On Syria, US and Europe condemn Bashar Al Assad's attempt to paint war as over

Joint statement from US and leading countries says regime will be held to account

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a banner depicting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Douma, outside Damascus, Syria, September 17, 2018.  REUTERS/Marko Djurica/File Photo
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The United States and Europe's leading countries on Friday condemned President Bashar Al Assad's efforts to portray Syria's civil war as over, calling out abuses taking place in government prisons.

In a joint statement marking eight years since a mass uprising began against the Syrian leader, the US, Britain, France and Germany said violence in Idlib had recently increased, with air strikes killing civilians and humanitarian workers in the northwest region.

Mr Al Assad's main allies – Russia and Iran – are also complicit in deception about a dire situation in Syria, where more than 400,000 people have been killed since 2011, the US and Europe said.

“Whilst the Assad regime and its backers try to convince the world that the conflict is over and that life has returned to normal, the reality is that the regime's suppression of the Syrian people has not ended,” the statement said.

“Tens of thousands have been disappeared into Assad's prison system, where many have been tortured and killed. Countless families still have no news of the relatives they have lost, and have no closure.

“The military solution the Syrian regime hopes to achieve, with backing from Russia and Iran, will not being peace,” it added, urging a political solution led by the United Nations to bring about peace and stability.

What began as peaceful protests against the Assad regime, following similar demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt in what was dubbed the Arab Spring, spiralled into civil war.

Repeated efforts at peace have failed but a new bid led by Geir Pedersen, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for Syria, is under way.

The statement noted that accountability for crimes committed during the war would be pursued to achieve justice and reconciliation for Syrians.

“We are clear that we will not consider providing or supporting any reconstruction assistance until a credible, substantive and genuine political process in irreversibly under way,” it said.

“Russia and Syria must respect the right of Syrian refugees to return home voluntarily and safely, end pretences that conditions are right for reconstruction, and we call on them to engage seriously in the negotiations that alone can bring peace to Syria.”