- By Oz Katerji
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Whilst Monday's air strikes on a UN-supplied Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy bound for Aleppo shock and 'outrage' the international community, it really shouldn't surprise anyone. This deliberate and pre-planned attack on a humanitarian aid convoy simply marks yet another gruesome chapter in the 21st century's bloodiest war and further exposes the world's failure to protect Syria's civilians.
The attack killed 21 people according to the Red Cross, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent's Aleppo director Omar Barakat. The convoy was due to deliver aid to 78,000 vulnerable civilians, instead it lies smouldering while Syrians continue to starve at the hands of their brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Following the attack UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O'Brien released a strongly worded statement expressing his 'disgust' over the incident, adding "notification of the convoy had been provided to all parties to the conflict and the convoy was clearly marked as humanitarian."
The Russian ministry of defence has typically responded with the same callous inhumanity as it always does, with denials, deceit and obfuscation. As with most war crimes committed by the regime and its allies in Syria, the Kremlin has immediately set about trying to blame the armed opposition for the attack, "all information on the whereabouts of the convoy was available only to the militants controlling these areas," said Russia's defence ministryspokesman Igor Konashenkov on Tuesday.
Konashenkov took his war crimes denial a step further by suggesting that the Nobel peace prize nominated Syrian Civil Defence, who themselves as first-responders suffered from the "double-tap" strikes that targeted the convoy, would know who was responsible for the attack. Not to be outdone Damascus also reported that there was "no truth to media reports that the Syrian army targeted a convoy of humanitarian aid in Aleppo province".
The irony should not be lost on people that the convoy attack took place as the leaders of the world gathered at the UN for a summit on solving the refugee crisis.Maybe the Kremlin's policy of denying war crimes and blaming the other side might be more believable here if the rebels had an air force capable of carrying out such an attack or if Russia Today had themselves not live-streamed drone footage of the same convoy hours before the attack, proving the UN's assertion that they knew exactly where it was.
To add further insult to Syria's injury, the UN has now suspended aid operations in the war-ravaged state. Not that this will make a discernible difference to Syrian civilians suffering the most from Assad's 'submit or starve' as a Guardian investigation found troubling links between Damascus and the UN's aid operations in Syria.
Meanwhile, witnesses in Syria told Amnesty that Russian-made fighter jets and helicopters took part in the bombardment.
The pertinent question should be just what the Obama administration or the UN expected when trying to enter into agreements with Putin. This is a man whose forces have invaded a sovereign state, shot down a civilian airliner and repeatedly and deliberately bombed hospitals and then lied about it all. What other possible outcome could there have been for this deal?
After all, Putin openly backs Assad, a man that seems to actively revel in his policy of gratuitous and obscene violence against civilians. The Assad regime has employed rape, starvation, torture and chemical weapons against its civilian population with sole intention of breaking their will to resist. The regime has unleashed a war that has either killed or displaced a staggering 50% of its pre-war population.
Not only have Kremlin-backed media outlets have used their platforms to deny and deflect every one of Assad's crimes and promote the regime's ethnic cleansing program in Homs and the Damascus suburbs as humanitarian evacuations rather than the predictable result of years of starvation and bombardment.
So where to now? After Geneva 1, 2 and 3, Kerry's "cessation of hostilities" agreements clearly aren't worth the paper they are written on. The most astonishing part of it all though is that there is no other plan, all carrot and no stick with the 21st century's worst dictator.
Obama's legacy in Syria will be defined as one of cowardice and appeasement and the search for justice and accountability in Syria remains at the mercy of an international community that is paralysed by inaction.When John Kerry was asked on NPR on September 14, he said "What's the alternative? The alternative is to allow us to go from 450,000 people who've been slaughtered to how many thousands more? That Aleppo gets completely overrun? That the Russians and Assad simply bomb indiscriminately for days to come, and we sit there and do nothing? That's the alternative to trying to get this done, if America is not going to go in with their troops – and America's made the decision we're not going in with our troops. And the president's made that decision."
In a nutshell, Kerry is saying here that the Obama administration would rather sit aside and 'do nothing' than take active steps to fulfil their obligations under international law to protect civilians from mass murder, his statements on Tuesday following the convoy strike that the 'ceasefire is not dead' only further prove how completely out of touch with reality this administration is. Obama's folly is mistaking this for a Syrian problem rather than a global one. The irony should not be lost on people that the convoy attack took place as the leaders of the world gathered at the UN for a summit on solving the refugee crisis.
The biggest current cause of global conflict displacement is the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the international community's failure to protect the civilians of Syria will forever define Obama's foreign policy legacy. The rapid rise in ultra-nationalism and Jihadist terrorist attacks that have rocked both America and Western Europe to their cores in recent years are byproducts of the Syria crisis.
Obama's legacy in Syria will be defined as one of cowardice and appeasement and the search for justice and accountability in that country remains at the mercy of an international community that is paralysed by inaction. The consequences of the moral abdication of our responsibility to protect will ripple out for generations, just as the forced displacement of Palestinians decades ago still impacts global and regional politics today.
And, when the history books are written, they will say that the tyrant Bashar al-Assad unleashed a genocide upon his people as the world simply sat back and watched. We owe Syria better than this, and regardless of what Obama thinks, it is time the alternatives to his appeasement are finally discussed.
Oz Katerji is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul