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Never-ending tragedy (Hindu)

The chemical attack in Syria must compel the global community to bring the war to an end

The barbarism of Syria’s civil war was on display once again when at least 72 people were killed in a chemical attack in Idlib province. The heartbreaking images of dead and injured children and desperate parents from Idlib’s Khan Sheikhoun have understandably triggered global outrage and calls for international action. Syrians have suffered a lot over the past six years. There have been multiple chemical attacks for which both the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the jihadists were held to blame. More than 400,000 people are believed to have been killed and millions displaced since the crisis broke out. With violence continuing unabated and the Assad regime not showing any real interest in settling the crisis, even hopes for peace and normal life look surreal. The needle of suspicion for the Idlib attack points towards the regime whose murderous nature has been exposed several times in the past six years. Idlib is a rebel-held province where the regime is currently carrying out air strikes. Activists in the province and Western governments have claimed the regime used chemical agents in Khan Sheikhoun.

If they are right, Damascus has not only committed a war crime but also violated a major international agreement. After the 2013 sarin attack in Ghouta in a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds — which was also blamed on the regime — the U.S. and Russia had agreed to remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. As part of the deal, 1,300 tonnes of chemical agents were shipped out of Syria and destroyed. The question is, where did the latest chemical weapons come from? Syria had either hidden some of the stockpiles or clandestinely developed such weapons after the deal was reached — both serious violations. This is a regime that neither respects the fundamental human rights of its people nor cares about the international agreements it has entered into. Irrespective of its role in Tuesday’s attack, the Syrian regime is primarily responsible for the country’s humanitarian catastrophe. For years, it justified whatever it did in the war saying it was fighting terrorism. But how long can Mr. Assad sustain this argument, leaving millions of people vulnerable to bombers, snipers, chemical agents and tanks? The real crisis of Syria is that its regime is acting with a sense of impunity, thanks to the blank security cheque the Russians have issued to Mr. Assad. The international community could not hold Mr. Assad to account for his actions at any point of the Syrian war, which worsened with the involvement of other regional powers. The latest attack should be a wake-up call for all these countries. Syria has to be treated as an immediate priority, and in a way that transcends the narrow geopolitical interests of regional and global powers. There must be a coordinated effort to bring the war to an end, and to hold the perpetrators of war crimes accountable for their barbarism. Only then can Syria be rebuilt.

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