Assad's bombardment of Eastern Ghouta makes a mockery of the peace talks

Neither words nor lives hold any value for the Syrian leader

A wounded Syrian girl receives treatment at a make-shift hospital following reported air strikes on the rebel-held besieged town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on January 13, 2018. 
Eastern Ghouta has been under government siege since 2013 and its estimated 400,000 inhabitants are suffering severe shortages of food and medicine.  / AFP PHOTO / Hamza AL-AJWEH
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There was a time when news of chemical weapons being deployed in Syria would have sparked international outrage. Yet when reports emerged two days ago of a possible chlorine gas attack by the regime on a rebel-held enclave near Damascus, the world seemed to shrug its collective shoulders. Grainy footage of children running along streets in Eastern Ghouta shrouded in yellowish clouds of gas, accompanied by unconfirmed reports of people being treated for chlorine inhalation, have done little more than prompt weary resignation and a sense that we have been here before.

Yet it was just nine months ago that US president Donald Trump launched missiles at a Syrian regime airbase after government forces killed more than 90 people in a sarin attack. Since then, Mr Trump has cut US funding for Syrian rebel groups and Bashar Al Assad has continued his relentless siege of Eastern Ghouta, pursuing a campaign of starving, bombing and gassing its trapped population of 400,000 into submission. Eastern Ghouta is the regime's Achilles heel, subjected to a bombardment of barrel bombs and airstrikes. Promises to evacuate critically ill and dying patients, including children, have resulted in only a handful of the 500 in desperate need being allowed out; meanwhile food and medicines can't get in.

Mr Al Assad has made a mockery of pledges in Astana to treat both Eastern Ghouta and Idlib, the last rebel stronghold, as de-escalation zones and end the violence. He has no regard for either the Syrian people or the peace process, set to be resumed in parallel talks in Sochi and Geneva this month. Neither words nor lives hold any value for Mr Al Assad; a process which began in March 2012 has achieved nothing but the displacement of more than 11 million people and the deaths of 340,000 as the worst humanitarian crisis of our time unfolds before our eyes and the world stays motionless.

Among the casualties of the Syrian war is the respected opposition leader Munir Darwish, who was treated in hospital for a broken ankle after a hit-and-run accident but was pronounced dead within hours. The Syrian Negotiation Commission has called it an "assassination" and yet another example of the regime's tyranny. Whatever the truth behind his death, it is clear an end to the violence will only come at the cost of the Syrian people and yet more spilled blood. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein said last week: "The suffering of the people of Syria knows no end." As another round of peace talks begins this month, the futility of negotiating with the culprit of untold misery and bloodshed will loom large at the table.