Questions to Kim Sengupta

Yesterday Kim Sengupta, defence correspondent for The Independent, recently returned from Aleppo, answered questions from the online community. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay to view the whole discourse but my question was answered:

Q. What reaction was there from fighters regarding Kofi Annan’s resignation, the role played by the UN and the £5 million in British non-lethal aid? – John, Brighton

A.The fighters regarded the Annan plan as dead in the water a long time ago. They do not appear to have much faith on the UN and, increasingly, any peace plan; the feeling is that the military option is the only one left unless President Assad and his circle leave Syria. There was some curiosity about the British aid with questions about how exactly the money would be disseminated and spent.

This was followed by a good question from Wael.

Do you think providing the opposition with more developed weapons can help end this crisis faster? How do you evaluate the public support of the SFA inside Syria? Can you see any prospect for a solution? – Wael

A. It is undoubtedly the case that the rebels need heavier weapons facing what they do from the regime. In particular they are in need of anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank weapons. Part of the problem about arming them, I gather from people who are supplying the arms, is that the rebels have, so far, failed to form cohesive bodies through whom distribution can take place, Instead individual khatibas (battalions) send their own shopping lists. Any solution must start with a proper cease-fire which can be monitored. I am afraid that on the ground the chances of that seem further away than ever.

It’s all well and good sending non-lethal aid. But against a regime with heavy weaponry, including tanks, gunships and fighter jets, this aid may soon end up in the hands of Assad’s supporters. What the Free Syrian Army (FSA) really needs is weaponry. This view was expressed by a Syrian doctor – a doctor of all people – in an article by Kim Sengupta.

“We need weapons, anti-tank, anti-aircraft, anything we can get hold of.”

Fears of escalating the conflict are well founded but from which angle? Iran and Russia will lose an ally in the region if Assad is overthrown while groups like Hezbollah can only gain from the turmoil. Meanwhile the West speaks of the appalling atrocities of the Assad regime but fails to act decisively.  Whatever the outcome Syria, and the Middle-East, will remain unstable.

The situation in Syria has spread to neighbouring countries. From the kidnapping  of Iranian ‘pilgrims’ and differing sects from Lebanon, to refugees fleeing to Turkey and Jordan. Yet today the UN will meet to discuss whether to establish a new civilian office to end the conflict.

As Mr Sengupta said, the fighters viewed the peace plan dead a long time ago. Both sides believe they can win militarily yet one is under equipped to remain in the struggle for much longer.

Where there is a will there is a way. But a lack of political will means the conflict can only end one way; further violence and the uncertainty that follows.