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The Syrian presidential election held on Tuesday, which incumbent Bashar al-Assad won by an overwhelming majority, is another testament to how intractable the country’s crisis has become. The results of this election were a foregone conclusion, given that the ragtag coalition of Syrian rebels had boycotted it, and polling was held only in government-controlled areas. Without any serious international effort to mediate the civil war, or nudge its principal actors towards a power-sharing agreement, this election will merely encourage Assad and his foes to dig their heels in.
Just as Iran and Russia continue to back the Assad regime, the US has been tacitly supporting its allies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as they funnel money and arms to the rebels. If there has been some handwringing in the West recently over supporting the Syrian opposition, it is a belated realisation of the folly of letting weapons end up in the hands of the jihadist groups that are part of it, like the Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The progressive militarisation of this crisis over three years has relegated the possibilities of a political solution. Lakhdar Brahimi, the latest international diplomat to throw in the towel after serving 19 months as the UN Secretary General’s special representative to Syria, has said that his “greatest fear” was the world simply becoming “accustomed to the stream of bad news emanating from Syria”.
But it is still not too late for the international community to broker a peace deal between Assad and the rebels. The UN’s immediate priority must be to remove the last remaining consignments of chemical weapons from the country. The freeze that has set in between Russia and the US over Crimea must not spill over to Syria: the civil war has killed and displaced far too many for political calculations to continue ignoring this humanitarian catastrophe.