There are not too many governments in our time that massacres its own people just to stay in power. Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is one such criminal government – outside those of Myanmar and China – that has not learned to alter its hideous means that have served it quite well to hang on to power by hook or crook. To add to its already long list of crimes against the Sunni majority, Bashar al-Assad’s murderous sectarian (Nusayri) regime has dropped barrel bombs on Saturday in the northern city of al-Bab in the province of Aleppo, killing some 72 civilians. These bombs were dropped in the busy market from government helicopters.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which gathers information through a network of activists in Syria, called it one of the worst massacres perpetrated by the government so far this year. Activists report barrel bombs being dropped from government helicopters every day in different parts of the country. They consist of steel drums packed with explosives and shrapnel – and sometimes with chlorine also added, according to many reports. As reported and verified by multiple observers, these barrel bombs are dropped randomly to terrorize ordinary citizens and often cause massive damage and indiscriminate casualties in areas where these are dropped. The UN says in some instances, civilian gatherings have been deliberately targeted by the Assad regime, constituting massacres.
Meanwhile, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) is reported to have blown up Tadmur prison near the ancient city of Palmyra – which fell to the militants earlier this month. The prison was for decades a symbol of state oppression in Syria. It had held thousands of political prisoners, who faced years of torture and disease in its cells. Many were executed by the Assad regime.
According to human rights group, SOHR, in the last 15 months (Jan. ’14 – March ’15) alone some 3,124 civilians were killed as a result of barrel bombs. Three schools were hit, 17 hospitals were damaged and 23 mosques were damaged or fully destroyed by such bombings.
In February 2015, Human Rights Watch group accused the Assad regime of dropping barrel bombs on hundreds of sites in 2014, violating a UN Security resolution. The regime also continues to use toxic chemicals – e.g., chlorine and ammonia – against rebel-held territories in the north killing civilians.
As I have noted earlier, had the UNSC and the powerful western states were serious about toppling the Assad regime, they could have provided the necessary material support to the rebels shortening his rein in power. Instead, they found every possible excuse not to do so, which only let the rebel movement to be hijacked by more radical elements, e.g., the ISIS. And then, as it became quite evident, the western interest lay in defeating or weakening the ISIS, which in turn has meant strengthening the grip of the murderous Assad regime. As of March of this year, some 1093 and 1431 air strikes were directed against the ISIS positions inside Syria, and Iraq. “The disappointment caused by the West’s inaction created a fertile recruiting ground for extremists, who told those who had lost their loved ones that they were their only hope,” says a civil society activist when interviewed by the BBC.
Further complicating the issue, the regional powers are not sitting idle either. Iranian government and the Hijbullah of Lebanon, regrettably, have joined on the side of the Assad regime, while most Arab countries in the region are opposed to it. Thus, a popular civil unrest and revolution has now been transformed into a sectarian fight where the criminal Assad regime sees it as a life or death test for its minority but all-powerful Nusayri sect.
In the midst of this chaos, it is the ordinary civilians who are paying the toll. Caught in the middle, they are getting killed like cattle brought to the slaughter house! By March of this year, more than 220,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. More than 11 million others – almost half the total population of Syria – have been forced out from their homes. Overall, an estimated 12.2 million are in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria, including 5.6 million children, the UN says. A report published by the UN in March 2015 estimated the total economic loss since the start of the conflict was $202bn and that four in every five Syrians were now living in poverty – 30% of them in abject poverty. Syria’s education, health and social welfare systems are also in a state of collapse.
More than a year ago, I got a distressing call from an old Syrian friend of mine who told me how more than a dozen members of his immediate family were killed by the Assad regime. He was naturally very sad and went back home to find out the conditions of his relatives. He was originally from Aleppo – the very place which has been barrel bombed lately by the criminal Assad regime. I don’t know whether he or any of his family members are alive today. I have not heard from him ever since. I could only pray and hope that he and his family members are okay.
The criminal regime of Bashar al-Assad needs to be brought down to save the Syrian people from the wretched crisis they face today. The UNSC can facilitate that outcome by stopping Assad’s airplanes and helicopters from flying. But will it do such or let the massacre of ordinary Syrians to continue?