By Bassem Mroue
and Diaa Hadid
BEIRUT: Syrian troops advanced in a major rebel-held town near the Lebanese border amid heavy bombardment from warplanes, artillery and tanks as the country’s bloody conflict marked its third anniversary Saturday, state media and activists said.
The conflict, which began amid Arab Spring protests across the region, started off as protests that turned into an armed insurgency and eventually became a full-blown civil war that activists say has killed more than 140,000 people and has seen 2 million people flee the country. Peace talks between the government of President Bashar Assad and Syria’s divided opposition haven’t found a diplomatic solution to the crisis, which has seen sectarian violence rise as Islamic extremists entered the fight.
The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, vowed in a news release Saturday marking the conflict’s third anniversary “to bring down the Assad regime that is the main source of the Syrian people’s suffering.” The coalition’s chief Ahmad al-Jarba attacked Assad’s main backer Iran, as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Shiite fighters who came from Iraq to fight with government forces. He urged countries backing the opposition “to commit to their promises of giving sophisticated weapons” to rebels.
“We are fighting a brutal war and facing enemies who have no values or morals such as the gangs of (Hezbollah leader Sheik) Hassan Nasrallah ... mercenaries of hypocrisy coming from Iraq all the way to the head of the snake in Tehran,” al-Jarba said in a speech in Istanbul. “Oh Syrians: Our revolution will be victorious and the chemical terrorist regime will go. The battle is not long because we have passed the most difficult part.”
State media in Syria did not mention the anniversary.
In Beirut, international aid agencies said that every statistic tracking the lives of Syrian children has worsened as the conflict grinds on, warning an entire generation is at risk.
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said about 2.3 million children last year were in need of shelter, food, health care, education or psychological help for the trauma they suffered. That number has nearly doubled to 5.5 million children this year, he said.
“Every one of those numbers has a face. Every one of those numbers is a child who has lost a future, or whose future is at risk,” said Lake, who called Saturday “a sad and infuriating anniversary.”
The aid groups said little has been done despite a U.N. Security Council resolution last month calling for aid deliveries to be allowed.
“I think we have to be honest. The situation in Syria is getting worse, not better, and it hasn’t got better since the security council resolution,” said Justin Forsyth of Save the Children.