UN envoy to Syria: Assad thinks he can turn back the clock

UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi told diplomats in New York that the situation in Syria is dire, and described the conflict's particularly heavy toll on children.

David Karp/AP
Lakhdar Brahimi, joint special representative for Syria, arrives at closed door consultations regarding the situation in Syria at the Security Council at United Nations headquarters Monday, Sept. 24.

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As the United Nations General Assembly Debate kicks off in New York today, the 18-month-old protracted conflict in Syria is expected to take center stage, particularly after calls by the UN envoy to Syria for the international community to change its approach to the civil war.

“The situation in Syria is dire and getting worse by the day,” Lakhdar Brahimi said after his first report to the Security Council as UN envoy yesterday, according to The New York Times. Mr. Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, took over for Kofi Annan as UN envoy to Syria three weeks ago.

“There is a stalemate; there is no prospect today or tomorrow to move forward,” Brahimi said, noting that now that he’s learned more about what is happening inside Syria, he hopes “we will find an opening in the not too distant future.” According to the Times, Brahimi found that President Bashar al-Assad hoped to return to "the old Syria" rather than move toward marked political change:

“I refuse to believe that reasonable people do not see that you cannot go backward, that you cannot go back to the Syria of the past,” Mr. Brahimi said at the news conference. “I told everybody in Damascus and elsewhere that reform is not enough anymore, what is needed is change.”

Still, he stressed that he did not have a specific new plan, but was relying on the never-implemented six-point peace plan, basically a cease-fire, first proposed by Mr. Annan, as well as a communiqué calling for a political transition that many nations, including Syria’s staunch supporters Russia and China, signed off on in June.

In the latest reports from Syria, several bombs were detonated by rebel forces inside a school held by the Army today, injuring at least seven people, according to the Associated Press.

Rebels have increasingly targeted security sites and other symbols of the regime’s power, including a bombing that killed four senior-level government officials in July, reports the AP. Today, the rebels expected high casualties after the bombing, but were unable to confirm reports of deaths, Reuters reports.

“There were several officers present, and we are hoping they will be part of a large number of killed in this operation,” Abu Moaz, a leader of Ansar al-Islam, one of the rebel groups attempting to overthrow President Assad in Syria, told Reuters.

At least 60 people, including 27 civilians, 22 soldiers, and 11 rebels, were killed in the violence in Syria yesterday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In addition to high death tolls – the UN estimates more than 20,000 people have been killed in the conflict thus far – Brahimi noted in his report to the Security Council yesterday an impending threat of food insecurity after a bad harvest in Syria this year, the “medieval” torture enacted on detainees, and damage to all but 200 of the 2,200 schools in the country, according to Agence France-Presse.

The impact that the civil war has had on children is a big concern as well. The Syrian Observatory on Human Rights estimates some 2,000 kids have been killed in the conflict.

British-based charity Save the Children launched a story-telling project today highlighting how the conflict has uniquely affected the youngest echelons of Syrian society. The CEO of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth, wrote an opinion in the Telegraph today noting:

Our teams on the ground, working with refugees who have fled the horror of war, hear stories of children who have seen loved ones killed in front of them, of children being used as human shields, of instances of torture where children have been hung from the ceiling and beaten, of schools being targeted, and in one case, of a six year old who was tortured and denied food and water until he died.

Their experiences confirm Syria’s war is proving devastating for children.

Some blame the ongoing violence on the international community’s inability to come together on a resolution.

"Children should be going back to school, but instead they are suffering extreme violence," said Abdel Rahman from the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights, who also noted children are being traumatized by the violence. "This would not be possible were the international community not silenced by its paralysis.”

Some 120 heads of state are gathering in New York for the UN General Assembly, and although questions about Syria have caused numerous stalemates in the past – Russia and China have vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions – many hope today’s debate will provide an opportunity for the emergence of new ideas on drawing down the conflict. 

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