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Syria

Seven years on and no end in sight to Syrian civil war

Syrian civilians run for cover after a bomb hits Eastern Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus.
Syrian civilians run for cover after a bomb hits Eastern Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus. Abdulmonam Eassa/AFP

One if the simplest ways of understanding the scale of this conflict is to look at the numbers. Because in sheer terms of how many people have been affected, the numbers are shocking.

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Since 2011, more than 400,000 people have been killed. Hundreds of thousands more have been wounded. And at least half of the pre-war population of 20 million has been displaced.

“The impact the civilians has been staggering,” says Daniel Gorevan of the Norwegian refugee council, an aid group working with civilians on the ground.

“Six million people are have been internally displaced. A further five million have registered as refugees in neighboring countries. On top of that a million more have travelled to Europe to seek asylum.”

As the conflict enters its eighth year, a brokered end to the wars seems as far off as ever.

Jan Egeland, a UN special adviser on Syria, says he is optimistic about this the coming year, citing examples such as the demise of the Islamic State armed group.

But as the dynamics of the war have evolved, from a straightforward fight between the government and opposition into a patchwork of rebel groups and foreign powers fighting a proxy war, so have the politics

What is clear is that the Assad regime is winning.

“In some respects we are perhaps closer to some sort of diplomatic agreement.” says Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“But there have been diplomatic agreements in the past. We had Geneva I and Geneva II, and smaller agreements too, but none of them has really stuck.

“In one sense we are closer to a broader agreement because of the success of the Assad regime and the exhaustion of Western powers, but still that is all relative.”

Major flashpoints in the conflict today include Afrin an ethnically Kurdish town besieged by Turkey. There, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding. The population has exploded as civilians flee the surrounding region seeking protection in the town.

The Damascus-suburb of Eastern Ghouta is has been surrounded for years. Over the past month the Syrian government, backed by Russia have mercilessly bombarded the rebel-held enclave.

In that time more than 1200 civilians have been killed, a fifth of them children.

On Wednesday, thousands of people began fleeing the enclave as the airstrikes intensified.

“There is still an extremely high number of people being displaced,” says Daniel Gorevan.

“Hopefully the politics of the situation will change because we’ve seen seven years of the international community failing to rein in both the behavior of the parties to the conflict on the ground and to broker a political solution.”

On Thursday Ankara announced a second meeting between Turkey, Iran and Russia next month in Istanbul.

And while conferences on Syria have failed to secure significant political progress in the past, the only possible solution to the 7 year-old war will be a diplomatic one.

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