Opinion: Help the Syrians, weaken Putin

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The Ukrainians are suffering the infernal attacks that the Syrians have suffered for years because of the weapons supplied by Russia to the dictator Assad and the direct Russian bombardments by his air force. On April 4, four children were killed by Syrian regime artillery fire on the village of Maaret al-Naasan. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the children were killed on their way back to school. On the same day, Russian planes bombed other areas of northwestern Syria.

Assad-Russian attacks are ruthless, with markets, schools and medical facilities often targeted. In 2016, Doctors Without Borders reported that “hospitals in opposition-held areas of Syria refuse to share GPS coordinates with Russian and Syrian authorities due to repeated attacks on medical facilities and workers.” Normally the facilities would make this information public because it would prevent attacks, but in Syria it gave Russian/Assad coordinates which were used to facilitate the bombing of hospitals. In Syria, Russian planes often used a double-tap strategy, bomb a target once, then wait a while and bomb the rescuers who have come to pull the victims out of the rubble.

It seems obvious that the world should rush to send supplies to the Syrians now, both for humanitarian reasons and to divert some of Putin’s attention from Ukraine. There is a lot to do. Several million Syrian residents and internally displaced people live in the northwest region of Idlib which is not under Assad’s control. I asked a Syrian what we needed most and he said, “Everything. He mentioned bread, as well as warm clothes and boots for the winter. Trailers should be sent to replace the thousands of tents people live in year after year. Syrians really need solar generators to provide electricity. Concrete must be sent to reinforce the hospitals and the shelters against the bombardments. Government and citizen contributions to Syrian relief workers “Syria Civil Defense” (better known as the White Helmets) should be increased.

Then there is the specific case of Al-Rukban. It is a windswept desert area on the Syrian border between Iraq and Jordan, where perhaps 12,000 Syrians live. They are Syrians who fled the attacks of Assad and ISIS. It is besieged by Assad’s forces and Russian army troops. The area is within an exclusion zone of less than 55 kilometers around a US base called al-Tanf established in 2016 as part of US-backed coalition efforts to fight the so-called Islamic State in Syria. with Russian consent. Even if the Syrian men in the camp secure the al-Tanf base, the United States will not supply Al-Rukan. If the rationale in the past was not to upset Russia, the post-invasion world conditions of Ukraine compel a complete rethink. Immediately supply the area with food and supplies and give him regular medical services.

Another thing that should be done is to highlight the continuing horrors of Assad’s prisons. Dozens of thousands were taken into custody by the security forces. In 2016, Amnesty International published a chilling report on Sednaya Prison explaining that from 2011 to 2015, more than 17,000 prisoners were executed or died due to torture or other conditions in Sednaya. That was six years ago, so the total number is worse now. In Promoting Enduring Peace, we highlight two cases. One is from Rania Alabbasi’s family. She is a former Syrian chess champ who was arrested along with her husband, six children and secretary in 2013. Neither of them has been heard from since. Hassan, Rania’s brother, told me that 5,000 children had been taken away by the security forces. The other case we highlight is that of a US citizen. He’s a therapist named Majd Kam Almaz. In 2017, he traveled to Damascus to pay his respects after the death of his father-in-law and he was arrested by the police. Since then, his family has had no news of him or his conditions of detention.

We will be holding an online event at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 14, to keep the hopes of prisoner families alive. It will feature family members whose loved ones have disappeared. See PEPeace.org for more details.


There is more than one way to resist Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. Yes, directly support the Ukrainians, but also create a “second front” with humanitarian aid for the Syrians. It’s the smart thing to do and the right thing to do.

Stanley Heller is a trustee of Promoting Enduring Peace, founded in 1952. He can be contacted at [email protected] The website is PEPeace.org.

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