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by Greg Manahan
Syria is crumbling; four of its top security chiefs are dead from last week's bombing; there are reports daily of civilian massacres committed by both sides of the conflict. Now record numbers of innocent civilians are being displaced, both internally and externally, while one neighboring country closes its borders to desperate refugees. All world powers appear to be doing is playing politics as usual – defending their own vested interests -- while the Syrians themselves burn. Israel has threatened some kind of military action, while desperate Syrian refugees seek refuge in a largely unreported humanitarian crisis of exodus.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israeli Channel 10 television news this past Friday that Israel was considering a mission to enter Syria to "take control" of its alleged "advanced weapons." Barak had just completed an inspection of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau taken from Syria during the 1967 war, which commands of view over the Syrian interior lowlands.
"I have instructed the military to increase its intelligence preparations and prepare what is needed so that ... [if necessary] ... we will be able to consider carrying out an operation,” Barak said. “We are following ... the possible transfer of advanced munitions systems, mainly anti-aircraft missiles or heavy ground-to-ground missiles, but there could also be a possibility of the transfer of chemical means [weapons] from Syria to Lebanon.”
Although there is no verifiable evidence of chemical weapons in Syria, Israel does have cause for concern regarding any short- to medium-range ordnance making its way to southern Lebanon. During the 2006 invasion by Israel into Lebanon, which was a fiasco, Syria supported Hezbollah by giving that organization missiles able to reach central Israel. However, after Hezbollah repulsed the Israeli army – which strengthened Hezbollah both politically and militarily in Lebanon -- the once-dangerous border area has been mostly quiet.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Syria is spiralling out of control. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Red Cross have both said that in past 48 hours alone, over 30,000 people have crossed over the Lebanese border. This number equals the number of refugees that have crossed in the previous entire 16 months. The UNHCR have also reported that more than 100,000 Syrian civilians are now registered as refugees. The organization added that there are many more refugees who, for various reasons, have not registered. These refugees, they say, have entered Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, even though Syrian rebels now control some border crossings, which forces neighboring countries to close their borders as well, due to the fighting.
Israel, on the other hand, despite pleas from the International Red Cross and Amnesty International, has indicated that it will not allow Syrian refugees across its border.
Israel's recent human rights record on the Syrian border has not been good. Israeli soldiers shot dead 13 unarmed Palestinian protestors, who were from refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon, and injured many more. These protesters were seeking to cross the border and demanding their right to return on Al Nakba (“the catastrophe”) day, May 15, 2011. Al Nakba day is when Palestinians and others commemorate the exodus of 750,000 Palestinian people, forced from their homes in 1948, to become part of what is now the largest refugee diaspora in the world.
While it may be understandable, from Israel’s point of view, to close its borders to desperate Syrian civilian refugees, it is also ironic; Israel’s founding famously followed the desperate journey of a ship filled with homeless German Jewish refugees, the Exodus, that was refused shelter throughout the world. It is to be hoped that all of Syria’s neighbors create a new history of compassion for innocent civilian while they consider what to do in the face of this urgent refugee catastrophe, and that none of Syria’s neighbors uses the crisis for political reasons, to heighten already crisis-level tensions.
:: photo courtesy of EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, via Creative Commons license ::
Greg Manahan is Director and owner of I Direct Productions a television and live production company in Dublin, Ireland. He is also an outspoken advocate of human rights, particularly in the Middle East.