Mehmet Ali writes from Damascus: Fighting in Damascus rages on and at least five die after a suicide car bomb attack. So far the conflict has been confined to the suburbs. Inevitably it will spread to the centre of the capital. The same can be said about Aleppo. These two cities hold the fate of President Bashar Al Assad’s regime.
Meanwhile Moscow and Beijing have subtly changed their position on Syria. Russia no longer expects the present government to hold on for too long. The Chinese ambassador talks about the fate of Syria being in the hands of the Syrians. That is like saying that when it rains people get wet. It is blindingly obvious. Who is it exactly that China supports in Syria? No answer. Beijing is also preparing itself for the realities of a post Al Assad Syria.
The north and east of the country appear to be increasingly in rebel hands. NATO has accused Damascus of using Scud missiles to kill civilians indiscriminately. This is an action of a desperate regime. Food is getting short and bread in Aleppo costs five times as nuch as it did before the conflict. There are 2 million displaced people within the country and 400,000 refugees outside. Not surprisingly, law, order and the institutions which buttress a modern state have collapsed in parts of the country.
Everyone now assumes the Al Assad government is living on borrowed time. Foreign currency will run out in less than a year. However, the Syrian Army still holds together and has weapons and surface-to-air missiles to cause havoc. President Al Assad has stated that he will fight to the end. This means that all the well-meaning talk of a negotiated settlement is just that: talk. The conflict will end with one side winning and the other losing.
The regime has enough military muscle to survive for several months. But then what? Rebel-held territory falls into several categories. The territory held by Islamist groups is well administered with available food being distributed to the needy. Military discipline is maintained. Territory held by secular groups is less tightly controlled. However, there are areas controlled by some insurgent groups where something akin to anarchy reigns. The rebels there act like bandits and keep booty they seize from the Syrian military for themselves.
Food and fuel are becoming a greater and greater problem for millions of Syrians. Health care and education have almost stopped in places such as Aleppo. The needs of the civilian population are becoming so pressing that the call for international intervention may become irresistible. When does humanitarian aid become so vital that the international community can no longer stand on the sidelines?
Where should the aid go and who should be given preference? The rebels are so divided about the future of the country that they will almost certainly start fighting one another after the fall of Damascus. What should outsiders do then? Should the West stand behind those who favour a secular future for Syria? Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States will back the Islamists. Turkey will back the groups which agree to work with it.
The conclusion is that as the conflict intensifies the situation becomes more and more complex. There are no simple solutions. This has just got to be accepted.