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Sometimes you hate to be proven right.

Last week the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an Arkansas-based outfit that operates a couple of schools in the Idlib province of Syria, sent a letter to the Trump administration, begging for help. The letter was signed by 32 organization and religious leaders from around the country, many of them here in Arkansas.

The leaders of the Syrian regime are trying to stamp out one of the last remaining parts of the country still in opposition hands. And if women and children and innocents of all ages happen to be slaughtered in the process? Oh well, collateral damage and all that.

"We are writing you with profound alarm about the dangerous escalation of violence in Idlib province," the letter to the Trump administration said. "On a daily basis, relentless artillery shelling and aerial bombardment shake the foundations of our School for Ophans. White phosphorus illuminates the sky over our Women's Center before wreaking havoc and terror elsewhere."

Then came this week. The papers were filled with stories that make our friends at the Syrian Emergency Task Force look clairvoyant.

Most of the time, it's the Syrian government that kills its civilians. But in this latest dogfight, insurgents fired rockets at the government forces, and killed five kids instantly. The government retaliated by spraying more metal at the insurgents, who will seek a safer place from which to fire again, and retaliation will follow retaliation until--this isn't being disputed much--the government of Bashar al-Assad finally "wins."

The folks running the Syrian Emergency Task Force from Little Rock can only hope their schools are spared the rogue artillery shell that doesn't discriminate between 5-year-olds and legal combatants.

Gosh, but wasn't there a recent cease-fire brokered by major players in the region? Yes, but unfortunately that cease-fire was brokered by Russia and Turkey. That would be like a cease-fire brokered by allied street gangs. It might hold a while, but eventually the opposition is going to flash the wrong sign or wear the wrong colors, and gang leaders will order hits again. These are not responsible types devoted to governance and stability.

Lest we forget, the Russians and Turks came up with those "De-Escalation Zones" in Syria, which turned out to be slaughter zones instead.

Also in the last few days, The New York Times came out with a report that showed the Syrian regime hasn't just been waging war against opposition in the hills. It's also waging war against civilians under its control. The Bashar al-Assad regime--emphasis on basher--runs a secret "industrial-scale" system of torture prisons.

According to The Times: "While the Syrian military, backed by Russia and Iran, fought armed rebels for territory, the government waged a ruthless war on civilians, throwing hundreds of thousands into filthy dungeons where thousands were tortured and killed. Nearly 128,000 have never emerged, and are presumed to be either dead or still in custody . . . ."

The war against insurgents is winding down in Syria--that is, outside Idlib--but the war on civilians is likely to continue.

"Kidnappings and killings by the Islamic State captured more attention in the West," the article notes, "but the Syrian prison system has vacuumed up many more times the number of people detained by ISIS in Syria. Government detention accounts for around 90 percent of the disappearances tallied by the Syrian Network."

You can count on the UN to dither. Russia has a veto, so that outfit won't do much more than express its concerns to all sides. The Trump administration has already weakened its hand by pledging to reduce its troop level in eastern Syria. And five million Syrians spread out across the Middle East and Europe will likely never be invited back home.

When we become dejected thinking about Syria, we can at least lift ourselves by noting that even if the world's leaders are sitting on their hands, the world's people aren't. See folks at the SETF in Arkansas, even. We are encouraged by their action, and note the words of a political activist, writer and Nobel Laureate of some note, who knew about things like genocide and government-sanctioned slaughter:

"Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, we must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."

--Elie Wiesel

Editorial on 05/14/2019

Print Headline: Letters from the front

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