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Syria – Article by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, in the daily newspaper Libération

Syria: we must move forward
Paris, 14 March 2013

More than 70,000 deaths, over a million refugees and the systematic destruction of a country: the second anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolution is an anniversary of blood and tears. The regime’s militias are indiscriminately striking men, women and children. Laid out on hospital beds, the bloodstained bodies of three children – aged seven, nine and 11 – killed by a missile strike on the village of Abou Taltal, Aleppo Province, have become one of the symbols of this people which is being murdered. The survivors are seeing their past and their future disappear, annihilated by the bloody machinery of a clan. The ancient city of Homs, “capital of the revolution”, besieged for more than eight months by the regime’s army, is now nothing but a field of ruins. There is a shortage of water, electricity, medicines and food. A whole people is being held hostage by a dictator who is bombarding, torturing and murdering, his only goal being his own survival.

From the outset, the French government has shown solidarity with the Syrian revolution. At humanitarian as well as political level, we have shouldered our responsibilities and – more than others no doubt – our share of the burden, in a context where a direct ground intervention in Syria is still impracticable. Our humanitarian assistance to civilians amounts to several tens of millions of euros, to which is added our share of European assistance. We have been pioneers in direct assistance to the civilian revolutionary councils and local solidarity networks. Like many, in the face of the humanitarian tragedy and the scandal of the bloody repression, I would have liked – we would have liked – to do more. But the opposition’s action and the galvanization of all those who support it allow us to remain hopeful, provided we accept that the time has come to move forward to a new stage.

It is broadly acknowledged today that Bashar al-Assad himself will no longer have a place in tomorrow’s Syria – including by those who have hitherto supported his regime on the grounds of the lack of a credible alternative. From now on, this alternative exists. In November 2012, the Syrian National Coalition created a structure for itself; we were the first to recognize it. Its President, Moaz al-Khatib, proved to be a brave leader who listens to the Syrian people and its suffering. He did not hesitate to extend his hand to certain adversaries in an attempt to put an end to the butchery. For the time being, Bashar al-Assad has responded by increasing bombardments and setting unacceptable conditions. But the Coalition’s political offer remains: a path can be marked out towards a political solution to get Syria out of the chaos.

The National Coalition is also working on forming a provisional government with authority over the liberated areas, even though differences have yet to be overcome to complete this. Its formation will be a new step towards a political solution with a view to a united, peaceful, democratic Syria where all the communities will have their place. As the President said as early as August 2012, if that government is created France will support its action.

But the political process risks remaining deadlocked if the situation on the ground does not change. And at this stage, the Syrian people’s struggle for freedom is terribly unequal. Bashar al-Assad’s regime – which also possesses chemical weapons – is being supplied with powerful weapons and ammunition by Tehran and Moscow. As for the opposition, it does not have sufficient resources to protect the population.

The National Coalition’s offer of negotiation will be taken seriously by Bashar al-Assad only if he has no other option. In order for a political solution really to take shape, the Coalition cannot continue fighting on an uneven footing.

On this second anniversary, we must draw every conclusion from this situation. There is a growing international consensus recognizing our responsibility to protect civilians. We must go further and enable the Syrian people to defend themselves against this bloody regime. It is for us to help the Coalition, its leadership and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) by every means. Otherwise the killing will continue, with no other likely outcome than the strengthening of the most extremist groups and the collapse of Syria – with devastating consequences for that country and the whole region.

We must persuade our partners, particularly in Europe, that we now have no other option than to lift the arms embargo, to the benefit of the Coalition. At international level, France has been the first to support the Syrian people’s cause at every stage. She must also be now, at this pivotal moment. The European arms embargo was based on a noble idea: not to add deaths to deaths and fighting to fighting. But today, the embargo is backfiring against those it sought to protect: it does not constrain those supplying weapons to the Assad regime and it prevents those legitimately fighting him from being supported. The practicalities of lifting the embargo must be defined as a matter of urgency. It is when he realizes he cannot survive by force of arms that Bashar al-Assad will budge, or the situation will change without him.

It remains for this observation to be swiftly translated into action, in order to put an end to the Syrian people’s suffering: that is what moving forward means.

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