Beirut: As dozens of heads of state convene for the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York this week, the lingering conflict in Syria is taking a back seat while tensions in the Arabian Gulf and global trade wars take center stage.
Now in its ninth year, many Syrians fear the unresolved war has become a footnote in a long list of world crises, with weary leaders resigned to live with President Bashar Assad ruling over a wrecked and divided country for the foreseeable future.
On the eve of the global gathering in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced that a long-awaited committee that would draft a new Syrian constitution has been finalized - a step the U.N. hopes will put the war-ravaged country on track for a political solution.
But few see any real chance that the committee can make significant progress toward that end.
“The world has forgotten about us - not that anyone cared about Syria to begin with,” said Hussein Ali, a 35-year-old internally displaced father of two.
He fled the violence in Aleppo years ago, and now lives with his family in a single rented room in the opposition-controlled northern town of Azaz, near the Turkish border. “The rise of Daesh made the West care momentarily, but not anymore,” he said.
A frozen conflict
Most of Syria has returned to government control after eight years of war.
The exceptions are the opposition-held bastion of Idlib in the northwest, where rebels, Islamist militants and their families from all over the country have been cornered, and the oil-rich northeast, held by U.S.-backed Kurdish groups.
The violence has largely tapered off in most of the country, but few among the nearly 6 million refugees scattered across the globe have returned. Many fear detention if they come home - or they simply have no homes to return to.
Entire towns and villages are in ruins. The West will not contribute to reconstruction plans as long as Assad is in power and other countries are unwilling to invest without there first being a political settlement.
In Idlib, a Russia-backed government offensive to recapture the province continues to claim lives. Hundreds have been killed and more than 400,000 displaced in the past four months under Syrian and Russian airstrikes. But the bloodshed hardly makes a dent in global news.
“The world apparently has long since tired of the war, and resigned itself to frozen conflict, with a nationwide cease-fire as the best possible scenario,” said Heiko Wimmen, project director for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon at International Crisis Group.
While the world remains deadlocked over Syria, there is no initiative on the horizon to help resolve it. The U.N.’s current Syria envoy Geir Pedersen is the fourth to hold the post after the previous three resigned following years of mediating peace talks that led nowhere.
The constitutional committee announced Monday is made up of 150 members divided equally among government, opposition and civil society members. It took 20 months for the sides to agree on the names.
The committee is tasked with drafting a new Syrian constitution in talks facilitated by the U.N. in Geneva. Desperate for a breakthrough, Guterres has touted it as “a door opener” to eventual U.N.-supervised elections and a new future.
Syria is scheduled to hold presidential elections in 2021, and the U.N. hopes the talks can help create a climate and mechanism for holding a fair vote.
But with a clear military upper hand, Assad’s government is unlikely to offer any concessions, and Syrian officials have suggested he will run again.