French minister demands Assad trial
The Syrian civil war has killed more than 500,000 people
This handout picture provided by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on May 18, 2023 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad upon his arrival in Jeddah on the eve of the Arab League Summit. Assad is in the Saudi port city for the Arab League gathering, his first visit to the kingdom since the bloc suspended Syria in 2011 over the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators that led to civil war. (Photo by SANA / AFP) / === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / HO / SANA” – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ===
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be put on trial following “hundreds of thousands of deaths” and “chemical arms use” during the country’s civil war, the French foreign minister said on Tuesday.
Catherine Colonna’s call followed Assad’s appearance at a summit of the Arab League, a regional organization that had banned him and suspended his country for a decade.
“We have to remember who Bashar al-Assad is. He’s a leader who has been the enemy of his own people for more than 10 years,” Colonna said, Agence France-Presse reported.
A lifting of European Union sanctions on the Syrian regime was “certainly not” planned, she added.
Several Arab capitals cut ties with Assad after the Damascus regime’s repression of anti-government protests sparked a civil war in 2011, with some supporting the opposition instead.
The brutal war has killed more than 500,000 people, displaced millions and devastated much of the country’s infrastructure and industry.
States that once bet on Assad’s demise have warmed to him as he clung to power and clawed back territory with Iranian and Russian support.
“There is relief on the Syrian street in general, and great optimism about the future,” Bassam Abu Abdallah, who heads the Damascus Center for Strategic Research and is close to the government, said.
“We have turned a new page.”
Arab outreach peaked after the deadly 6 February earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey.
Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East Institute at SOAS University of London, said Assad saw the Arab League return “as recognition that he has won the war and as formal acceptance of his legitimacy as president.”
The opposition and rebels’ role in determining the country’s political future has vastly shrunk, Khatib added.
Large parts of Syria’s north remain outside government control after 12 years of war that pulled in foreign powers and global jihadists.
Though the frontlines have mostly quietened in recent years, Russian, Iranian, Turkish and United States forces are still present in Syria.
Several rounds of United Nations-brokered talks in Geneva between the government and opposition groups, aimed at forging a new constitution, have failed, with no political solution in sight.
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