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The Battle of Qusayr

June 3rd, 2013

(Photo: AFP - Miguel Medina)

I have been following with a sinking heart the tragic events in Qusayr, a town on the Syrian-Lebanese border which has become the focus of a deadly struggle between the opposing regime and rebel forces.

I read that the fate of Qusayr is important because control of the town is essential for the rebels as their principal transit point for weapons and fighters from across the border in Lebanon.

But the town is located on the road linking Damascus with the Mediterranean coast, where the population is mainly loyal to the government. Two weeks ago the regime launched an assault on Qusayr, which has been largely in the hands of the rebels for eighteen months.

Rebel fighters have been pouring into the town while government jets continue to pound it from the air. It must be hell for the remaining civilian population.

Humanitarians, led in recent days by the UN and ICRC, have been making urgent appeals for a ceasefire to allow the wounded and trapped safe passage out of al Qusayr but so far these have fallen on ears deafened by the sound of rockets, mortar shells and gunfire.

The Syrian civil war has now claimed more than 80,000 victims, created more than 1.6 million refugees and placed nearly seven million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

As this conflict deepens there is a real danger that people become hardened by the remorselessly rising casualty figures and fall into the trap of believing there is no hope for Syria and no political solution – just a fight to the finish.

This is why I urge you all to remain focused on the human dimension of this tragedy, on the lives and future prospects of Syrians which are being destroyed. I am sure that all right-thinking people will join me in appealing for all the parties to this savage conflict to respect the fundamental rights of civilians to safe passage. All those involved in the fighting have an obligation under International Humanitarian Law to protect the lives of the innocent.

Of course these appeals have been made before but to little avail. Delivering humanitarian aid inside Syria is getting harder by the day. I am frustrated by the silence which reigns over the political vacuum which now envelopes the civil war. In a moment like this we must together all raise our voices ever more loudly until our protests can no longer be ignored.

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