The next phase in this intractable and bloody tragedy could prove the most dangerous yet
The conflict in Syria, triggered by a grassroots uprising in 2011 against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad, is usually referred to as a civil war. But this description bears scant relation to what is happening there now. Syria has become an international battleground pitting the great powers, regional neighbours and supranational ethnic and religious forces against each other in a fight for strategic influence, territory and power. After last week’s unveiling of plans for deeper US engagement, this struggle may be about to enter a new, even more dangerous phase. The battle for Syria has produced no clear winners as yet. But there is no doubt who are the losers. Up to half a million Syrians have died, more than 5.4 million are refugees, and 6.1 million are internally displaced. Every day, more death and destruction rains down. In the past week, tens of thousands of civilians in the north-western Idlib province have been uprooted, many of them for a second or third time, by Russian and Syrian airstrikes and shelling. In total, more than 200,000 people have fled. Aid organisations and activists say hospitals and schools have been repeatedly targeted and supply routes blocked.
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