‘Abandoned by the World’ Citizens of Northwest Syria. Assad Regime and Russia’s Atrocities “Deepen the Tragedy” | FRIDAY DIGITAL

‘Abandoned by the World’ Citizens of Northwest Syria. Assad Regime and Russia’s Atrocities “Deepen the Tragedy”

The reality of Syria, where "even the United Nations is not functioning" - Military Journalist Fumitaro Kuroi

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Aid still fails to reach Syria’s earthquake-devastated “rebel areas” A boy is helpless in front of debris in Idlib province on April 14. The tragedy is being compounded by the Assad regime… Photo: Reuters/Afro

The massive earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria on February 6 caused extensive damage, and by February 15, more than 41,000 people had been confirmed dead, including 35,000 on the Turkish side and at least 6,000 on the Syrian side. The number of victims is expected to rise further in the search for survivors.

Syrian Affected Areas Not Receiving Assistance

The two areas in Syria are the rebel-held areas in the northwest (e.g., Idlib province) and the Assad regime-held areas (e.g., Aleppo province in the north and Latakia province in the west), which are completely divided politically. As far as we know, about three-quarters of the casualties are in the rebel areas and one-quarter in the Assad regime areas. Unfortunately, the number of victims in the rebel areas is expected to be even larger, as the search for victims in the rebel areas is not progressing well.

And in the rebel areas, the search is not progressing, and at the same time, there is little support from the international community. The difference is stark compared to Turkey, where assistance from the international community arrived one after another shortly after the earthquake. The rebel areas in northwestern Syria have truly been “abandoned by the world.

The following is an explanation of the support situation in such “abandoned” “rebel areas” in northwestern Syria.

After the earthquake, “Doctors Without Borders” and several NGOs provided a certain amount of support, but the key support from the United Nations was slow to arrive. It was not until February 9, three days after the disaster, that UN vehicles finally arrived. Only a few vehicles, and they were not carrying rescue equipment or staff, but only the daily relief supplies that had been scheduled before the disaster. Dozens of vehicles entered the area the following day and beyond, but again, no rescue or emergency life-saving materials or staff support was provided.

The northwestern part of Syria is militarily controlled by armed rebel groups, but there is no unified governing function and no administrative structure. It is extremely fragile, with the role of neighborhood associations barely being fulfilled by volunteer self-governing groups in each municipality. The residents, including internally displaced persons, depend on international assistance from the United Nations and other organizations for much of their livelihood.

The White Helmets, with “the most experience in the world,” are making a desperate rescue effort.

The White Helmets (Syrian Civil Defense), a local civilian organization, was solely responsible for rescuing victims from collapsed buildings. They are a voluntary group that has been rescuing residents buried alive by the ongoing indiscriminate airstrikes by the Assad regime and Russian forces, and have been active since 2014, making them the most experienced in the world. However, there are still not enough of them to deal with such a massive earthquake over such a wide area. Both the necessary heavy equipment and fuel were in short supply, and calls were made to the United Nations for emergency assistance, which never arrived.

On the 13th, a representative of the White Helmets issued a harsh criticism of the UN, and the UN’s head of humanitarian operations (Under-Secretary-General) admitted fault and issued an apology.

The lack of UN assistance is partly due to the fact that, first of all, the aid route via Turkey was severely damaged by the earthquake, but that is not the only reason. It is that the response has been slow anyway.

The aid route was never secured in the first place.

Behind this lies the special international political situation of the area. Because the rebel areas in northwestern Syria are in conflict with the Assad regime, international aid has traditionally come through Turkey, not through the Assad regime areas. However, the Assad regime does not recognize the rebel-controlled areas, calling them “illegally occupied.

Russia, the backer of the Assad regime, holds the same position, so UN activities are bound by the will of “Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council. Russia has restricted the UN Security Council’s humanitarian assistance program via Turkey and has limited the number of checkpoints to only one. The UN should have immediately taken root as an “emergency situation” and quickly made a plan to take action, but it failed to do so.

The checkpoint issue was addressed on March 13, when the Assad regime agreed with the UN to open two more checkpoints from Turkey leading to rebel areas, and to keep them open for three months only. The Assad regime has appealed to the UN that it has given priority to humanitarian aid in times of emergency, but it was the Assad regime that originally teamed up with Russia to tighten the route via Turkey.

On the side of the Assad regime, Russian rescue teams were rushing to the scene.

This time, Russia quickly dispatched rescue teams to the regime side at the request of the Assad regime. Russia conducted lifesaving operations in the Assad regime area However, no rescue was forthcoming in the northwestern part of the country. Because Russia has tied up the route via Turkey, rescue could not reach the area from anywhere.

The reason why quick aid could not reach the northwestern part of Syria is due to the fact that the Assad regime and Russia had originally placed restrictions on the route via Turkey, as well as the rigid structure of the UN bureaucracy, which is subject to the wishes of Russia, the permanent member of the UN Security Council.

On the other hand, the Assad regime still had administrative functions as a state and was capable of conducting rescue operations to some extent on its own. Of course, the regime lacked the capacity to do so, but in addition to Russia and Iran, which were behind the rescue operation, rescue teams were dispatched from the UAE, Egypt, Iraq, and several other countries that were getting closer to the Assad regime.

However, direct relief from Western countries is not coming in. The Assad regime, which routinely oppresses the population and violates human rights, does not allow rescue teams from Western countries to enter the country and work freely, but it is of course desirable for them to receive aid supplies and funds in a form that they can freely use themselves.

However, when they did not come, the Assad regime began criticizing Western countries, saying, “It is unfair that the West supports Turkey but not Syria in terms of the value of life,” and used this as political justification for its own actions. However, it is, of course, Assad himself who has been responsible for this, having slaughtered many of his own people in order to keep his dictatorship in power.

Assad Regime’s Embezzlement of Support and Intentions to Control Information

Furthermore, there is an extremely high possibility that the financial and material aid that the Assad regime has at its disposal will be embezzled and misappropriated by the Assad regime.

The Assad regime, which has committed numerous war crimes, is under economic sanctions from the West. As a result, various UN agencies have been providing humanitarian aid to civilians. However, the UN agencies are not allowed to carry out their activities without going through the Assad regime, and their operations are entrusted to Assad regime agencies or companies affiliated with Assad regime officials. As a result, many of the funds and supplies for humanitarian assistance have been embezzled and misappropriated.

The “Assad regime area” that was particularly hard hit by the earthquake was the area around Aleppo province, where the Assad regime’s forces once carried out a massacre of the local population. The Assad regime, fearing that the “real voices” of the residents of this area would be heard, prioritized information control, and rescue operations were significantly delayed. The Assad regime, fearing that the “real voices” of the residents in the area would be heard, prioritized information control and delayed the rescue operation considerably.

The Assad regime’s intention is to appeal to the international community to legitimize itself and lift sanctions, but whatever the reason, it is good news that urgent UN assistance has arrived on the scene. Some embezzlement and misappropriation of funds may have to be overlooked from the humanitarian point of view, as human lives are prioritized in emergencies. However, this does not exonerate the Assad regime from the war crimes that gave rise to this tragic structure in the first place, as they had hoped.

Nevertheless, the Assad regime is strengthening its appeal for self-justification toward the lifting of economic sanctions, and on October 10, prior to the aforementioned increase in checkpoints along the Assad regime’s route via Turkey on January 13, it issued a statement allowing the UN to transport aid supplies from the Assad regime areas to the rebel areas. If this is realized, it will secure a new aid route to northwestern Syria.

However, the Shahm Liberation Organization (HTS), the rebel group that controls the northwestern part of the country, has now taken action, saying that it will not allow supplies to be brought in from Assad regime areas, which would be a political use of the Assad regime. In this situation, where urgent humanitarian aid is the top priority, the HTS’s decision means that it put political considerations ahead of human lives.

The Assad regime is now calling for the removal of economic sanctions, claiming that aid supplies are not coming in due to the sanctions, but economic sanctions do not originally include humanitarian aid. However, economic sanctions do not originally include humanitarian aid, and medicines, food, and other supplies for evacuees are not covered by the sanctions. At the beginning of the disaster, there were some cases of delays due to procedural problems from the economic sanctions mechanism, but the U.S. decided to lift the sanctions procedure for 180 days for those related to assistance to the affected areas.

Support for Disaster Victims While Continuing Economic Sanctions

From now on, relief supplies for the affected areas will reach the local offices of UN agencies without delay. The economic sanctions were imposed in response to the Assad regime’s crimes, including the torture and execution of civilians on a tremendous scale, and should not be lifted as long as there are no more problems with the delivery of humanitarian aid supplies. In this regard, we need to be wary of the Assad regime’s fictional propaganda that “humanitarian aid cannot be provided due to sanctions.

The issue, after all, is how to avoid that the humanitarian aid supplies and funds brought into Syria in the future will continue to be misappropriated and diverted by the Assad regime or intentionally obstructed as in the past, and how effectively they can be delivered to support the victims in the region. The Assad regime has a history of seizing aid supplies to rebel area residents at checkpoints and attacking aid convoys in the past.

The international community should encourage the aforementioned rebel group, HTS, to cooperate in providing emergency aid and, at the same time, keep a close eye on the Assad regime to ensure that it keeps its promises to cooperate in humanitarian assistance.

  • Interview and text by Fumitaro Kuroi Photo Reuters/Afro

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