Skip to main content

Residents run from a fire at a gasoline and oil shop in Aleppo's Bustan Al-Qasr neighbourhood October 20, 2013. Witnesses said the fire was caused by a bullet fired by a sniper loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing, a passageway separating Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr, which is under the rebels' control and Al-Masharqa neighborhood, an area controlled by the regime.Haleem Al-Halabi/Reuters

Syria has met its first chemical-weapons deadline. Why, it even hit the milestone a full day ahead of target.

But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hardly deserves bonus points. Chemical weapons have come to inhabit an outsized level of importance on the international stage; the destruction of chemical-weapons production and mixing facilities hasn't prevented his regime from continuing to kill in the conventional way.

In Syria, 115,000 people have died so far. As winter approaches, life is even more fragile. A polio outbreak among children in the east highlights the devastating effects of war as it drags on. Before the conflict, 95 per cent of Syria's population was immunized. Now, the United Nations says half a million children are vulnerable to a disease that had been eradicated because medical care is non-existent or too dangerous to access.

Five million internally displaced Syrians are marooned in villages by government or rebel blockades. For them, the threat of chemical weapons ranks below more immediate concerns: How will they feed their families? The safe passage promised for food and medicine has yet to materialize in a meanginful way.

For the two million refugees who have fled the country, refugee camps offer little respite. They are woefully underfunded, with international donors failing to cough up the millions of dollars promised. The UN estimates just 36 per cent of aid committed to Syrian citizens has actually been delivered. Meanwhile Qatar and Russia – two countries that have no trouble funnelling arms into the country – aren't sending their fair share of aid, according to Oxfam.

So while Syria has so far held up its end of the bargain on chemical weapons, it's difficult to applaud a regime that continues to kill great numbers of its own people. Unconventional war has stopped; conventional war goes on. If this is the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the Cold War – as the UN says – the world should start acting like it. It's time to push for a peace deal.