Friday, March 15, 2013

Complications, not solutions, push Syrian crisis into third year

As the Syrian crisis literally enters its third year on Friday, the salient feature of the current situation on ground is a combination of political and military stalemate, economic squeeze and social problems with no concrete solutions in sight. For many Syrians, the crisis is getting deeper and may move toward fragmentation. While some draw an even dimmer picture, saying Syria is more likely descending into the abyss akin to what had happened in Lebanon during its 15-year-old civil war in the 1980s.
Politically, neither side of the conflict is willing to show leniency. Instead, they stick to their respective conditions for any political solution. The Syrian government has called for an unconditional national dialogue, and refused the opposition's demand that dialogue would start only after the departure of President Bashar al-Assad. Over the past two years, dozens of meetings have been held in regional and European countries under the sponsorship of big powers to work out a palatable formula to end the crisis. But practically, none of them has achieved any breakthrough. Most recently, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the European Union (EU) had lately worked on the idea to prepare a list with the names of Syrian officials who are acceptable by the National Syrian Coalition to start dialogue with. However, the spokesman of the coalition, Walid al-Bunni, disdained the idea of talking with Damascus representatives "so long as the dialogue would start after Assad's departure." As their efforts stalled on finding a solution to protect civilians caught in the crossfire of the Syrian conflict, some Western countries are getting to be afraid of extremism that is believed to be on the rise in Syria. Al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra Front has claimed responsibility for dozens of suicide attacks inside Syria that had claimed the lives of numerous innocent civilians, while the infiltration of Jihadists, reportedly hailing from many countries to fight alongside the Syrian rebels, only put people's nerves on edge. France and the United States have intensified efforts to cooperate with Russia to achieve a political solution to the Syrian crisis on the basis of the Geneva Conference that calls for a transitional government and an immediate cessation of violence. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said recently that what America and the world want is a cessation of killing in Syria, calling on Damascus and the opposition to sit around a negotiation table to "establish a transitional government." Yet, amid the call for peaceful solutions, a stark sign of the West's division can be observed as some keep tarring on arming the rebels to tilt the balance in the fight against Assad's troops. On Thursday, Britain and France said that they would push the EU to lift the arms embargo on Syria so as to be able to provide the rebels with arms.Over the past two years, violent events have left around 70,000 people killed in Syria, according to UN statistics. However, the warmonger rebels, with no plan to rest, got addicted to making hit-and-run guerrilla style attacks on military targets, government institutions as well as daily assaults on residential areas -- some creeping to the heart of Damascus. Their intensified aggressions prompted the army to sometimes respond with strong cracking down operations, which were usually followed by more outrageous acts. The government argues that the country is subject to a conspiracy to disintegrate it and weaken its role in the region that has always been supportive to "resistance" groups like Palestine's Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah. As the military deadlock drags on, Jordan's Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour recently warned of a global catastrophe once the Syrian situation gets loose, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres also alerted the risk of an explosion in the entire region. Pessimistic prospect was also provided by UN special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who feared that the conditions in Syria might become worse than those in Somalia unless a peaceful solution is reached soon. Observers hold that, a bright solution to the crisis will only be harder, given the possibility of EU's lifting the arms embargo to the Syrian opposition groups, despite the rejection of Russia, Syria's main ally, which has clearly said that financing and arming the Syrian opposition would hinder dialogue and further augment violence in the country. According to the London-based al-Hayat newspaper, sources of the Syrian opposition said they are expecting the arrival of " sophisticated weapons" to their fighters inside Syria. Therefore, a surge in the opposition's attacks and counter-attacks by the government will remain the topic of the Syrian conflict, militarily.
The political crisis has had a devastating influence on Syria's sluggish economy, sharply depreciating its currency that has lost more than 50 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar and sending the prices of foodstuff and all other items to soar. The crisis has also upped inflation whose annual average has officially reached 48 percent, and devoured most of the country's foreign reserves of 18 billion dollars, as unofficial reports say that the reserve had shrunk and stands now at two billion dollars. Moreover, the harsh economic sanctions the EU has slapped Syria with, including an embargo on purchasing or transporting Syrian oil and prohibiting companies from dealing with Syria or investing in it, have triggered off a choking fuel crunch and forced Syrians to queue for hours in front of fuel stations and gas distribution centers. Recent statistics issued by the Arab Economic Report unveiled that Syria's oil reserve stood at around 2.25 billion barrels by the end of 2011, down by 14.7 percent from that of 2010. The report estimated the losses of the Syrian economy until the end of 2012 at about 48.4 billion dollars, equal to 81.7 percent of the 2010 GDP. The total losses also include a 43-percent damage in the capital stock, in addition to seven percent, which represents an increase in military spending as a result of the crisis. Socially, the crisis has displaced people from hotspots parts of the country and exacerbated poverty. The UN estimated that more than one million Syrians have fled the conflict in their country and sought safe haven as refugees in neighboring countries, while over three million were displaced inside Syria. Guterres warned that the number of Syrian refugees might reach four millions by the end of 2013 unless the conflict is brought to an end. A recent study said about 1.5 million Syrians have lost their jobs due to the crisis, adding that jobless rate had broken the record and reached 34.9 percent by the end of 2012, and that most of those who lost their jobs during the crisis were the young.

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