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No end in sight for Syria

The increasingly brutal Syrian conflict is dividing along Sunni-Shia sectarian lines.

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Photo credit: Freedom House
Photo credit: Freedom House

Violence in Syria continues to rage on, with no peace in sight as the conflict approaches its third year. The UN hopes to use their Geneva II conference to bring together the Syrian regime with the opposition to discuss the process of forming a transitional government and thus a political solution to end the civil war. However it is becoming increasingly clear that the fractured nature of the opposition, as well as the extensive outside influences fighting on both sides, means that a successful outcome to these negotiations seems unlikely. The main opposition party, the National Coalition, has still not decided whether to take part in the talks, and opposition unity is being torn apart by more conservative Islamist factions.

It seems a long time ago that the governments of Britain and the US were discussing how best to aid the moderate Free Syrian Army in dismantling the Assad regime, an organisation whose Supreme Military Council was effectively removed from any power it holds last month by the Islamic Front, a jihadist alliance. Even within similarly aligned Islamist groups, cutthroat power struggles have recently taken hold, turning the once allied groups of the Islamic Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), against each other. Within this infighting, it is clear that the Islamic Front, now trying to end the ISIL group, is heavily backed by Saudi Arabian money. Understanding this makes it easier to appreciate why the Front wants dominant power so ardently, as it is opposed to the Iraqi based ISIL.

This inner-Islamist conflict is causing rebel-held towns and areas to experience the worst violence and killing they have ever seen, more dangerous than the darkest days of regime assaults and bombardments. Residents in these areas of northern Syria cannot even flee their homes, as the fierceness of the fighting does not permit anything but to stay sheltered inside in the hope that a shell or grenade might just miss them. In particular, the town of Raqqa has seen control of the area change hands twice in the matter of a week.

For the regime, whilst this rebel-instigated destruction continues on, it can look on with contentment as its worst self-fulfilling prophecies about the opposition become reality.

Iran's strong support for the Syrian regime and for Hezbollah fighters also brings another country into the folds of this bloody war, and Iran is one significant exception from the list of parties invited to the Geneva II conference. This year Syria will continue to play out as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

As complex as the added incoming pressures are for Syria, the humanitarian crises that are being created in countries surrounding Syria seem to be incomprehensible in scale and burden. Lebanon finds itself not only putting up the largest number of Syrian refugees of any country, but it has also been hit by a wave of attacks as a result of heightened Sunni-Shia tensions over the Syrian war, including bomb attacks and the killing of a former Lebanese government minister.

It is not easy to comprehend what this war is actually like, but understanding a little of the complexities gives us a sober reminder of how far from peace Syria now is.

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