Syria conflict: A fight to the death between its people

Rows of bodies in a mortuary in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus Photo: REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

Rows of children lie on the ground.

A picture of innocence, their faces so still they look as if they are sleeping.

But this horrendous image, like so many taken in Damascus in Syria, shows the brutal lengths the Syrian regime is prepared to go to to stamp out its own people.

Children, killed by chemical weapons.

It has been reported that nerve gas attacks have killed hundreds on the outskirts of Damascus - by far the worst reported use of poison gas in the two-year civil war.

But as with all images and reports released from the bloody insurgency that has engulfed the Middle Eastern country, it is difficult to verify.

The chemical attack, if proven to be true, is a brazen attempt to expose the impotence of Western powers.

A stunning display of President Bashar al-Assad’s ability to do anything, it reveals just how unthreatened he feels by the West.

A man, allegedly affected by nerve gas, uses an oxygen mask to breathe in the Damascus suburbs of Jesreen Credit: REUTERS/Ammar Dar

This man, this regime, has killed tens of thousands of children using other catastrophic means - conventional artillery, homemade bombs packed with TNT thrown out of helicopters onto villages and family homes, snipers, machine guns. He has used every other method to kill ordinary civilians, without fear of intimidation. So why wouldn’t he use gas?

Regardless of the truth, perception is everything in this war. And this image will only add fuel to the fire.

The Assad regime is behaving in an increasingly unrestrained manner because of the lukewarm response from the international community to atrocity after atrocity.

The result: It has told them there is no price to pay.

President Bashar al-Assad's regime has denied involvement in the chemical attack Credit: REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

As a journalist, it is extremely difficult to cover the war in Syria. I have never been near Damascus as to cover the conflict from there you need permission from the regime to allow you into the country. As a result, you are chaperoned and only able to see one side of the conflict.

The times that I have entered the war-torn country, I have linked up with rebel units in northern parts of Syria.

Syria is a civil war of wild fires - and the government hasn’t got enough manpower to stamp them out at the same time.

I have witnessed first-hand the misery and pain of hundreds of thousands of people who have become refugees.

Innocent people who prefer misery to the threat of death. They have swapped their hometowns and villages after witnessing so many loved ones slaughtered needlessly. They would prefer the squalid, stinking, flea-ridden conditions of a refugee camp.

Syrian refugees in the abandoned Roman city of Sergilla Credit: ITV News / Sean Swan

When I was last there in January 2013, I covered a story about a Roman city called Sergilla that had come back to life.

This is a city that was abandoned in 600AD only to be reoccupied by the terrified people of Syria fleeing their homes in 2012AD.

People are living in burrows in the ground that were dug by the Romans to house animals as it was the only place they felt safe.

The hopelessness on people’s faces horrified me.

One woman said to me: “We are dying here.”

I was looking at the death of a civilisation.

I visited field hospitals where young men, armed with AK-47s, were learning the hard way that a very well-equipped army like Assad’s can fight back.

Syrian refugees set up a tent at a refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Boynuegin in Hatay province Credit: REUTERS/Osman Orsal

The death toll in Syria is horrendous - but it is Assad that has made it that way.

Syria was the last country to jump on the Arab Spring bandwagon.

It began in the same way with mass demonstrations, chanting, cheering and a feeling of people power, but he attacked them. He shelled the demos and killed many innocent people.

He forced the people to take up their guns and fight back.

Assad witnessed the violence and toppling of Gaddafi in Libya, and at first, would have been uncertain as to what he could get away with.

Britain and France, and to an extent the Americans, intervened and helped get rid of Gaddafi.

He was a cartoon-like figure who was ousted from his ruling position. But it soon became apparent that the same thing would not happen to Assad.

As his guarantors, he had the Russians and the Chinese - they would always block any UN action against the country.

A rebel fighter rests his foot on a statue of Libya's dposed leader Muammar Gadaffi

A month after my last trip into Syria, I went back to Baghdad.

Ten years ago, I covered the invasion of Iraq and it has been left crippled and on its knees.

The zenith of Western interventionism in the Middle East backfired so collossally that this year isn’t just the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq; it’s the tenth anniversary of why we are currently doing nothing in Syria.

What is worrying about the region - including the violence in Egypt - is that the conventional ways of descaling the violence by intervention shows no sign of working.

A year after President Obama warned the Syrian regime that using chemical weapons would cross a "red line," the Americans have done next to nothing.

Every time William Hague issue statements condemning their actions, restraint has never been shown.

We are spectators, on the sidelines, of an Arab civil war across the Middle East, which is based largely on sectatarian divisions which we reopened when we invaded Iraq.

The real problem is that we are not sure who to support.

Rebel groups across the country have become so fractured, with sinister anti-Western elements running within some, that we are unsure who to arm.

It has become a honeypot for jihadists who believe in the Sunni fear of Islam and who detest their fellow Muslims, the Shia. They are in danger of becoming Syria’s Taliban, inflicting their version of oppressive Islam on Syria. And should we help that?

This is a fight to the death between its people.

It has gone beyond just a figurehead. The rule is: kill to win.

And as always, it is the ordinary people - the farmers, women, and children caught in the crossfire - that will suffer.

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