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Mideast fears Syria crisis spillover

Fifty-nine countries raise $1.5b for Syria refugees amid concerns about the conflict crossing over.

MADHAV NALAPAT  Kuwait City | 2nd Feb 2013

MASS GRAVES: Syrian mourners wave the pre-Baath Party flag, now used by the Free Syrian Army, over the bodies of civilians, who were executed and dumped in the Quweiq river, during their burial at a park now renamed “Martyrs of the River” park in the Bust

ifty nine countries from Australia to Kazakhstan congregated at Kuwait on 30 January to come up with cash for the swelling tide of refugees from Syria, now that the civil war in that country has intensified. Although estimates are sketchy, some place the number of those fleeing Syria as crossing 400, 000, to Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. Interestingly, Turkey (which is hosting nearly half the total of evacuees) refuses to acknowledge them as "refugees", preferring to call them temporary "guests". Ankara and Doha led the charge against Bashar Al Assad in 2012, enthused by the speedy fall the previous year of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. Unfortunately for them, the Syrian regime had not followed the Saddam-Gaddafi precedent of unilateral disarmament before being attacked, with the consequence that the Assad regime has the ability to deploy vast stocks of chemical and other mass killing weapons, besides a store of modern missiles from Russia. Consequently, there is no appetite within Nato to get engaged in the Turkish-Qatari battle against Assad, except by facilitating assistance to those fighting his forces, the overwhelming majority of whom are from outside Syria.

There are multiplying reports of the foreign fighters "marrying" unwilling Syrian women for short periods of time, or otherwise treating them as war trophies, reports thus far ignored by their Nato allies, who see the foreign fighters as the only way they have of getting rid of the Assad regime. However, this plus other actions of the "freedom fighters" that are opposed to the secular traditions of the Syrian people have resulted in most of the country's Sunni population rallying behind Assad. "We dislike him, but fear the foreign fighters now in our land much more", a Syrian Sunni whose family has escaped to Kuwait said. The minority Alawites, other Shias, Christians and the Druze back Assad out of fear for the Libya-style chaos that would result were the regime to fall. At the International Humanitarian Pledging Conference, several speakers warned of the dominance of extremist groups among those fighting the Syrian military, and of the spillover effect of this on the region. Both Jordanian and Saudi delegates warned of the growing role of extremists (including Al Qaeda) in the civil war now raging in Syria.

At the International Humanitarian Pledging Conference, several speakers warned of the dominance of extremist groups among those fighting the Syrian military, and of the spillover effect of this on the region. Both Jordanian and Saudi delegates warned of the growing role of extremists (including Al Qaeda) in the civil war now raging in Syria.

Helped by a donation of $300 million from host Kuwait, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE stepped forward to provide matching grants. The final total by the end of the day was $1.5 billion, with around $400 million more in the pipeline. This has, in the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, made the Kuwait conference the best performer among the many conferences organised by the UN to collect funds for refugees across the globe. The European powers, although vociferous in providing advice to those in the region, proved to be very parsimonious where actual donations were concerned. The US contended itself by providing only half of what tiny Kuwait has donated. India, which was represented at the conference by Minister of State E. Ahamed, gave a token contribution of $2.5 million, thereby showing themselves to be in the same league as the EU member-states when it came to putting money where the vociferous protestations of concern were.

The expectation among those seeking the fall of the Assad regime is that Russia will pull on the plug on the current Syrian President. A diplomat from the anti-Assad coalition said that they have been "heartened by private messages from Prime Minister Medvedev that Russia would change its policy" of backing Assad. However, should Beijing and Moscow continue to back Damascus, the fighting will continue into to indefinite future, thereby blocking the joint Turkey-GCC-Nato effort to replace the Assad regime with one that shares their hostility to Tehran. "After Syria, it will be the turn of Iran", a senior diplomat revealed, stating that "plans are already under way to ignite street protests there once Assad is finished". Given that President Assad is aware that the fate which awaits him in the event of defeat is what befell Muammar Gaddafi, it is unlikely that he will surrender in a hurry. Meanwhile, there are anxious looks among the delegates from the GCC-Turkey-Nato bloc. The estimate of NGOs is that the tide of Syrian refugees crossing the country's borders will cross a million before six months are out. Hence, the calls from within the anti-Assad coalition for Nato to "do a Libya" in Syria. However, the WMD stockpiles in the possession of Assad's forces make this unlikely if not impossible.

 
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