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To end Syria civil war, West must guarantee minorities' safety with peacekeeping force

Minorities in Syria support the Assad regime because they fear the alternative. To erode Bashar al-Assad's base of support, Western leaders should offer meaningful security reassurances to Syria's minorities, including the promise of an international peacekeeping force.

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A commander of the Ghurabaa al-Sham Front (a jihadist rebel group that is fighting in Syria) speaks on his phone in front of a church that was shelled by mortars at the Christian village of Judeida, in Idlib province, Syria, Feb. 21. Op-ed contributors Thorsten Janus and Helle Malmvig write: 'Without safety guarantees, Syria’s minorities are unlikely to shift support away from [the Assad regime].'

Hussein Malla/AP/File

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Though Syria’s civil war rages on, Western leaders may have the power to help end the bloody conflict. And it’s not by arming the rebels.

Instead, Western countries – in cooperation with regional powers like the Arab League – should work to offer meaningful security reassurances to the minorities now supporting the Assad regime. This will undermine Bashar al-Assad’s base, move the country toward a political resolution to the conflict, and help ensure an inclusive post-Assad society. Without safety guarantees, Syria’s minorities are unlikely to shift support away from Mr. Assad. The promise of an international peacekeeping force, possibly headed by NATO and backed by the Arab League, could achieve that goal.

When Syria’s conflict began, it looked political: A repressive regime was fighting to preserve its power and privileges. The opposition was fighting to end them. As 2012 wore on, however, the conflict looked increasingly sectarian: Communities of ordinary Alawites were targeted by Sunni Arab rebels, and a number of Alawite, Christian, and other minority-based militias started supporting the Alawite-based regime.

However, the main reason Syria’s minorities tend to support the regime is not their loyalty to Assad or hatred of Sunnis but their legitimate fear of the alternative. This is not surprising, given the historical discrimination and ostracism of Alawites under Sunni regimes before a 1970 coup brought Assad’s father to power, and the ruthlessness and sectarian tendencies displayed by Sunni rebels.

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