Time Running Out to Aid Syria’s Rebels | Freedom House

Time Running Out to Aid Syria’s Rebels

CNN Global Public Square

by Charles Dunne
Director for Middle East and North Africa Programs

While millions flood Cairo’s streets, the war in Syria rages on – and may soon reach a critical turning point. A new Syrian army offensive launched in recent days against the strategic city of Homs is a vital step in an effort to secure a corridor linking Damascus to the Alawite hinterland, building on the government’s conquest of Qusayr early last month. The U.S. decision to arm Syrian rebels, announced last month, raises a key question:  at this point, can the United States still make a difference?

The answer is yes. The president has certainly changed his “calculus,” as he promised to do, causing political shock waves and setting the stage for potentially stronger action down the road. The decision is important in another respect, too: it has provided political and diplomatic cover for stronger action by U.S. allies. In a ministerial meeting in Doha June 21, Saudi Arabia and Qatar reportedly agreed to provide specific quantities of the shoulder fired anti-aircraft and anti-armor weapons the rebels had begged for, a first. This would probably not have been possible without the United States’ own arms commitment.

Urgent action is needed. The bloody conflict in Syria has approached another grim milestone: 100,000 deaths since the conflict began – more than 36,000 of them civilians – according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. More than 18 percent of Syria’s population, or 4.25 million people, is internally displaced, and that number is growing.  The refugee burden on neighboring states is too: according to the United Nations, more than 1.7 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries, with more joining them every day. In Jordan, 20 percent of the country’s population could consist of Syrian refugees by the end of the year, a percentage that could double by the end of 2014. Violence is spiking inside the country and Syria’s neighbors are increasingly dragged in as well; an anti-Assad Sunni militia in Lebanon recently clashed with the Lebanese army, killing at least a dozen.

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