Current Affairs Czech embassy stays in Damascus as violence escalates
The Czech Republic will provide consular services for the US in Syria, the Foreign Ministry confirmed on Wednesday, after Poland, which had taken on that function until now, withdrew its diplomats recently. As the conflict between pro-government forces and anti-Assad rebels escalates, the Czechs are among the few who have retained their mission in Damascus.
Italy, Sweden, France, and Finland are just a few on the ever-growing list of countries that have closed their embassies in Syria in light of the 17-month-old armed conflict. The US withdrew its diplomats in February and until now its consular activities were handled by Poland; now, following a request by the US, such matters will be handled by the Czechs. Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimír Galuška said the US issued a request last Friday and officially contacted the host country – Syria – this week.
“I think we can safely assume that [the US] trusts us in these matters and of course there is also the factor that we are one of the few EU countries who still have a mission operating in Damascus. For those reasons, I think their choice was not only political but also practical.”
Czech officials are understandably monitoring the security situation, changing hour-by-hour. If anything it appears to be growing only more volatile. At least 70 people, it was reported by the BBC on Thursday, had been killed in Damascus in recent house-to-house sweeps by government forces; many of them reportedly summarily executed – shot in the head or face.
Aleppo, one of the most important cities in the country described as crucial in the continuing conflict, meanwhile, has also seen fierce fighting between the pro-regime army and rebel forces, with innocents, being caught in between.
I spoke to Assem Atassi, a Homs native and a member of the Free Syria Initiative in Prague, who confirmed contact with some friends and family members at home or in neighbouring Jordan where they had taken refuge. Mr Atassi described the situation in Aleppo as well as its importance in the fight against Bashir Assad’s regime.
“In Aleppo I think the Free Syrian Army has the advantage now because the regime army was surprised by this attack. Until now, even though they have fewer people, I think they have the advantage. The Syrian regime and the Syrian army, of course, don’t want to ‘lose’ Aleppo’s inhabitants because it is known that Aleppo was one of the last cities to participate in the revolution. So, they are trying to not do what they already did in Homs which turned the people into enemies. They are trying to avoid massacres like they committed elsewhere.”
The BBC reported, for example, how difficult it is to get food in Aleppo – that on bakery had opened after many days – and I imagine it is equally difficult to get other supplies... what is the humanitarian situation?
“It is as bad as in Homs or Damascus and other cities or towns: places are surrounded by the regime’s army and they are offering no humanitarian aid to ordinary people.”
Assad himself has called the coming days key in the conflict: do you think that is indeed the case and what are the chances of the government forces being defeated so that there can be a new future for Syria?
“It is really hard to say that now the Free army has a greater advantage that will continue against the regime. We know that the regime still has chemical weapons and other weapons which, from the point-of-view of the regime could be used as a last resort. We are very afraid of that. That could be a last attempt to defeat the Free Syrian Army.”