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Exclusive - No One Will Intervene to Save Ghouta

Exclusive - No One Will Intervene to Save Ghouta

Tuesday, 27 February, 2018 - 12:15
Robert Ford
Robert Ford is a former US ambassador to Syria and Algeria and a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute for Near East Policy in Washington

Unless you have been sleeping for the last seven years, you could not be surprised that the Syrian regime forces violated the Eastern Ghouta ceasefire declared in United Nations Security Resolution 2401. If you were sleeping for the past seven years, resolution 2401 has a beautiful list of 17 other United Nations resolutions that concern Syria, without any Russian veto, that call for ceasefires, political solutions, rapid delivery of humanitarian aid and respect for hospitals and humanitarian aid workers.

I was surprised to see the list of 17 resolutions. I didn’t know there were so many that passed without Russian and Chinese vetoes. Maybe the Russian diplomats got tired of raising their arms vetoing all the other Syria draft resolutions? What was the result of the Russian diplomats resting their arms and allowing 17 resolutions about Syria to receive approval of the Security Council?

The Syrian regime violated them all. It ignored demands for ceasefires, it continues to use chemical weapons, as the United Nations expert team reported, it besieges opposition-controlled areas and towns like the Eastern Ghouta and Rastan, and it targets aid workers, as its vicious denunciations of the White Helmets shows.

To be frank, sometimes armed opposition elements also violated some of the resolutions, such as blocking delivering of humanitarian aid to Fua and Kefraya and shelling civilian neighborhoods in cities like Damascus and West Aleppo. There is no possible justification for these actions, and they have hugely hurt the honor and credibility of the opposition. However, to be frank again, the scale of Syrian regime violations has always been much worse than the scale of the violations committed by the armed opposition.

After these 17 resolutions you might wonder why there is no punishment for the violations. There is a legal answer and a political answer. The legal answer is simple. The Russian diplomats might have been resting their arms and allowing the 17 resolutions to pass, but they didn’t allow any mention in any of the 17 resolutions about imposing penalties from Chapter 7 of the United Nations charter for violations. A strict interpretation of international law means that, for example, other countries legally can’t use force against the Syrian regime for blocking humanitarian aid or even using chemical weapons. Legal experts in the United States, for example, said that the Trump administration violated international law when it struck a Syrian airbase in 2017 after the Syrian regime used sarin gas again in violation of resolutions 2118 and 2209 that forbid use of chemical weapons. There was no permission in 2118 and 2209 to use force as Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter allows. If you insist on total adherence to international law, you can become angry about Syrian regime violations, but legally you cannot retaliate with force or a blockade or even international sanctions.

Of course, more than just international law, there is politics in the Syrian conflict. And it is time to be frank again. The United Nations cannot fix the politics because it reflects the world’s politics. You can’t blame a mirror for showing that you are fat. The political fact is that Russia and China want the Bashar Assad and his regime to survive. They do not want a change in the Syrian regime because they think that whatever comes after Assad would be worse than the current Syrian regime. They do not want to weaken the Syrian regime – their goal is to strengthen it. Therefore, they will never allow the United Nations to put real pressure on the Assad regime. Never.

And Russia and Iran may not agree on everything in Syria, but they agree that Assad and his regime must survive, that foreign states should never intervene to support popular protest movements trying to overthrow dictatorships. Russia will not put pressure on Iran or Syria when Damascus and Tehran takes actions that they think are vital to the survival of the Syrian state. And in addition to that, the United States and the West will not fight a war with Russia about the fate of the Syrian regime.

So, I have a message for the Jaysh al-Islam and the Faylaq Rahman in Eastern Ghouta. I will receive a lot of criticism, but I accept that. No one is without blame in the Syrian tragedy. My message is: the world, the United Nations, the West and the Arab World will not rescue Eastern Ghouta. They didn’t save Homs and they didn’t save East Aleppo. The 18th and 19th and 20th resolutions from the United Nations will not rescue you. In Homs and East Aleppo after many thousands of civilians died, finally, the Syrian regime recaptured the two cities, and the fighters and their families left. Sooner or later that will happen in Eastern Ghouta. If your strategy is to follow the strategy of Homs and Eastern Aleppo, as you wait and hope for a miracle from outside, then for the sake of the thousands of civilians in the area you control, please reconsider and think about alternative steps. Don’t do it for yourselves – I know you are brave. Do it for sake of the lives of the tens of thousands of civilians surrounded and trapped with you. Do it to honor the revolution whose goal was respect for the rights of all Syrian citizens to life and dignity and hope in the future.

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