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Dialogue urged on rebuilding Syria's future

By JAN YUMUL in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2021-03-22 09:12
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Syrian children living in makeshift tents light sky lanterns in Betinte village of Idlib, Syria, on March 11. MUHAMMED SAID/GETTY IMAGES

Survey points to hefty toll that war has exacted on the country's young people

After 10 years of grueling civil war that has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent times, hope for peace in Syria lies in dialogue and confidence-building, analysts say.

As an offshoot of the "Arab Spring" uprisings in 2011, protests against President Bashar al-Assad in the city of Daraa, southwestern Syria, rapidly descended into violence, catapulting the country into bitter conflict that would eventually draw in the United States, Russia, Turkey and Israel, among others.

Henelito Sevilla, Jr, associate professor at the Asian Center at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, said the conflict in Syria is "not a kind of conflict that should be examined from its domestic side only", but is a conflict "that is very intertwined with the geopolitical rivalries of regional and global powers".

Alessandro Arduino, principal research fellow at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore, said the role of foreign powers in the Syrian conflict "catalyzed the rapid growth and fluidity of the number of armed groups".

"Multipower competition in the Syrian civil war or the presence of unaccountable militias and mercenaries are two of the several causes that protracted the conflict and decreased the chances for a diplomatic resolution. Essentially the nature of warfare is changed, and states operate via nonstate actors."

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Syrians continued to be "the largest forcibly displaced population in the world", more than 13.4 million people at the end of 2019, out of the country's total population in 2010 of 20 million.

It is estimated that 6.6 million people have fled Syria seeking refuge in neighboring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, to name a few. About 83.4 percent of Syrians now live below the poverty line, compared with 28 percent in 2010.

The UN agency UNICEF said the war has left 90 percent of the country's children in need of help, and nearly 12,000 children have been confirmed as killed or injured since 2011. And between 2011 and 2020, more than 5,700 children were recruited into the fighting.

A similar survey commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross highlighted the hefty price young Syrians have paid. In the survey, conducted in Lebanon and Germany, with about 1,400 Syrian respondents aged between 18 and 25, almost one in two said a close relative or friend of theirs had been killed in the conflict, one in six said at least one of their parents was killed or injured and 54 percent said they had lost contact with their family.

Forty-nine percent said they had lost their income because of the conflict, and nearly 77 percent reported struggling to find or afford food and necessities. In Syria this rose to 85 percent.

Sevilla of the University of the Philippines said the refugee issue is not new in the region, where Iraqis, Kurds and Afghans have fled from their countries to neighboring ones as well as to Europe in recent decades.

"I think these countries that provide safe haven for these refugees should also be part of the global multilateral coalition to address compounding problems in Syria," Sevilla said.

Arduino said Turkey, Russia and Qatar are promoting a political solution in line with UN resolutions on Syria's civil war, looking at a multipolar security architecture.

Western support to the opposition has dwindled over the years, he said. Nevertheless, a multipolar regional order in the Middle East needs to take into consideration the role of Iran, as no regional power can assert hegemony.

The US President, Joe Biden, is now formulating a Syrian policy, but "it is highly unlikely that the US is going to pick up the bill", Arduino said.

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