Does The US Now Negotiate With Killers?

The Syrian catastrophe has now passed the 1000-day mark. The international community has spent the entire one thousand days in varying states of confusion about how the “Syria situation” should be managed. Should Assad stay or should he go? While the US and most EU countries repeat, “Assad’s behavior is abhorrent and he must step-down,” they have not been able to do anything to force that move. In fact, Assad is good friends with the Russians, Chinese and Iran.

Russia and China have been able to effectively block any effort in the UN Security Council that would hurt their friend Assad. Additionally, Russia has been a continual source of weapons for Syria and Iran has been feeding the Regime with foreign fighters. This continual and what seems like unlimited source of weapons and fighters, has given the Syrian Regime an artificial advantage. The Free Syrian Army has been underfunded and poorly armed.

What Does This Mean For Syrians?

syrian boy unhcr delivery
A young Syrian boy tries to get warm after a UNHCR delivery of blankets, coats and boots.

As the war drags on, many Syrians have found themselves running for their lives to surrounding countries to take up refugee status. Most refugees are in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon; and smaller but notable number of refugees are in Egypt, Libya and Bulgaria. According to the UNHCR, a total of 2,239,275 million Syrians are now living as refugees. Currently the UN has a $936,089,858 gap in their funding to serve the refugees.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (ICMC) which is part of the Norwegian Refugee Council states “Syria is in an internal displacement crisis.” According to IDMC’s Syria analyst Guiillaume Charoon, “for hundreds of thousands of men, women and children being forced from their homes and livelihoods by the current violence the resulting hunger and dehydration is much of a threat as the bombs and the bullets.”

While the International community continues to wrestle with the idea of “negotiating with Assad or forcing him out,” this week, the people of Syria are faced with a new battle … winter has hit with a vengeance. Amin Awar, the Syrian Refugee Response Coordinator for the UN High Commissioner for UNHCR has reported, “Meteorologist are saying this winter is forecast to be one of the harshest in 100 years.”

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports they are working hard to meet the “immense needs” of desperate communities, “including across lines in conflict zones and in neighboring countries.” “Winterization kits” have been distributed in Syria and surrounding countries; however, the UN is struggling to meet needs. Insulation for tents, plastic sheeting and materials for water-proofing are among the items being distributed, and cash-for-fuel schemes have also been implemented.

UNHCR is ahead of schedule in many areas, on schedule in some areas, and behind schedule in areas where it does not have access. While UNHCR now has more access than ever before within Syria, sometimes getting authorization isn’t enough. What is also needed is safe passage due to fighting in the area, or other security issues, and safe passage is not provided.

Delivering Aid Is A Major Negotiation

UNHCR staff have been shot at, harassed at checkpoints, have experienced checkpoints moving during their in and out mission, or a change in personnel controlling certain posts that weren’t familiar with their authorization causing serious issues. Every delivery is a major negotiation every step of the way. They depend on the Syrian government, and on their “collective goodwill, political goodwill, and orientation of any armed groups controlling diverse areas in Syria today.”

Mr. Edwards reported that UNHCR has reached all of Syria’s 14 governorates and has participated in more than 40 cross-line missions into conflict zones. More than 35% of UNHCR assistance has been provided to displaced persons in hard-to-reach or “hot spot” areas. The UN has said, “The price tag for the winterization program is $195 million, of which $77 million would be earmarked for inside Syria.”

Recent supply efforts have been focused on helping civilian populations in Aleppo and Rural Damascus, the two governorates hosting the majority of displaced people. Aid had also been delivered to the Idlib province, which was one of the most difficult areas to reach, and Hama province, where security previously prevented UNHCR from delivering any assistance between May and the end of November.

winter in syria 2013
As winter starts early in Syria, everything in Idlib is covered in a thickening layer of cold white snow.

Syrian Media Activist Khaled Mershal from Idlib has confirmed that his area received some food and plastic shelter material from the UNHCR. While every little bit helps there is still a desperate need for warm coats and boots for the children, baby formula, tents and blankets, and medicines. Hopefully, UNHCR will find additional means to deliver aid to Idlib.

The Assad government has been clearly motivated to block the delivery of humanitarian aid to many areas of Syria including Damascus. Syria Activists report that several children in Damascus have died this week from the severe cold weather. Additionally, recent massacres in Qalamoun regions and in Adra have been very troubling among other violence throughout Assad-controlled areas of Syria.

The US State Department released a statement on December 12th condemning the most recent massacres of Syrian civilians in the Qalamoun region, Adra and elsewhere. Scores of civilians, many of them children, have again fallen victim to brutal violence, including reports of invasive house raids, kidnappings, and extrajudicial killings.

The State Department spokesperson said, “This violence is a stark reminder that civilians bear the greatest sacrifice in their fight for a free Syria. Direct attacks on civilians not taking part in hostilities breach the most basic principles of dignity and freedom from oppression that have characterized the Syrian people’s struggle. It is particularly troubling to us that these atrocities have been committed in many areas where the regime has denied humanitarian access to suffering Syrians. The severe winter storm and cold conditions are only adding to the hardships faced by those in need. We reiterate our calls for the Syrian Government and other parties to the conflict to facilitate humanitarian access to all those in need and to work to end the needless suffering of the Syrian people.”

Hardline Extremist Group Steals US Supplies

According to PJ Crowley on Aljezzera America, there was a breach of the “chain of custody” of US non-lethal supplies stored in a warehouse by a hardline extremist group which is quite worrisome. The US also made a commitment to communicate with the Free Syria Army’s (FSA) General Idris to determine how supplies could be re-established “with certainty that the equipment will not end up in the wrong hands.”

Geneva 2 will take place in late January. This conference is being organized to begin the negotiation of some semblance of peace in Syria. It is expected that at minimum Syria “opposition,” FSA and split factions (not including al-Quaeda groups), Kurdish Democratic Party and Kurdish National Party, the US, Russia, and the Syrian regime will be included in negotiations.

Many people are asking why the US is even considering negotiating with killers.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, who is also the special presidential envoy for the Middle East, speaking about the Geneva2 negotiations, said “There is no alternative to stopping the armed hostilities in Syria, and those who disagree with this need to be influenced.”

Although the regime will be included in the negotiations, it will not be Assad, but the Syrian Foreign Minister sitting at the table, with other Foreign Ministers.

Kimberly Jones is a global nomad with a special interest in the Middle East and North Africa. She grew up in Saudi Arabia and traveled throughout the MENA growing deeply attached to the people and the culture.