Let the harrowing images of Syria’s children be a force to end the fighting

The international community must redouble efforts for a ceasefire to avoid any more needless suffering

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2016, 12:41am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2016, 12:41am

Some people often find news from around the world so sad and so upsetting that they cannot bear to watch or read it. Many of us unconsciously develop coping mechanisms that filter out all but indelible images of man’s inhumanity to man. An enduring example of the latter remains the 1972 Vietnam war photo of children fleeing and screaming in pain and fear from a napalm bomb air attack, including a naked nine-year-old who had torn off all her clothes.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning picture sparked a global outcry that helped turn American public opinion against the conflict. Twice in the past year we have been reminded of how an image can convey a million words about the horrors of war.

Perhaps most poignant was that of the body of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach as his family tried to escape war and reach Europe, an image that is now a symbol of the despairing plight of millions of refugees.

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Most touching, and somehow a symbol of hope because he survived, was the image of five-year-old Syrian boy Omran Daqneesh, dazed, bloodied and muddied as he was carried to an ambulance after being pulled from the wreckage of a bombed building in a rebel-held district of the city of Aleppo.

First posted online, the video and stills of Omran have become a symbol of the plight of civilians trapped by the war, prompting renewed efforts to secure safe passage for relief medical and food supplies. Hopefully it will also spark redoubled diplomatic efforts to bring about a ceasefire and political negotiations for a settlement that enables undivided focus on the war against Islamic State.

Omran’s home city has been divided between government and opposition forces for four years, with an estimated 100,000 children still living among 250,000 people in the rebel-held area, according to the UN. Human-rights campaigners hope the image of just one of them will galvanise the international community to exert pressure for a ceasefire.