In Syria, the real priority should be the fight against Islamic State, not Assad
In northern Syria, two attacks on hospitals cause scores of civilian casualties. The fragile agreement reached by world powers is undermined by ongoing air strikes and fighting. For Islam scholar Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit priest, the real steps needed for peace are a stop to Saudi-funded fundamentalism and a real commitment to fight Islamic terrorists.
Rome (AsiaNews) – Two air strikes hit two hospitals in northern Syria with scores of civilian casualties, including medics and volunteers. In Azaz on the Turkish border, at least ten people reportedly died, including several in one hospital building. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said seven people died and eight are missing after another attack in Maarat al-Numan.
Turkey has accused the Russia of the first attack, whilst MSF believes that government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad are responsible for the second attack.
However, who carried out these attacks has not been confirmed. Moscow has not yet responded to Turkey’s allegations, but said it would pursue its fight against Islamic State terrorists.
Meanwhile, Caritas Internationalis confirmed this morning the death of one of its volunteers, 22-year-old Elias Abiad, in Aleppo, who was killed on Saturday (13 February). For the Catholic charity, lay volunteers from the local Church have been killed in the past.
As a result of the violence, the fragile agreement reached by world powers on a ceasefire in Syria is now in jeopardy.
In his comments below, Fr Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit priest and an Islam expert, underlines the real steps needed to achieve peace in the country.
With respect to the current situation in Syria, Western newspapers and politicians continue their mantra, namely that the Syrian President Bashar al Assad has to go before there is to be peace. For the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, this is the very first point on the agenda to build peace in the Middle East.
Eliminate Daesh or President Assad?
In my opinion, this "very first step" is not realistic and can be harmful for several reasons.
1. True, Assad is a dictator. No one denies it. But he is not the only one in the region. Even the Saudi and Emirati kings are dictators and have constitutions that leave no room to other voices. But in their case, no one protests. Now, the issue is, once you eliminate Assad, who will take over? There will be even more disorder and violence. At least, with Assad in power there is a minimum of security. It must be said that insecurity started with Daesh* and other fundamentalist groups, the so-called "Syrian opposition", who have swallowed up Syria’s domestic secular opposition.
2. At the same time, no one has explained where the terrorists are getting their weapons and money. They cannot do what they do without backers. One of Egypt’s foremost political thinkers, Tarek Heggy, noted that “Saudi Arabia and Qatar back Daesh militarily and financially”. Nowhere do we see or read that the Syrian conflict has turned into a Sunni-Shia conflict. For instance, why is it that Daesh does not go to Saudi Arabia, or Qatar, where they could acquire more power and influence? Because Daesh’s goal is the same as Saudi Arabia’s; something that many Sunnis from different backgrounds acknowledge, namely a fight against Shiism in Iran, Iraq, and Syria (Alawis)
Eradicate Saudi-backed fundamentalism
If we want peace in Syria, people must meet in Geneva or elsewhere. Who does not want to participate? Saudi-sponsored rebels. Now the Saudis, like the Turks, want ground attacks "against terrorism", but in reality they want to fight against Assad, or rather against the Shia government.
The alliance between the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar is an alliance of economic and military interests. The United States has a stable agreement with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. As for Turkey, it has economic interests linked to NATO. The Turks have been toying ambiguously with Daesh (buying their petrol, letting new Islamic State recruits through, fighting the Kurds who are the only ones fighting Daesh), and threaten Europe with waves of refugees.
As for Saudi Arabia, it is planning to intervene in many Arab Muslim countries, as it has done in Yemen and Bahrain, but always against local Shias.
No one sees (or dares say so) that the fundamental cause of all this chaos is the fundamentalist ideology and its ideological source is Saudi Arabia, which defends its Wahhabi Islam (the most radical interpretation of Islam) as the true Islam.
Peace in Syria and the Middle East requires first of all putting a stop to the war and give the country a breather. This should lead to a presidential election whoever the winner is, Assad or others, without election tricks. Thirdly, reconstruction must follow.
The longer we wait, the more, migrants will reach a Europe unable to integrate them. Even Germany, which has done a heroic act (accepting 800,000 Syrian refugees), has now closed its doors. We must stop the war by the government, the rebels, and Daesh.
When it comes to Russia’s intervention, often criticised by the West, I see a lot of appreciation in the Middle East because it goes after fundamentalists and Daesh. Others, the so-called international coalition, have not done much. In addition, we have the Kurds who have been fighting Daesh successfully.
Daesh fighters are good too. Who trained them? Iraqi Sunni officers, pushed out of the Government and Iraqi society, trained by the Americans, who found an outlet in fighting Shias alongside their fundamentalist and terrorist friends. Unfortunately, they are good too.
Good information is missing, and those who claim they are fighting terrorism are not working together. Russia has called for co-operation, but is left alone.
The error made by the the countries involved is making leadership change in Syria the goal. It is the same mistake made in Iraq and Libya, which has created even greater disasters.
I really do not understand why the West always chooses symbols to eliminate in order to "bring democracy." However, democracy does not exist in the Middle East (and even in Europe it is deteriorating). Of course, we hope that it might come into being in the future, but today security and justice are what matters.
Westerners should choose well their goals: first of all, security and justice must be guaranteed, not attack against some leaders. Because if you change the leader, society remains the same and chaos spreads. Better a dictatorship we know than an Islamic dictatorship we can foresee.
We must also have the courage to say that the cause of this war has a more ancient origin, in the radical Islamic fundamentalism supported by Saudi Arabia. No one dares to say it. Riyadh buys weapons from the West for the rebels and Daesh, and with its money, it buys the West’s silence, Europe and the United States. The ideal of democracy in the Middle East has only become a smokescreen for ideological and economic interests.
* Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria