As the world has so many new news stories to focus on – the worst mass shooting in the U.S., the battles for independence in Kurdish Iraq and Catalan Spain, the bloody oppression of the Rohingya in Myanmar, brinkmanship in North Korea – it’s almost as if the bloodiest war in the 21st century has ended.
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Most news we’ve been hearing from Syria in the last few months has been about the “last stages” of the battle against Islamic State and the discussions of a postwar settlement there. Six and a half years since the rebellion against Bashar Assad’s regime began, hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of displaced refugees later, the world leaders have acquiesced with Assad remaining on his blood-drenched throne. However, the war is far from over, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has kept a meticulous body count throughout, reported at the beginning of this week that not only has the killing far from ended, but the last month, September, was the bloodiest since the start of 2017.
In September, 3,055 people were killed in Syria – at least a third of them civilians, among them 207 children. The war is not over, because despite the Syrian regime’s regaining control of most of the territory with the help of Iran and Russia, there are still significant pockets of resistance remaining. Most of the casualties were caused by the fighting against ISIS around the city of Raqqa and in the Euphrates Valley where ISIS is expected to make its last major stand.
While most of the fighting against ISIS is being carried out now by Western-backed forces, the regime and its supporters are still struggling to regain parts of the country which have been held by Syrian rebels for years now. The largest of these is Idlib province, in northwest Syria, where rebels remain largely in control, and in recent weeks ferocious Syrian and Russian airstrikes have been carried out, with their targets including hospitals and clinics, according to Doctors Without Borders.
It is a similar tactic to the one used so devastatingly in other areas, including against Aleppo, where by bombing hospitals, schools and bakeries the will of the local population which supported the rebels was finally broken.
A year ago, there was still the slender hope for civilians under bombardment that a new U.S. administration, under a President Hillary Clinton, would overturn the Obama policy of not intervening in Syria and impose a no-fly zone over civilian areas in the country. But Clinton lost, and while Trump early in his term seemed to be signaling a shift by launching a retaliatory attack following the use of chemical weapons by the regime, since then there have been few signs of a coherent American policy. If anything, there has been a rise in the civilian deaths caused by airstrikes of the U.S-led coalition, though these have been less indiscriminate than the Russian and Syrian bombings.
The major supporters of the anti-regime rebel groups have drastically tamped down their efforts. Turkey has entered the Astana process, together with Russia and Iran, cutting off vital supply routes from its borders. Jordan, which worked mainly with the U.S. and the Sunni Gulf states to supply and provide bases for the rebels in the south, has also begun to shut down its operation, and just this week it was reported by Human Rights Watch that thousands of Syrian refugees who found sanctuary in its territory were being deported back to their still war-torn country. For years, Jordan and Turkey made efforts to host the refugees and received billions in foreign aid to help them; now both countries are anxious to turn the page.
Syria hasn’t slipped off the world’s agenda. Russia and Iran, Turkey, the U.S. and Israel, are all anxious to safeguard their interests in post-war Syria. It’s just the monthly toll of thousands of lives that has stopped interesting anyone.