The upcoming international peace process intended to end the globally disruptive Syrian civil war will center on the future — if any — of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Assad's allies, most notably Russia and Iran, have invested blood and treasure to keep their client in power. The West and most Sunni Arab nations, conversely, believe that there can be no solution to the strife if Assad is allowed to stay.
Yet even among those who hold that view, there are some who are softening on the timeline of his departure. Some look at Assad as a lesser evil — or at least a more contained one — than the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other radical Islamic terror organizations.
Yet Assad's heinous reign suggests otherwise. On Thursday, medicine and food were finally allowed into Madaya and two nearby Syrian cities months after the government blockaded the city to seal off anti-Assad rebels.
Searing images of starving Syrians have shocked the world's conscience. The reaction may have prodded Assad to relent and allow the convoys. Relief workers were told that some Syrians already had died of starvation, which is just the latest weapon to be used in Assad's brutal rule of barrel bombs, chemical weapons and other means of murder. To date, an estimated 250,000 people have been killed in the conflict and another 11 million are either internally displaced or are refugees.
"Let me be clear: The use of food as a weapon of war is a war crime," said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The vast majority of Syrians won't and shouldn't accept permanent rule by a war criminal.
This latest crime is far from the only documented evidence of the Syrian government's human rights abuses. Those who want to ignore Assad's evil should read "If the Dead Could Speak: Mass Deaths and Torture in Syria's Detention Facilities," a harrowing report released in December by Human Rights Watch that details a defector's cache of tens of thousands of images taken from Syrian detention centers. The photos detail horrific torture and death at the hands of Assad's homicidal regime.
Another recent report — the Minnesota-based Center for Victims of Torture's "Reclaiming Hope, Dignity and Respect: Syrian and Iraqi Torture Survivors in Jordan" — provides firsthand accounts of victims that the organization heroically treats in Jordan. Almost all were truly victims, innocent bystanders caught in a cauldron of nihilistic violence. In fact, most reported that they were not even involved in the dispute. "Interviewees rarely reported being tortured to elicit certain information," the report reads. "Rather, the torture survivors believed that the perpetrators wanted to intimidate and create pervasive fear."
Of course, it's not just the Assad regime that tortures and kills, as the center's clients testify. Many are targeted by militias and terrorists, too. Ending Syria's nightmare won't happen until these groups are defeated. And it won't happen as long as Assad remains. As the peace process begins on Jan. 25, it's critical that those advocating for an end to Assad's rule remain resolute.