President of the Istanbul-based opposition Syrian National Coalition, Khaled Khoja, urged the international community on Tuesday to impose a no-fly zone in the war-weary country to save civilians who, he asserted, were suffering “genocide” at the hands of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
At a conference devoted to the Syrian crisis held on the sidelines of the 70th UN General Assembly in New York, Khoja accused the Assad regime of targeting civilians rather than the Daesh militant group or other armed opposition groups.
“Two-thirds of civilian deaths [occurring in Syria] are now caused by Assad’s aerial bombardments,” he alleged.
“And 95 percent of those being killed by Assad’s airstrikes are civilians,” he added.
A devastating civil war in Syria, now in its fifth year, has claimed more than 250,000 lives, according to UN figures, and made the country the world's single-largest source of refugees and displaced people.
The Syrian army, meanwhile, has been using “barrel bombs”, a cheap improvised alternative to conventional bombs, against opposition-held areas.
Barrel bombs are metal barrels stuffed with explosives, shrapnel and oil. Lacking the accuracy of conventional munitions, they are typically dropped from army helicopters and often result in indiscriminate civilian casualties.
Khoja stressed that establishing a no-fly zone in Syria would “save some 200 civilian lives” each week, while also alleviating the country’s humanitarian crisis and easing the refugee outflow from Syria.
A no-fly zone in Syria would also help the fight against Daesh, according to Khoja, who asserted that fighting the militant group without accompanying efforts to protect civilians “has only served to fuel extremism.”
He went on to describe every barrel bomb dropped by the regime as a “gift” to Daesh recruiters.
“A no-fly zone will increase the potential for the managed political transition that was agreed upon in the Geneva Communiqué,” he said.
“Denied its most prolific battlefield weapons – aerial bombardment – the regime will have no choice but to negotiate,” Khoja said.
“The regime’s foreign backers – Iran, Hezbollah and Russia – will know that efforts to bolster the regime are futile,” he added. “A political solution will become their only choice.”
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