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Bashar al-Assad doesn’t want a disaster to go to waste

Toninstant messaging yes everything After a disaster. For rescuers, the first 72 hours were critical as a combination of injuries, thirst and inclement weather killed survivors. Beyond this standard, their chances of being rescued drop sharply. However, the timetable is a bit more forgiving for a dictator hoping the disaster will ease his international isolation.

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The rebel-held enclave of northwestern Syria was hit hard by this month’s earthquake. On February 13, the United Nations said Bashar al-Assad had agreed to ease the flow of aid into the region. His decision, a full week after the quake, came too late for those trapped under the rubble for lack of fuel and heavy machinery: They were dead.

Helping them isn’t really the point. Mr Assad has emerged from a decade of diplomatic wilderness as Arab states come to accept that he will remain in power. Now he also sees an opportunity to win over the West – no doubt he hopes the posturing towards rebellious regions will help.

The quake killed about 6,000 people in northwestern Syria and regime-held cities including Aleppo and Latakia. That number is sure to rise.this United Nations As many as 5 million Syrians are estimated to be homeless. Helping them will be a difficult task. After a decade of war, Syria has been divided into many small countries, impoverished and isolated to varying degrees from the rest of the world.

The northwest is controlled by Islamist rebels, some of whom belong to Al Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate. In Mr. Assad’s words, the area is a hub for terrorists. In fact, most of its 4 million people are impoverished civilians who have been displaced time and time again from other parts of Syria.

The rebel government has been wary of accepting help from regime areas. It also drove away a convoy organized by authorities in northeastern Syria, which is controlled by the Kurdish-led government. After a decade of war, its paranoia is perhaps understandable. The regime has a history of approving aid convoys to besieged areas, only to turn them away or rob them at the last minute. Instead, the rebels hope to send help through Turkey, through which food, medicine and other essentials have been shipped for years.

Mr. Assad does not control the border, but in a sovereign gesture, he refuses to agree to deliveries. So, under a Security Council resolution first adopted in 2014, aid arrived. Russia, an ally of Mr Assad on the Security Council, has sought to reduce or even stop deliveries for years.

since 2020 United Nations Use is limited to one border post called Bab al-Hawa. But the quake damaged Turkey’s highway to the crossroads at a time when demand for aid is soaring. Mr Assad now agrees it may flow through two other border posts.

But the regime’s motives are hardly benign. It is grappling with the devastation in its own region and trying to pin the blame on a convenient scapegoat: the West. “We want to get from Europe and us Now is the time to lift the sanctions,” presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said shortly after the earthquake. “If they lift the sanctions, the Syrian diaspora and the Syrian people will be able to take care of their country. “

In fact, dozens of planes carrying relief supplies have landed at Damascus airport since the earthquake. Donors include close U.S. partners such as Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Sanctions have not stopped them from extending help to regime-controlled territories.

Sanctions could hinder marginal aid. Some well-meaning foreigners trying to organize crowdfunding campaigns have found their campaigns rejected because of the possible legal risks of sending money to Syria. To that end, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a broad exemption on Feb. 9 covering “all transactions related to earthquake relief.” It will remain in place for six months; diplomats expect it to be extended.

Mr Assad would like to see more of this. Since the quake, he has had calls of support from most Arab leaders. Some Western analysts have a broader problem with the sanctions: Even if they don’t impede disaster relief, they do impede the Syrian state, with consequences for civilians. The Caesar Act, the US package of sanctions on Syria that became law in 2019, explicitly targets the energy and construction sectors — in a country where power outages are widespread and housing and infrastructure have been severely damaged.

Those who want to alleviate the plight of Syrians face a dire dilemma. Easing sanctions will not guarantee Syrians access to 24-hour electricity and new homes. Keeping them in place, however, almost guarantees they won’t. Western governments are reluctant to give Mr Assad the money to help him rebuild; they are also eager to avoid blocking the rebuilding effort altogether. There are no easy answers to figuring out how to help people living in the devastation of Syria without restoring the bloody regime.

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