(CNN) 2017 will mark the sixth anniversary of the Syrian conflict — a war that has left nearly half a million dead and forced millions of others from their homes.
The new year brought a ceasefire brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey. But the ceasefire is serving as cover for „business as usual.” The Syrian government continues to use illegal means of war to crush political opponents and citizens, forcing them to accept an uncertain and unjust „peace.” But peace achieved by these means cannot, and will not, hold.
At the same time, more than two-thirds of Syrian territory remain outside of Assad’s control. Syrian military assaults continue, with civilians not just caught in the crossfire — but deliberately targeted.
Predictably, the truce is fraying already, with opposition groups crying foul as Syrian forces continue to pound rebel-held areas around Damascus and beyond.
The international community must take four steps to ensure that civilians stop paying the price of ending the war.
UN monitors cannot be an afterthought
The Aleppo model for victory is not acceptable.
The Syrian military and its allies deliberately targeted civilians, hospitals and schools, using starvation and the denial of medical care as weapons of war that brought the city to its knees.
In the final days of the siege, the United Nations reported the killing and „disappearing” of civilians as well as forced conscriptions.
The UN Security Council’s decision to introduce monitors into eastern Aleppo was overdue and incomplete. Hundreds of thousands of civilians, forced to evacuate to Idlib province — another contested area — wait in fear of the same brutal attacks and siege tactics.
Last week, the Syrian regime signaled its readiness to conduct such Aleppo-style attacks, with a senior official calling for „open battle” in Idlib. The presence of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Idlib complicates matters — giving Assad and his allies „cover” for such attacks. But to be clear, the Syrian government is not focused on fighting terrorists but on combating opposition to Assad wherever it is found.
To protect Syrian civilians and ensure agreements made by parties to the conflict are upheld, the Security Council should expand the monitoring team’s mandate into these contested areas. No victory can be claimed in the context of such human suffering. No victory can be held in the context of such injustice — it will only sow the seeds of future opposition.