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Syria’s Humanitarian Lifelines

NEW YORK – After more than a thousand days of death and misery, two important recent public statements show why policy toward Syria must enter a new phase of intensity and focus. Last month, US President Barack Obama, in setting out his broader foreign-policy stance, spoke of Syria’s three evils – brutal military tactics, the terrorist threat from the opposition, and the need to support refugees. A week earlier, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported excruciating details of Syria’s humanitarian crisis, including citizens under fire from all sides, sustained government barrel-bomb attacks, and shortages of food and medicine.

Over the past three years, at least 160,000 people have been killed, nine million displaced, and three million refugees have flooded into neighboring countries. Many have suffered untold horrors, from repeated chemical weapons attacks to the bombing of hospitals and bread lines.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, growing ever stronger, is acting with impunity. The opposition is fragmented, comprising more than a thousand armed groups. And Syria’s neighbors are struggling to cope with the conflict’s spillover.

Three years ago, few would have believed that the world would do so little to prevent such a situation. But diplomatic efforts during this time have been lamentable. Indeed, the UN still has not replaced Lakhdar Brahimi, who recently resigned as its peace envoy to Syria.