Mouaffaq Nyrabia is the Syrian National Coalition’s EU representative.
The situation in Syria is now a global crisis. The senseless acts of terrorism in Paris and Copenhagen, the increasing use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, alongside the large numbers of refugees fleeing Syria for Europe, demonstrate that the crisis is one which the wider international community must urgently address. However the US-led anti-ISIL is not working. In order to save lives, alleviate the refugee crisis, and set the basis for a peaceful transition, the only feasible option four years into this bloody conflict is a no-fly zone.
In the early days of the Syrian uprising, it was Assad’s security forces who responded to our peaceful demands for freedom and democracy with the torture, disappearance, and brutal killing of protesters. It was Assad who deliberately freed known extremists from Syria’s prisons to fuel his false narrative. Now groups such as ISIL have taken advantage of the chaos and instability to seize parts of Syria and terrorise its citizens. Any approach to ending the conflict must therefore begin by addressing the chaos created by the Assad regime. But this is not the current strategy of our Western partners. US-led coalition’s air strikes in Syria have helped degrade ISIL’s forces, but have done nothing to stop the ongoing bombardment of Syria’s cities with barrel bombs and chemical weapons dropped from regime helicopters. Assad’s tactics have grown increasingly desperate and brutal, and his regime’s indiscriminate aerial bombings now account for a significant portion of the death toll in Syria. A no-fly zone would put a stop this.
A no-fly zone would also help address the driving factor behind Syrians taking the perilous journey to Europe in search of safety; the lack of basic protection against barrel bombs. Preventing Assad’s air-force from its daily campaign of terror against Syrians would offer some hope by creating safe areas which would lessen the need for Syrians to flee abroad, and gradually allow refugees to begin returning to their homes.
At the heart of any successful political transition must be the establishment of moderate local governance structures. Some progress has been made on this front; we have been actively working with local civilian structures on the ground in liberated areas such as Idlib. However Syria’s moderates need security and safety from Assad’s air strikes to ensure the continuation of basic state provisions such as food supplies and electricity. The risks for Syrians on the ground, including brave members of civil defence teams, such as the "White Helmets", remain great. Their work is limited due to the regime’s freedom to bomb Syrian towns and cities at will. Assad has already lost control of large swaths of Syria, leaving power vacuums across the country. Syria’s moderates can fill these vacuums and prevent extremists from taking root, but basic protection from air strikes and greater support is needed.
“Assad has shown no signs of pursuing any goal other than outright victory for his brutal regime.”
In parallel, the humanitarian situation is dire, with more than 12 million Syrians are in desperate need of aid. A no-fly zone would allow unrestricted humanitarian access to besieged areas and break the Assad regime’s use of access to aid as a weapon of war. In opposition-held areas, government forces have regularly employed indiscriminate siege tactics against civilian populations, a war crime under international law. As in Yarmouk, the Assad regime’s brutal siege tactics have created humanitarian catastrophes, and fostered the growth of extremism across Syria. While we in the Syrian Coalition welcomed UN Security Council resolutions that authorised cross-border humanitarian access, we know the delivery of aid has been consistently hampered by the lack of protection from regime air strikes. A no-fly zone would effectively remove these barriers and help establish humanitarian corridors, or safe areas, to facilitate desperately needed aid.
Since the start of the Syrian uprising, Assad has shown no signs of pursuing any goal other than outright victory for his brutal regime. He has falsely used political initiatives to secure military gains on the ground. Just one example is when UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura announced that Assad had agreed to a ceasefire in the city of Aleppo. Maliciously, the regime’s air force immediately intensified its bombardment on the city. These are not actions of a credible or genuine partner in the attempts to find a political solution. They are the actions of an obstinate, vicious regime that, without a change in the dynamics on the ground, will continue to pursue military options while Syria burns.
A no-fly zone would send a clear signal by the international community to Assad regime and his external backers that outright military victory is not an option, and the only means of bringing an end to this conflict is through meaningful negotiations. We saw after the heinous chemical weapons attacks in Ghouta in August 2013 how quickly the regime will make a political deal when its survival is at stake.
Four years into this bloody war, millions of Syrians are in desperate need of a practical solution for peace. That is why the call for a no-fly zone is growing louder among voices from across Syria. And these calls are joined by diplomats and experts from across the international community who have made clear a no-fly zone is a feasible option and can be enforced without the need to target the regime’s air-defences. Four years into this bloody war, a no-fly zone is now the essential first step for a peaceful transition in Syria.