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Opinion

Next steps in Syria after Kofi Annan's exit

Last week’s resignation of Kofi Annan as joint special envoy for the UN and the Arab League for Syria was long overdue. The first steps now must be to coordinate an exit for Assad and increase urgently needed humanitarian aid.

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After Assad goes, the opposition may be tempted to disregard this path and try to push for a final military victory. But, the international community should highly discourage this. The price of completely wiping the Assad entourage out of Syria would be a longer, even bloodier, sectarian civil war.

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The international community should also support those who are pushing nonviolent solutions in Syria. Networks of citizens, small organizations, and communities are involved in popular protests against the regime and are organizing aid to those most affected by the conflict. The “Syrian spring” started as a nonsectarian, nonviolent political mobilization and, despite all the violence, these initiatives are still being pursued. These groups have a crucial role to play, especially as the country becomes more radicalized and polarized around sectarian lines.

Finally, the international community should step up its present humanitarian assistance and cooperation in and around Syria, and push the Syrian government to allow more aid and personnel into the country. On this, both the “West” and “pro-Assad” countries such as Russia, ought to be able to agree.

With more than a million internally displaced persons and more than 3 million Syrians in need of food aid, this crisis requires increased international personnel on the ground and greater support for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross. So far, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has only been able to raise enough funds to cover roughly a third of what it needs for its Syrian Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan.

Similarly, the international community should help support the growing number of Syrian refugees – more than 200,000 so far – in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon. The borders of all regional countries – including Israel – should remain open for them.

Annan has stepped down. But the work remains and the international community must pick up where he left off – starting with coordinated pressure for Assad’s exit and increased resources for humanitarian relief.

Benedetta Berti is a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, a member of the Atlantic Council’s Young Atlanticist working group, and coauthor of the book, “Hamas and Hezbollah: A Comparative Study” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). Follow her on Twitter at @benedettabertiw.

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