Syria's darkest decade

Children have suffered the most from the ravages of war, and many of them only know this harsh reality
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PHOTO/AP  -   Residents walk through the destruction of the formerly rebel-held Salaheddine neighbourhood in eastern Aleppo, Syria

"For 10 years, the world has watched Syria spiral into destruction and bloodshed." "In that time, Syrians have endured some of the greatest crimes the world has witnessed this century. The perpetrators must be held accountable if there is to be sustainable peace in Syria," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, referring to a civil war that is now in its tenth year, since the first peaceful uprisings against the regime in the southern Syrian city of Daara.

Syria, a conflict that seemed to have been forgotten, has once again made the headlines in the international section as it enters its tenth year of war. But this only reminds us that despite a decade having passed, it has been impossible to reach a solution to the conflict and the civilian population continues to pay the consequences of both political and diplomatic incompetence. The numbers left behind by this conflict are heartbreaking. According to the United Nations (UN), the Syrian civil war has driven 5.6 million people into exile, the highest number since the Second World War. 

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AFP/AFP - Syrian refugees registered by UNHCR in neighbouring countries, Europe and elsewhere

Children have also been the population that has suffered the most from the ravages of war, and many of them only know this harsh reality. According to data collected by UNICEF, more than 900 have been killed or injured in the conflict and nearly 5,000 were forcibly recruited to fight. "The context in Syria is one of the most complex in the world. Violence and conflict are unfortunately still active in several parts of the country, including the north-west, with serious consequences for children," explains Ted Chaiban, UNICEF's Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Ten years later, the reality in Syria is desperate, the population is no longer dying from bombings or the use of chemical weapons, but from hunger. The Syrian pound has fallen to historic lows, losing almost 99% of its value, a fact that worsens the prospects for a country with an economy devastated by war. The NGO Action Against Hunger (ACH) warns that 13.4 million people, three out of four Syrians, are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

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AFP/ AAREF WATAD - A Syrian boy stands on a pile of neutralised shells at a metal scrapyard on the outskirts of the town of Maaret Misrin in the northwestern province of Idlib

Sanctions imposed by the West have only aggravated this pressing economic crisis that directly affects the poorest of the poor, while Syria's top leaders remain oblivious to this reality and continue to amass their fortunes. Fuel is scarce in a country with oil deposits but controlled by US-backed Kurdish militias, and the price of subsidised bread has risen sixfold in the last decade.

"The Syrian people, who have long become refugees, have been condemned to 10 years of unbearable suffering." "It is time for the parties to the conflict to come together in a negotiated political settlement, supported by the UN and the international community, and end the war," Guterres said, expressing his desire to put this dark decade behind them. Far from it, the conflict does not seem to be nearing an end. 

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PHOTO/REUTERS - A man holds a baby saved from under the rubble, who survived what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Masaken Hanano in Aleppo, Syria

Bashar al-Assad himself went so far as to say that he would "burn the country before being overthrown". And unlike other Arab countries such as Tunisia, Egypt or Libya, which managed to put an end to the authoritarian regime, Syria is the exception, where the figure of the dictator has been strengthened as the only alternative to stability and terrorism. In addition to having first-rate allies such as Iran and Russia, the two great assets of the Assad regime.

It was precisely Russia's support in 2015 that caused a 180-degree turn in the future of the conflict, at a time when the rebels were on the verge of taking Damascus. Air support by Russian fighters prevented the capture of the capital and allowed the Syrian Regular Army to recover 70% of the country's territory, when in 2014 it could barely maintain control over 45%.

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PHOTO/REUTERS - Destroyed buildings are seen on a deserted street in Homs, Syria

Faced with a poorly organised opposition with little political weight, the eternal president Bashar al-Assad has called for elections next April, where thousands of Syrians are called to the polls. There does not seem to be a paradigm shift in Syrian politics, where these elections have already been labelled "illegitimate" by opposition activists.

When it comes down to it, it is impossible to conceive of an end to a contest where so many actors are involved. Syria has become a chessboard where different powers are dividing up areas of power and control in a country that is still very divided. Most of the country is under regime control, but there are still several rebel strongholds in northern Syria, supported by Turkey. Another large area of the country is controlled by Kurdish militias, while the province of Idlib is still ruled by the jihadist HTS organisation.

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AFP/ OMAR HAJ KADOUR - Abu Anas, a 26-year-old Syrian reportedly blinded after government shelling, poses for a photo in the rebel-held northwestern city of Idlib on March 10, 2021, as a photograph of him from ten years earlier, when he was 16

"Syria today is a living nightmare", is how blunt the UN Secretary General is when describing the reality of the Arab country ten years on and which the world only seems to remember on dates as important as this one. Peace can never come to a country like Syria without accountability from all the actors involved in the conflict.

The war in Syria has revealed the brutality of "all against all", where civilians have been indiscriminately bombed, tortured, kidnapped, cities encircled to the point of starvation, humanitarian aid has been prevented from entering, and all those who have committed these crimes against humanity continue to go unpunished. Syria will not be able to heal its wounds until the international community faces up to its role and pays and makes people pay for ten years of suffering.