A fire tender amid heavily damaged buildings in the eastern Syrian town of Deir Ezzor, yesterday.
WASHINGTON: The chaos in Syria will only get worse and destabilise the entire region if the global community fails to act, key figures of the war-torn country’s opposition said yesterday.
Only Washington can deter Bashar Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons and so the US Congress should give the White House the go-ahead to target the strongman, they added.
Ahmad Al Jarba, president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, and Salim Idriss, chief of the rebel Free Syrian Army, wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post.
The pair warned that “international apathy and indecision convinces Assad that he is invincible and emboldens him to unleash barbaric horrors on a defenseless population.”
And if his actions are left unchecked, the situation is likely to get even worse, they said.
“For all its horror, the situation today is minor compared with what could still happen if Assad is not deterred or held accountable for his crimes,” they wrote.
Declaring the two-and-a-half-year conflict an “unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe,” they cautioned that despair would breed radicalism.
The longer Assad is allowed to remain “out of control,” the more extremists will take advantage of the situation and “the less stable the entire region will become.”
“So far, global inaction and (Assad’s) allies’ protective actions have granted him impunity to terrorise his nation and the region,” they wrote.
“Dithering by the world’s most powerful states empowers not only the vicious Assad regime but also the extremist agenda of the Al-Qaeda-style terrorists seeping into Syria from the east.”
“They are fighting not only Assad but, more important, also those who oppose Assad.”
Turning to Congress, the two urged US lawmakers to allow President Barack Obama to take action, saying millions of lives and the safety of the region are at stake.
“Please authorise President Obama to act against Assad and to stop him in his deadly tracks,” they wrote.
“With the death toll well past 100,000, our struggle to liberate our country from this murderous regime and to protect our people continues, but only the United States can deter Assad from using his chemical weapons again.”
Syrian warplanes bombed rebel suburbs of Damascus for the first time in three weeks yesterday, in an offensive that opposition activists said showed Assad no longer feared attack by the United States.
Not seen in action around the capital since before August 21, when hundreds of people were killed in a poison gas attack that Western powers blame on Assad, government jets mounted attacks on three areas, some in support of assaults on the ground.
Some of the heaviest fighting was in Barzeh, just north of central Damascus, where residents and opposition activists said air strikes and tank fire supported thrusts by pro-Assad militia.
The Syrian state news agency said troops “inflicted casualties on terrorists” in Barzeh and neighbouring Qaboun.
Opposition activist Salah Mohammad said jets had staged three air raids on Barzeh on Tuesday while tanks on the heights of Qasioun mountain and in the government-held city centre shelled the area in support of attacks by shabbiha militiamen pushing in to Barzeh from Ish Al Warwar, a district dominated by Assad’s minority Alawite sect.
“The fighting is heavy on that front,” Mohammed said. “The streets are narrow and tanks cannot be deployed.”
To the southwest, some 15km from the centre of the capital, aircraft also struck Mouadamiya, one of the places where people were killed by poison gas in an incident for which the government has blamed rebel forces.
Rebel fighters announced yesterday their withdrawal from the historic Christian town of Maalula, two days after they took control of it.
“To ensure no blood is spilt and that the properties of the people of Maalula are kept safe, the Free Syrian Army announces that the town of Maalula will be kept out of the struggle between the FSA and the regime army,” a rebel spokesman said in a video posted online.
The spokesman for the Qalamun Liberation Front, which groups together a collection of anti-regime forces in the Qalamun area near Damascus, also said the withdrawal was “conditional”.
“The army and its shabiha (militias) must not enter into the town,” said the spokesman, whose name was not given in the video.
Amid fighting in the ancient town, jihadists who overran it last week forced at least one person to convert to Islam at gunpoint and executed another one, residents said yesterday.
“They arrived in our town at dawn on Wednesday and shouted ‘We are from the Al Nusra Front and have come to make lives miserable for the Crusaders,” an Islamist term for Christians, said a still frightened woman who identified herself as Marie.
She spoke in Damascus, where she was attending the burial with hundreds of others of three Christians from Maalula killed in last week’s fighting, the long line of mourners led by a brass band playing dirges.
“Maalula is the wound of Christ,” mourners chanted as they marched through the narrow streets of the capital’s ancient Christian quarter, their voices nearly drowned out by the rattle of automatic gunfire in honour of the dead.