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No Scarves. No Solution

 No Scarves. No Solution

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma (AFP/Getty Images)

The world has found a way to strike back at Syrian President Bashar Assad: they have slapped travel sanctions on his London-born wife, Asma, to thwart her addiction to luxury shopping.

One year into Assad’s churning assault against various opposition groups, stopping his wife from shoping in Europe is one of the few things the EU was able to agree upon.

Assad already had travel and other sanctions placed on him since last May but he really was not planning to go anywhere. Some suggest that is part of the problem — he won’t leave. Now his mother and sister also face travel bans.

But for Asma, that may mean an end to her buying the Chanel dresses and Louboutin shoes she apparently craves, at least according to hacked emails that were made public.

Even this action against Assad has a loophole: if Asma travels on her British passport, the U.K. will have to admit her.  Thus it appears that slipping through entrance barriers to countries to shop will be much easier for her than for the journalists or aid workers trying to enter Syria, or for the flow of supplies to those battling her husband.

And that is of even more importance today.

As the Assad regime turns its sights and guns on yet another Syrian city, the Syrians who are battling him made a plea the other day. They are running out of ammunition and need help immediately.

Shades of Bosnia again. The guys with the guns are the ones doing the most killing of innocent civilians. The groups who could use help of the world cannot get it.

The Arab League is meeting again this week, this time in Baghdad. That city still shows signs of war’s devastation but it has not seemed to inspire any action from the League other than yet another statement calling for a ceasefire and talks.

As those words churn, air-to-ground missiles are being fired at Assad’s opponents. And the opponents are now reported to be recruiting and using child soldiers.

Yes, it can get worse.

Assad’s latest target is Saraqeb, in the northern province of Idlib, which has been held by army defectors for months. The attack came 11 days after troops retook Idlib city, the provincial capital, which had also been under rebel control for months.

 No Scarves. No Solution

Smoke rises from buildings in the Bab Sbaa neighbourhood of Homs (Reuters)

One by one Assad is picking off the cities as he ignores requests for talks, stares down a tepid Arab League bluff and continues his plan to stamp out all dissent. For two months Assad has implemented stepped up offensive strikes to capture a number of rebel strongholds: the provincial capital and other towns in the northwestern province of Idlib which  borders Turkey, the central provinces of Hama and Homs, and the eastern oil-rich region of Deir el-Zour which borders Iraq.

In the process, he has closed down or tightened access routes for supplies, humanitarian workers and journalists.

Earlier this week, Assad brushed aside a U.N. Security Council statement calling for a cease-fire to allow for dialogue between all sides on a political solution. Assad’s government said they do not operate under threats or ultimatums.

While the anti-Assad forces struggle for weapons and supplies, Assad has no such challenge. Reports this week by U.S. intelligence officials said Iran is providing Assad with a broad array of assistance from high-tech surveillance technology to guns and ammunition. (Link to Reuters story:

The ironies of the comparison to Bosnia continue, right down to the fact that the latest diplomatic mission to Syria is headed by Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general who, during the Bosnian conflict was head of U.N peacekeeping operations. He was then appointed special representatives to the former Yugoslavia and eventually was able to get NATO to send troops to end that conflict.

Now Annan is leading international efforts to bring peace and has drawn up a six-point plan, including demands for a ceasefire, the immediate withdrawal of heavy armor from residential areas and access for humanitarian assistance.  He is in Moscow where he is trying to get Russian support for the mission. This will be more deja vu for him; Russian opposition often vexed efforts to bring the Bosnian conflict to a close.

Annan’s role, according to insiders, has one true over-arching purpose: to find a way for Assad to exit. He knows that is the most likely best scenario to end the bloodshed and give Syria a chance to regain some footing and a future.

He also knows that is one crucial difference from Bosnia that will make his job difficult.  In Bosnia, the NATO forces could control the tempo from the start, with relative safety despite Serb wiliness. Militarily, it was a much easier situation to dominate.

Not so in Syria. From air defense systems to a geographical challenge to invade and hold, dominating Syria will be much more of a challenge.

Meanwhile, the killing continues.

In Bosnia, estimates vary as to how many civilians were killed, with some numbers placing the dead up to 250,000 and more than 2 million displaced. In Syria, the United Nations estimates 8,000 civilians have died in the conflict.

Shopping for a solution is tougher than shopping for scarves.



Tom Squitieri

Tom Squitieri has spent more than three decades as a journalist, reporting overseas for the Lowell (Mass.) Sun, the Boston Herald and USA TODAY. He won three Overseas Press Club awards and three White House Correspondents' Association awards for his reporting from Haiti, Bosnia, and Burundi. He is a newly-elected board member of the Overseas Press Club.

In academics, Squitieri was invited to create and then teach a unique college course that combines journalism, public affairs, ethics, philosophy, current affairs and war zone survival skills into a practical application to broaden thinking and day-to-day success. The class "Your 15 Minutes: Navigating the Checkpoints in Life" has a waiting list each year.

Born in Pittsburgh and raised in western Pennsylvania, Squitieri has been on all seven continents and in dozens of places he intends to keep secret.