An estimated 5.5 million people, including two million children, have been cut off from running water for over three weeks in Damascus and its surroundings, the longest cut Syria's capital has seen. Intense fighting damaged the water infrastructure for the two main drinking water sources for Damascus.
The international community has not only failed to live up to its responsibility to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes but its very inaction has encouraged escalating criminality by the Assad regime. With the crossing of the red line on chemical weapons use refocusing international attention on Syria, we risk losing credibility -- and more Syrians risk losing their lives -- should we not start now taking meaningful action to protect civilians in Syria. To that end, it is critically important that any intervention adhere to the requirements of international law.
The Syrian government has now established a permanent network of surveillance over the old city. One night recently I was strolling through the souq and saw a figure walking slowly ahead of me in the poorly-lit passage, an object dangling from their arm. When I drew within a few paces, he started and turned quickly to face me, watching me closely as I passed.
The Sunday before last, a bomb exploded in Bab Touma Square in the middle of the morning, killing 13 people and injuring several others. While bombings of government targets and public spaces have become increasingly common over the last few months, this attack constituted the first of its kind in the old city since Syria's political crisis began in March last year.
To the East of the old city there is a busy road that tanks and other military vehicles often drive along as they travel between the nearest base and whichever suburb they happen to be fighting in on a given day. Recently, a friend saw a tank drive down this road in a convoy with some other vehicles. On its side its crew had had spray-painted, in big white Arabic letters, "Assad! -- or we destroy the country."
While many Syrians have suffered immensely during the current conflict, others continue to live much as before. One week, a young single mother and her two-year-old son came to stay in my house for a few days, her home destroyed and ransacked. Later that week, I went out and met a western friend for a drink in the old city. All of the girls were expensively and revealingly dressed and danced with their male companions seemingly unencumbered by their towering heels, while everyone was knocking back a range of exotic cocktails and shots.
The sound of violence in surrounding suburbs has become a feature of life in Central Damascus. While the central parts of the capital have, for the most part, been spared the fighting that has beset some outer suburbs in recent months, residents here are frequently reminded of their precarious situation by the sound of explosions and gunfire emanating from surrounding suburbs.
Replacing Bashar al-Assad in Syria is not sufficient. Shedding known problems for ones that are unknown is difficult. In Damascus, the ancient capital, or Aleppo, the nation's economic hub, exchanging a known set of difficulties (even terrible ones), for an unknown state of affairs is a fearful choice. But after the killing of four senior security officials in the very center of Damascus, the shelling of Damascus and the wholesale bombardment of Aleppo, perhaps the risk of doing nothing will finally outweigh the risk of the unknown.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called it boldly and rightly a Marshall Plan for Syria -- as a working group lead by our diplomats is helping the Syrian opposition to endorse a free market economy and leave behind Assad's socialism. The initiative by the German Foreign Ministry doesn't come a second too early.
The recent six-point multilateral agreement on Syria is a breakthrough for those seeking to end the country's horrific yearlong bloodbath. But despite overwhelming agreement that the killing must stop, a lack of shared opinion on whom or what to support now threatens to dash any hope of a ceasefire taking effect.