Syria ignored

July 24, 2014 - 8:05:58 am

As war rages in Gaza, the world is turning a blind eye to the Syrian conflict.

It seems the global media can handle only a single conflict. As fighting rages in Gaza, with Israel continuing to rain bombs on innocent Palestinian women and children, another conflict in the region, equally disastrous in the human toll it’s taking, is being relegated to the background – in Syria. In the last week, more than 700 fatalities have been reported in a single battle in Syria, as government troops tried to retake a gas field seized by the Islamic State, an Al Qaeda entity that now controls much of eastern Syria and western Iraq. Fighting is also raging virulently between government troops and the moderate rebel forces in the city of Aleppo and between the rebels and the Islamists in the suburbs of Damascus. The fighting is continuing and even a bigger toll is unlikely to push it to the front pages as the crisis in Gaza deepens with efforts for a ceasefire gathering momentum.

The emergence of ISIS has given a new and dangerous dimension to the conflict in Syria. If most of the world doesn’t want to see President Bashar Al Assad in power, they are also equally apprehensive of the gains made by ISIS, forcing them to choose between the two. US Secretary of State Barack Obama is in the region to negotiate a ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians. There is no denying the fact that a ceasefire is indeed urgent, but after a truce is achieved, which is likely in a few days as Kerry himself has said, he has to turn his attention to Syria. The stakes for US are high in Syria and Iraq too. The biggest question now whether the Iraqi state forged after the US invasion can survive, whether the ISIS state will develop and take root and threaten Western interests.

The Obama administration and Europe should do more to address the conflict in Syria. It’s unfortunate that the president, who has devoted a large part of his schedule in recent weeks to political fundraising, doesn’t talk about Syria. There are signs that the crisis will drag longer than expected and even the promised US support to Syrian opposition is not materialising. The sole initiative announced by Washington on Syria since the collapse of a peace conference last winter is foundering. According to reports, a promised $500m effort to arm and train moderate rebels has emerged from the Pentagon as a miserably underpowered scheme that would produce a force of just 2,300 over 18 months — and might not begin until next year. By that time, the fighting in Syria would have taken a different course, thus defeating the very purpose of the programme.