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الرئيسية » foreign articles » Syria’s war is drawing to a close. But the pain will go on : The Economist

Syria’s war is drawing to a close. But the pain will go on : The Economist

Bashar Assad rules the ruins of a nation he has bombed and gassed into submission

Syria’s dictator is going after wealthy tycoons—including his own relatives—to pay off his huge debts owed Russia

Bashar Assad rules the ruins of a nation he has bombed and gassed into submission

This is the start of a protracted battle for the province of Idlib, a swathe of scrubland in north-western Syria which contains dozens of towns and villages like Ariha and Haas as well as the city for which it is named. Lying between Aleppo and the coastal province of Latakia, it is the last big chunk of territory held by rebels.

All summer long Syrian and Russian jets have bombed Idlib, destroying homes, hospitals, schools and bakeries. The United Nations sought to protect medical facilities by sharing their co-ordinates with Russia (“humanitarian deconfliction”, in

On the ground the Syrian army has retaken Khan Sheikhoun, the site of a vicious chemical-weapons attack by the regime in 2017. The biggest town in the south of the province, it occupies a strategic position along the

There have been desperate attempts to halt the offensive. As

It is tempting to think that, for all its ghastliness, this campaign at least marks the end of the war. But it marks at best the end of the fighting: not of the damage. It threatens to send a new exodus of refugees to Turkey, where hundreds of thousands of newly displaced Syrians have massed on the border, and perhaps beyond. And it will leave Mr Assad in control of a depopulated, ruined country, ruled through fear and beholden to allies busy squabbling for spoils. Syria will be suffering and unstable for years, possibly decades.

), al-Qaeda’s former Syrian wing, were supposed to be completely excluded from this buffer zone. Less fanatical groups could stay—albeit without heavy weapons. Russia, in turn, would restrain Mr Assad.

. Both the rebels and the regime violated the terms of the truce, lobbing ordnance and explosive drones at each other. Even if they had not, no one knew how to turn a temporary ceasefire into a lasting peace between sworn enemies. The deal was never more than a can-kicking exercise.

Hoping to salvage the Sochi agreement, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, flew to Russia on August 27th. He wanted Vladimir Putin to restrain his Syrian allies. The Russian president sent him away empty-handed (though he did treat Mr Erdogan to an ice-cream cone for the benefit of the press corps). Unless Turkey is willing to occupy Idlib, as it did parts of Aleppo in 2016, it cannot forestall a regime offensive. Russia talks of creating a new buffer zone along the border, as if the 3m desperate people in Idlib could be crammed into a few kilometres.

Elsewhere there are few signs of reconstruction. The government cannot afford it. Gross domestic product is, at best, one-third of its pre-war level, according to

As the fighting draws to a close, Western powers have begun to debate whether to invest in rebuilding. America is unlikely to help. President Donald Trump is averse to spending money on foreigners; both parties in Congress find the thought of working with Mr Assad odious. The

A few offer an honest if self-interested argument: rebuilding Syria might encourage refugees to go home. The devastation of their country currently makes return very uninviting, particularly for refugees in Europe, who live in relative comfort compared with their compatriots in squalid camps in Lebanon or Jordan. But material wants are not their chief concern. In February the

Syria can look elsewhere for reconstruction money. China would have no qualms about dealing with a brutal dictatorship. It would want to turn a profit, though, and little about Syria’s corrupt and shattered economy looks profitable. Mr Assad’s closest allies, Russia and Iran, are struggling under economic sanctions. Neither can pick up a sizeable share of the estimated $250bn-$400bn tab to rebuild Syria. They want simply to claim the spoils: generous concessions to extract oil, mine phosphates and operate ports.

Then there is the unexpected bit of palace intrigue in Damascus this summer. Rami Makhlouf is a cousin of the president who made a fortune through his ownership of Syriatel, the largest mobile-phone operator, and then branched out to property, banking and other sectors. (He also helped finance the Tiger Forces.) With his family ties and wealth, he seemed untouchable—until August, when both regime supporters and critics said that Mr Makhlouf, and perhaps dozens of other tycoons, were being investigated. Offices were supposedly raided and assets frozen.

Indeed, almost from the start, the Syrian war was fought on false premises. Mr Assad cast his opponents as terrorists. Western powers misled the rebels to believe they would have help. Turkey pretended not to see tens of thousands of foreign fighters streaming across its borders. The delusions continue today, whether in Russia and Turkey mooting deals to save Idlib or European states thinking they have “leverage” over Mr Assad. But no amount of foreign aid will extract democratic reforms from a blood-soaked dictator who burned his country and gassed his people to stay in power. Nor will it convince many of the refugees who fled Syria to return
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Source The Economist