Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Aid to Syrians to alleviate suffering

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PRIME Minister Stephen Harper's government has done the right thing by more than doubling Canadian emergency aid to Syria's suffering people in a concerted move with the United States, Britain and other allies. The ghastly civil conflict has spawned a human exodus that cries out for help.

Syrian refugees are fleeing unimaginable brutality at home, only to find themselves nomads in what one described as a living "hell" in ever-expanding refugee camps beyond their shattered country's borders.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird minced no words on his weekend swing through Lebanon and Jordan, calling the crisis in Syria "tremendously horrifying." The fighting that has engulfed Damascus, Aleppo and other cities has left 20,000 dead, 850,000 internally displaced and in need of food aid, and 200,000 or more fleeing to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. It has led to calls to give Syria's rebels more diplomatic support, material assistance, weapons and even air cover.

Given the United Nations Security Council's failure to authorize tougher sanctions or military action against the fury of President Bashar Assad's criminal regime, the world has a moral obligation to heed a recent UN appeal to assist civilians caught in the crossfire, and a practical interest in preventing the crisis from destabilizing the entire region.

The $10 million in aid Baird announced -- the bulk of which will be distributed by Jordan's government and the UN world food program -- is well within the comfort zone of most Canadians, who would prefer to lend a helping hand rather than be drawn into a war. Moreover, given that the Harper government has been accused of seeing the Mideast exclusively through an Israeli lens, this also was a way to show that Canada is ready to extend a helping hand to Arab states as well in times of need. That too is a good thing.

Canada's diplomatic and economic sanctions on the Assad regime are among the toughest by any country, but they will take time to work. By assisting Syrian civilians and refugees now, Ottawa shows that compassion for the Syrian people is also part of the mix. That can only strengthen our credibility in the Arab world.

Of course Baird's $10-million pledge, on top of $8.5 million before that, may not be the last. With the UN and our allies, we should do our share as needed to mitigate this tragedy.

As the costs of Syria's war rise, so too will pressure on Russia, China and Iran to stop shielding the Assad regime and to press the country's power brokers to bow to the world's demands for a political transition that takes into account the "legitimate aspirations" of the Syrian people, beginning with an end to the bloodshed and the delivery of urgently needed aid. As Ottawa rightly steps up its help, it builds capital to decry the trauma Assad's enablers continue to inflict on the region.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2012 A11

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