Syria has been a site of unspeakable suffering for more than half a decade. At least six million Syrians are internally displaced, half a million more have fled the country for refuge in foreign lands and a quarter of a million have been killed since 2011. The country's transformation over this period into a catchment for foreign fighters and militant outfits such as ISIL and Al Qaeda has turned the focus away from the principal source of the terror and turmoil: the government of Syria. The chief beneficiaries of this shift have been President Bashar Al Assad and his allies. Their "narrative" of the war has eclipsed facts on the ground.
The conditions in Syria are such that few credible journalists are able to report from there. And Moscow has deployed its clout to thwart the war-crimes investigations of international experts working under the auspices of the United Nations, prompting the veteran Swiss prosecutor Carla del Ponte to quit her UN role in frustration. A miasma of myths now dominates diplomatic and popular discourses about Syria. At no point was the world more susceptible to the lies disseminated by Damascus and its allies than it has been in 2017. The creation of the so-called "de-escalation zones", announced in Astana as a prelude to peace, was welcomed in good faith. The capture last month of ISIL-held Deir Ezzor was greeted, understandably, with elation.
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These triumphs managed, however, to suppress questions about whether Syrians, once freed from the savagery of ISIL, would be safe under Mr Al Assad's rule. Could the originator of Syria's suffering remain as the overseer of the dignity and security of Syrians? The answer to that has to be an emphatic "no". But, in case there was any doubt, the human cost of Mr Al Assad's remaining in power is before us. September was the bloodiest month in Syria so far this year, according to figures collated by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The correlation is impossible to miss: the month that Mr Al Assad's hold on Syria became more secure than at any point in six years was also the month in which most number of Syrians were killed in 2017.
The causality is undeniable: 70 per cent of the 995 civilian deaths, among them 207 children, were caused by government forces and allies of Mr Al Assad. What was obvious in 2011 is obvious today: for Mr Al Assad to remain in power, Syrians must die. The UN's top envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is preparing to convene the next round of Geneva Talks at the end of this month or in early November. Mr Al Assad and his allies will use the time in between to ride roughshod over Syria and hypnotise the world with unverifiable claims of stability. But the future of Mr Al Assad should be on the table. Anything less will be a betrayal of Syrians.
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