World powers admit political solution to Syrian war might not be possible: Derek Stoffel

As the bombs continue to fall on Aleppo, a new reality is descending on Syria: the long-held belief that the conflict there will only end with a political solution might not hold true.
Men inspect the damage after an airstrike on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo Sunday. The international powers intervening in the 5 1/2-year-long conflict seem to be conceding that a peaceful settlement is far off if not impossible (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)

As the bombs continue to fall on Aleppo, a new reality is descending on Syria: the long-held belief that the conflict there will only end with a political solution might not hold true.

Russia now says the conflict is simply too complex to expect a peaceful settlement. The British have concluded that efforts to bring another ceasefire to Syria have failed.

And caught in the middle of yet another failure by the international community are the millions of Syrians who remain in their homes or in refugee camps within their own country.

A boy in front of shops damaged in the airstrike Sunday. A short-lived ceasefire negotiated by Russia and the U.S. came to a fiery end with the bombing of a UN aid convoy in rural Aleppo last Monday. (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)

Images out of Aleppo show a city in agony in recent days. At one medical clinic in the rebel-held east, there are not enough beds for the victims of president Bashar al-Assad's scorched-earth policy there. Images from the group Syria Civil Defence, known as the White Helmets, showed men with open wounds writhing on the blood-soaked floor of the facility.

"There is no civil defence, there is no first aid. [Assad] destroyed the country and killed many people," an Aleppo resident named Yousef told the SMART News Agency of Syria, a local media organization.

Starve, bomb, kill

Assad and his forces are relying on a strategy in Aleppo that's worked before, in places such as Homs: starve out a neighbourhood under the control of the opposition; make life unbearable; use warplanes — including those of its ally Russia — to drop bombs on the area; allow an escape route for civilians; and then kill those who remain.

For 275,000 people in rebel-held eastern Aleppo that has been the stark reality since Assad launched his new offensive last Thursday. The United Nations says at least 200 civilians have been killed since then.

'Bringing a peace is almost an impossible task now,' Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin told the UN Security Council. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Despite calls from the international community to stop the bombardment of Aleppo, Assad has no reason to listen.

To the contrary, the Syrian dictator has every reason to push forward. A victory against rebel forces in Aleppo would give Assad his most significant victory of the civil war, which has dragged on for five and a half years.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called for Syrian and Russian warplanes to be grounded, but the United States is not offering a plan to actually make that happen.

At an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Sunday, the U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said Russia's support of Assad and his regime amounts to "barbarism."

But as Syrians know all too well, those kinds of accusations by diplomats do nothing to stop the suffering they have lived through.

So, the fighting and the bombing continues.

Peace in Syria 'an impossible task': Russia

And just a week after a ceasefire that it helped negotiate came to a fiery end with the bombing of a UN aid convoy, Russia's UN envoy seemed to shut the door to future negotiations, at least in the short term.

"In Syria hundreds of armed groups are being armed, the territory of the country is being bombed indiscriminately and bringing a peace is almost an impossible task now," Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the UN, told the Security Council.

The United States, Canada, European countries and the United Nations agree that a political — not military — solution is needed to end Syria's civil war.

The real war on terrorism has never started yet. The advent of Syrian victory is imminent.- Bashar Ja'afari, Syria's permanent representative to the UN

But since the conflict began in 2011, world powers have struggled to bring opposition groups (which have been unorganized and often do not speak with the same voice) into the same room as the Syrian government for negotiations. A chief demand of the opposition is that Assad cannot be part of talks aimed at a political transition in Syria.

But Assad's recent success on the battlefield — which comes in large part because of Russia's support — has given the Syrian president an upper hand against the opposition as the country's future is discussed.

That was on full display on Sunday as Syria's permanent representative to the United Nations took the floor.

"Any political solution can only be successful by providing the requisite conditions through intensified efforts to fight terrorism," Bashar Ja'afari said. "The real war on terrorism has never started yet. The advent of Syrian victory is imminent."


Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.