We're ignoring the biggest story on the planet

IT'S been dubbed the "biggest story on the planet".

So why does the West largely turn a blind eye to the deadliest conflict of the 21st century?

That was one of the questions put to the panel on the ABC's Q&A program on Monday night.

Host Tony Jones said the war in Syria was "probably the biggest story on the planet but we rarely get to talk about it (because it) seems like a long way to affluent people".

According to Save the Children International chief executive and former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt, Syria was "quite a normal country" about eight years ago.

"I was there and met President Assad," Ms Thorning Schmidt said.

"It was beginning to become a normal country. Now we have six million people who have fled and so many children who are traumatised perhaps for life about what has happened there."

More than 300,000 Syrians have been killed in the ongoing armed conflict which started with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war on July 19, 2012.

The War in Syria has caused millions of Syrians - about half the country's pre-war population - to be displaced as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other and jihadist militants including those from Islamic State.

The widespread destruction of infrastructure has seen Aleppo, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, all but obliterated by barrel bombs, bullets, chemical attacks and air strikes in the war.

Ms Thorning Schmidt said the organisation was calling on all countries to engage in a Security Council agreement.

"(It includes) rules of war that the warring partner will live by where you don't bomb schools, you don't bomb hospitals, you get access for humanitarian workers to get in and pick children and people up to get them to safe spaces and hospitals," she said.

"There's still a lot we could be doing and it's been very, very difficult to work in Aleppo and other places."

"It is important that we just sit back and urge everyone who is a warring party in that conflict, and there's a few, to just live by some very simple rules where you should not be bombing a hospital.

"You should not be bombing humanitarian aid workers that are trying to get access into the cities, you should not be bombing schools."


The Australian editor-at-large Paul Kelly said there was a "sense of hopelessness" about the war in Syria.

"The outlook, as far as I can see, is pretty bleak at the moment," Mr Kelly said.

"There have been efforts at negotiations. They haven't been successful.

"The degree of destruction and damage to human life is incomprehensible."

Mr Kelly said the war "defied our sense of humanity (and) political imagination".

"The idea 10 years ago this would have happened to Syria would have been beyond any sort of human understanding," he said.

"And the parties, the parties are locked in this conflict and they seem to be willing at this stage to continue the conflict for their own particular objectives."


The panel also discussed whether or not countries including Australia were taking serious steps to end the conflict and increase foreign aid.

The talk soon moved to who funded terrorists in Syria and whether or not Australia should cut supplies to the country.

Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the major players were not just the Assad regime and Islamic State.

"The Russians are heavily involved and with a veto at the UN Security Council, that has put a block on united action through the UN," Mr Frydenberg said.

"Iran is a Shiite country.

"And Assad is part of a minority group - only 13 per cent of Syria - but a Shiite sect. So Iran is heavily involved providing support through Hezbollah to the Syrian regime."

Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the Russian veto has blocked UN action in Syria. Picture: ABC
Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the Russian veto has blocked UN action in Syria. Picture: ABC ABC

The panel heard Saudis and other Gulf Arab states have also been involved in "funding the other side".

"It plays to a much bigger schism in the Islamic world between the Sunni and the Shiite sects," Mr Frydenberg said.

"And the US, famously Obama said, there is a red line here.

"If they use chemical weapons, we'll take action.

"There's lots of evidence to suggest that red line was crossed but no subsequent action was taken."

The final word went to Ms Thorning Schmidt who said it was important not to let other countries with people suffering be forgotten.

"Let's not forget we have about 14 million right now who are in a serious situation, many in risk of famine in the horn of Africa," she said.

"There's a toxic mix between war and drought, climate change, poverty, everything's happened there. And they are at real risk of famine.

"The reason I'm here is one day I got very, very angry by how this world treats its children."

Topics:  bashar al-assad editors picks refugees russia syria war

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