BREAKING NEWS: "Operation Siege Breaker has begun in Syria. On the basis of United Nations resolutions, western military aircraft are dropping packages of food and medicine to Syrian communities cut off from the rest of the world by civil war. The German military is also participating in the operation. Russia has guaranteed it would not obstruct the aid flights."
Wouldn't that be nice! Unfortunately, almost none of it is true. No relief airlift is underway over Syria. Only a a few U.N. convoys have made it to the town of Madaya, which has been under siege for months and where several dozen people have already died of hunger. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has in no way opened his heart to Syria's civilians. Instead, he continues to blame the rebels when the Assad regime terrorizes inhabitants of opposition-controlled areas with barrel bombs and starves them.
Only one thing is true: There really are resolutions by the U.N. Security Council against air strikes and artillery attacks on civilian areas and in favor of unobstructed humanitarian aid. The have been passed unanimously, but were never implemented.
At least 400,000 Syrians in more than a dozen cities are currently under siege by various parties in the conflict – some for years now. Troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are the most brutal and frequent in using hunger as a weapon. But anti-Assad rebels and the Islamic State terrorist army are also guilty of this war crime.
In addition, more than 4 million civilians live in areas where aid can only be brought in by land routes, with great difficulty or not at all. So whoever is looking for causes that drive Syrians to flee their homeland and come to Europe – here they are.
Up to now, no country has even suggested an airlift for acute catastrophes like Madaya. Why not?
Is it too expensive? Aid by air costs more than ground transport. But it certainly doesn’t cost as much as the $300 million that the U.S.-led coalition spends each month for bombing raids against the Islamic State.
Is it too complicated? In 2014, U.S. and British planes dropped supplies to several thousand Yazidis who were trapped and surrounded by IS forces on Mount Sinjar. So it can be done.
Is it too dangerous? Not if consent for providing humanitarian aid to civilians is finally squeezed out of Moscow and the Syrian dictator.
Which brings us back to Madaya, the small town near Damascus whose desperate appeals have shaken the world recently. International pressure has had some effect, at least in the short term. People of Madaya and inhabitants of places under siege by rebels have received some aid – food packages that include rice, lentils and oil. But these supplies will be spent in a few weeks. According to U.N. and Red Cross workers in the city, about 400 residents are so close to death by starvation that they need to be evacuated immediately for medical treatment.
Meantime, the Assad regime speculates that attention will wane now – and is again tightening siege rings around other cities.
It is exactly at this point that a kind of Operation Siege Breaker could begin — first by transporting desperately malnourished residents to hospitals in neighboring countries like Lebanon, Jordan or Israel.
Of course, the ultimate goal cannot be a permanent airlift to provide relief aid for hundreds of thousands of Syrians. This is not achievable. But one goal should be to send a political signal from Washington, Brussels, London and Berlin — that protecting the Syrian people is finally being taken seriously. And that peace negotiations between the regime and opposition on January 25 should be given a chance. Syria’s opposition has announced it will not take part as long as the sieges continue.
This is an important moment in the Syrian tragedy. Without these talks, there is no cease-fire. Without a cease-fire, there is no prospect for peace. And without peace, there will be no end to the influx of refugees to Germany and Europe.