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IRC: Without a strategy, US airstrikes mean more danger for Syrian civilians

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  • After reported chemical attack in Douma, IRC concerned for civilians in Idlib and Homs who face risk of brutal tactics
  • Robust diplomatic strategy led by the US and accountability for war crimes urgently needed
  • If the Trump administration truly cares about the fate of Syrian civilians, it can do far better in resettling Syrian refugees

As the Trump administration and its allies prepare retaliatory action in Syria in response to the purported chemical attack that took dozens of lives in Douma, the IRC’s Senior Director of Advocacy, Amanda Catanzano, said:

“The big question is what coherent and decisive strategy lies beyond military action. The US’ tactical response to the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack last year did not change the calculus of the warring parties nor make Syrian civilians safer. It is foolish to think the same tactics would have a different outcome now, especially given the increasing complexity of the situation on the ground. In fact, an isolated US strike could lead to an uncontrollable escalation that puts more civilians in even more acute danger and makes a durable peace and relief for the Syrian people all the more difficult.

We share the world's outrage and horror at the unimaginable suffering Syrians have endured since 2011. We urge the Trump administration to channel that outrage constructively and lead the international community towards a political and diplomatic strategy that puts the interests of Syrians first - rather than a continuation of the uncertain, disjointed and episodic response undertaken by the West for the last several years. We have seen what happens when the US steps back from diplomacy: Syrians suffer and the region becomes even more unstable.

In the absence of robust, visible diplomacy, attacks on civilians - whether by poison gas or bullets and mortars, on hospitals and schools - will only continue. The IRC is particularly concerned about the millions of civilians still living in opposition-held areas, such as Idlib and Homs, who face the risk of the the brutal siege, starve and surrender pattern conducted so far with impunity.  

With the UN Security Council yet again at an impasse, so is accountability for war crimes committed against Syrian civilians - further delaying prospects for peace. The Council is now failing to act on reports of a new, and brutal, chemical weapon attack, sending a signal that these weapons are not off the table and the commission of war crimes will be met with international inaction. Accountability for war crimes - including the use of chemical weapons - must be an urgent focus for the Council, such as through the re-establishment of the UN Joint Investigative Mechanism.

And if the Trump administration truly cares about the fate of Syrian civilians, it can do far better in resettling Syrian refugees. So far this year, more Syrians were killed by the attack in Douma over the weekend than have been resettled in the U.S.

Without a coherent, comprehensive and unified diplomatic strategy for Syria, including an inclusive political process run by the UN, the leverage of the West will continue to diminish. This trend is only reversible with significant resources, priority and effort that seriously re-engages US allies in ending the war. Western powers need to demonstrate high-level interest and resolve at the Brussels conference on the future of Syria in two weeks time, and re-engage on finding a solution to the Syrian crisis through Geneva — rather than allowing the countries behind the Astana talks to continue to lead.”

Update, Apr. 13: IRC president David Miliband responds to news of airstrikes in Syria

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.