Syrian crisis: How much worse can it be?

Updated 18 January 2013
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Syrian crisis: How much worse can it be?

Time and again in the bloody Syrian conflict, as Bashar Assad seeks to crush his own people, it has seemed that the horrors could not increase. Yet this week has seen news of yet further depravities, all too often visited upon civilians who have been caught in the firing line.
It is now clear that, as with Muammar Qaddafi in his own doomed attempt to hang on to power, rape and sexual violence are being used as a tool against the civilian population suspected of sympathizing with, or actually assisting the fighters. This despicable behavior is more than a loathsome crime which can traumatize victims for life; it also brings shame and dishonor upon them and their families. That is why both Qaddafi and now Assad see rape as such a potent weapon.
What neither leader appears to have recognized, is the trail of white-hot fury these outrages leave in their wake. The families targeted may have been ambivalent about the insurgency, wishing, like many Syrians, simply for the violence to stop and for life to return to normal.
However, once their family has fallen victim to this odious assault, there can be no doubt where their sympathies will lie.
On top of this horror, it is now clear that Assad’s air force and artillery have been using cluster bombs and shells in increasing numbers. These iniquitous weapons, much favored by the Israelis in their failed 2006 assault on Lebanon, are now banned under an international treaty signed by 111 countries. The bomblets, into which the main ordinance breaks, are supposed to self-destruct after a given period. In reality, no such thing happens. Therefore the Assad regime, like Israel before it, is sowing a terrible harvest of maiming and death, to be gathered in by helpless children, or farmers or construction engineers, seeking to remove and heal the devastation now being wrought by Assad’s army.
But there is worse, even than this. Though the Americans seem oddly reluctant to confirm it, there now appears to be credible evidence that the regime has used some form of poison gas, on at least one occasion, in the original battle for Homs. This being the case, it seems clear that in the regime’s final death throes, Assad and his generals will have no hesitation whatsoever in ordering further deployment of their atrocious chemical weapons arsenal.
And finally there is the horrific weather, the worst for 20 years, which has seen torrential rain, heavy blizzards and plummeting temperatures. These have turned life among the more than 600,000 refuges who have fled Syria for tented camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, into a miserable nightmare. Tent homes have been flooded, the camps themselves turned into insanitary swamps. Those refugee concentrations which have had to endure heavy snow and icy cold within their frail shelters, are now themselves having to cope with floods, as the weather warms, at least temporarily, and the snow and ice begin to melt.
Beside frostbite and hypothermia, there is now the clear risk of outbreaks of disease. The medical facilities provided by the Turks, Jordanians and Lebanese as well as the international community, are simply insufficient to cope with the likes of a cholera outbreak, if it occurs.
The outlook for some 2 million refugees, who have chosen to stay inside the country is arguably even worse. What international food aid that has been able to reach the country, by sea or overland, is no longer being fully distributed, because convoys cannot get through areas where there is fighting. There are reports moreover that the food and medicines that the relief trucks carry, are now being seized, along with the trucks themselves. These seizures, it appears are being made by both Assad’s forces and some of the fighters.
International aid agencies are now talking of a humanitarian crisis of “staggering” proportions, unless the international community is able the provide more funding and find better ways of bringing the aid into Syrian’s internal refugees. Many of these unfortunates, who fled their original homes for what they thought was sanctuary in other parts of the country with relatives or friends, have discovered to their dismay, that the fighting has followed them. As the regime loses ever more ground, so further areas of the country become a war zone.
Even moving into territory now firmly in fighters’ hands, is no solution, since the regime continues to bomb and shell these areas, causing a steady flow of dead and maimed, almost all of them innocent civilians.
With 60,000 of his people dead, Assad shows no sign of restraining his violence. What fresh perversity will he perpetrate next?


EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

Saudi drivers take a flooded street in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017
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EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

It has happened again. The roads, streets and many underpasses in Jeddah were flooded with rainwater on Tuesday. Many areas were turned into lakes because of the heavy, though forecast, downpour. In some areas, water was knee-deep while in others it was chest-deep. People were stuck in their vehicles and many were seen pushing their vehicles to the side of the roads with great difficulty. In low-lying areas, citizens struggled to remove their belongings from flooded houses.

For the residents of Jeddah, rain has, more often than not, brought trouble and devastation. Whenever the skies open up, thoughts go back to that “Black Wednesday” of November 25, 2009, when more than 100 people lost their lives and property worth billions of riyals was destroyed. An investigation was opened into the disaster and some of the guilty were taken to court and tried; some of the small fry were even jailed. As has been the case in the past, the mighty arm of the law could barely touch those at the top who enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

And so it was business as usual until the rain began to wreak havoc again, reminding us that the laws of nature take their course and that hiding your head in the sand does not chase the clouds away.

Having said that, it must be admitted that, yes, lessons were learned. A disaster management team was set up. The weather forecast department became active in issuing alerts. In fact, Tuesday could have been far worse had it not been for the timely alert from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) and a prompt decision by the Ministry of Education to suspend classes, schools and universities in and around Jeddah. That helped in keeping people and vehicles off the streets. At noon on Tuesday, it looked as if the city were under some kind of curfew.

The questions that are on everyone's minds right now are: Why is it that rain renders the city helpless and immobile at this time every year? Why have efforts to create effective rainwater drainage systems not borne fruit despite pumping billions of riyals into new projects such as dams and canals? Why is it that the authorities are found wanting whenever heavy rain occurs? More importantly, what is the solution?

Here is the answer. These floods are a stark reminder of why the current drive against corruption is so essential. It is required in order to instill the fear of law into high-ranking officials and heads of construction companies and civic bodies who have failed in their responsibilities. Those who have cut corners and have pocketed public money, those who have not delivered on the projects and who have provided substandard services must pay for their sins of omission.

This is exactly what is happening. No one is above the law. The guilty, whoever they are, however high up they are, will have to pay — and they are. In this new era of transparency and accountability — initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — word has gone down from top to bottom that no one is immune. If you are guilty you will be punished. Those responsible for the havoc of the floods on Tuesday will have no rest either.