementation of the Geneva Communiqué on Syria, as he believes the agreement is no longer plausible. Syria is “breaking up before everyone's eyes,” Brahimi said, adding that only actions by the Security Council can improve conditions on the ground.

UN member-states must unite to push the Syrian government and the opposition to the negotiating table to seek a compromise, Brahimi said.

The Geneva Communiqué, which aimed to put an end to the Syrian conflict, can no longer be implemented due to “ambiguities” in the text, including the role of the Assad regime in a transitional government, Brahimi told the UN Security Council.

“I’m now calling on the Security Council to take action because the Geneva declaration that contains indeed a lot of elements that would provide for a reasonable solution to the conflict cannot be implemented as it is,” Brahimi told reporters after the UN session.

The Geneva Communiqué signed on June 30 – particularly the article that calls for the creation of a transitional Syrian government with full executive powers – should be “clarified” to say that the new body should share power within the country, he said.

According to notes leaked from the closed-door briefing, Brahimi told the Security Council it was clear that “Assad should have no role in transition” as his “legitimacy has been irreparably damaged,” KUNA news agency reported.

Brahimi also warned of wider consequences for the region: “Syria is becoming a playground for competing forces. None of its neighbors are immune to the fallout from the conflict."

Brahmi’s remarks came after a video was published on the Internet that reportedly showed the bodies of at least 65 executed men in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

The bodies, which were mostly men in their 20s or younger, were found on the banks of the Queig River in Aleppo’s rebel-held Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood. Each of them men had their hands tied and a gunshot wound to the head, and were laid out in a row with pools of blood under them.

Opposition groups based in Aleppo told Reuters the young men had been killed by members of a pro-Assad militia and then dumped into the river. The Syrian opposition, which published the video, claimed the bodies had floated down the river into the rebel-held area.

Screenshot from video
Screenshot from video

Washington pushes to unite rebels

The UN Security Council meeting comes after a US supported push to unify rebel groups, encouraging the country’s opposition to form military councils in each of Syria’s 14 provinces.

Representatives of various groups took Washington’s advice to form the councils, and elected a 30-member Supreme Military Council last December.

The groups were intended to serve as a central opposition force which would receive arms and other support from Washington – and break away from groups that favor a government based on Islamic law, such as the al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front.

But despite western efforts, the council groups have so far failed to become the country’s leading opposition force.

Syrian activists say the plan has backfired and the councils have become virtually obsolete – because other groups like Nusra have taken on the role of coordinating the opposition.

“I do not hear much about the military councils,” military analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Jeff White, told McClatchy Newspapers. “I also do not see any indication the Supreme Military Council or regional commands are doing anything.”

Members of the military councils are blaming the US and its allies for failing to provide aid, claiming Washington’s big talk failed to be met with any action.

“They had this plan, but no one received any support,” said Mahmoud, a Syrian-American who has set up a small rebel training camp in northern Syria, who told McClatchy Newspapers. Mahmoud relies solely on support from individual donors.

But unsurprisingly, Washington is singing an entirely different tune.

“I think we’ve seen Assad’s grip on power in Syria continue to lessen. We continue to take steps with our partners to provide both humanitarian aid and non-lethal assistance to the opposition and to work with our partners to help bring about a post-Assad Syria that reflects the will of the Syrian people,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

Sending aid…to whom?

As councils blame their failure on the US, the frustration is mutual. Washington is growing annoyed with the fact that the opposition isn’t organized enough to receive and distribute assistance. 

“We said to the [opposition] coalition, ‘Great. Here it is, what are you going to do with it? We have the stuff, who is it going to go to? . . . Where’s your depot? Where’s your guy?” a US administration official told the Washington Post, as he described the State Department’s frustration.

However, that hasn’t stopped the US from sending additional aid.

President Barack Obama has announced that Washington will provide $155 million in new humanitarian assistance to Syrians.

“For nearly two years, the Assad regime has waged a brutal war against the Syrian people — murdering innocent men, women and children in their homes, in bread lines and at universities,” Obama said in a video statement announcing the aid.

He said the assistance would go for clothing and blankets to protect from the winter, and medicine and food.

But despite the pledge to help, the reality on the ground shows that only a portion of the funds make it to the intended target.

“We have to realize that these figures, when they are thrown at us, do not mean that this money is arriving in Syria,” Sabah Al-Mukhtar, president of the Arab Lawyers Association told RT, adding that “probably less than half will arrive in Syria because the other half will be consumed by the donating nation.”

The aid comes as US aid and refugee officials visit Turkey and the camps for uprooted Syrians. The officials will head to Jordan on Saturday.

The US has already sent more than $200 million in aid to Syria since the uprising began in March 2011.

Helping or hindering?

While the west pledges support for those backing the revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad, many say the opposition is actually guilty of its own atrocities – and should not be supported by western governments.

Last Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the opposition’s desire to overthrow Assad an “obsession.” He said as long as the demand is in place, fighting will continue and “people will die.” 

That demand, for Assad to depart, continues to be supported by the US and its western allies – and the fighting shows no signs of letting up.

The opposition has reportedly instigated its own violence on a number of occasions.

“The rebel forces have been trained to oust the existing government of Syria and their training has been that of massacring the civilian population and attacking all possible sides,” Editor-in-Chief of Strat-EU magazine told RT.

Earlier Tuesday, al-Nusra claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing which reportedly killed dozens of Assad’s loyalists last week.

And it seems the violence won’t be ending anytime soon – because many opposition members believe more weapons are the key to ending the Syrian crisis – not negotiations.

“Who can cooperate with a man who has killed more than 60,000 people?” Syrian National Opposition Coalition Vice President George Sabra told RT. 

Earlier in January, Assad outlined his vision for a solution to the 22-month conflict including a cease-fire, dialogue, and the creation of a broad-based new government. The proposal was rejected by the opposition, who believes Assad’s departure to be a prerequisite to ending the conflict.

“[The opposition] is putting civilians in harm’s way by launching attacks from crowded urban communities,” author and historian Gerald Horne told RT.

But Horne says the conflict will likely continue with no end in sight, unless the opposition suddenly agrees to talks.

“The way wars end is that you negotiate with those who are shooting at you and that’s how this war should end. But if they refuse to negotiate, that tends to suggest that this conflict will continue indefinitely,” he said.

Horne says western countries’ willingness to continue support for the opposition shows they have not learned from past mistakes.

“What’s disconcerting and disappointing is that the North Atlantic countries have not learned the lessons of Libya…those countries turned the tables on Gaddafi and lined-up with the so-called terrorists to topple him. Now they’re seeking to do the same thing in Syria, which suggests they have not learnt even the most recent lessons of history,” he said.

Many have accused the opposition of hindering peace in the war-torn country. 

According to UN figures, more than 60,000 people have been killed since the Syrian crisis began nearly two years ago.