Assad regime and his allies became close than ever to retrieving Aleppo from the rebels driving more than 275.000 civilians to unknown future, in addition to bringing the Syrian people’s dreams in freedom to an end, while the western nations who have always said they are friends of the Syrians watched in silence.
By the summer of 2015, President Assad seemed on the verge of being overthrown. Then Russia launched its military intervention – all the while paying lip service to a diplomatic process the US administration pursued to no avail.
The Russian intervention tilted the war in favor of Assad regime and cost the rebels many of their strongholds, making Aleppo one of the last ones and the most important pressure point on Assad regime to accept a political solution to end the war. However, Aleppo became under heavy fire and crippling siege since the start of this year
The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo since the start of this year.
Many ceasefire agreements accompanied by peace talks meetings were organized to help find a solution to the crisis, but Assad regime breached every ceasefire and hindered every peace talks meeting without any pressure moves or real steps from the western powers.
Battle of Aleppo
Assad regime forces have gradually closed in on eastern Aleppo this year, first cutting the most direct lifeline to Turkey before fully encircling the east, and launching a major assault in September.
Assad regime forces started a major offensive to push opposition fighters out of the besieged eastern half of the city on 15 November.
Helicopters continue extensively dropping barrel bombs in conjunction with airstrikes by warplanes on areas in the eastern neighborhoods of the city, accompanied by artillery shelling by the regime forces in the same places.
The regime’s forces’ persistent and the intensive airstrikes forced the rebels to leave the areas they hold.
In just over a week, the rebels have lost most of the northern neighborhoods in besieged east Aleppo.
Around 30.000 thousands of civilians left their homes fleeing the extreme bombardment and the clashes in the eastern parts of Aleppo in the last days, while voices around the globe have been calling for an end of this blood bath.
Thousands of others preferred to move to other rebel-held parts of the city as reports said that regime forces were arresting the fleeing men.
U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said more than 100,000 people may still be in the rebel-held area. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that reports on the war, said it could be as many as 200,000 people.
The regime has urged Aleppo’s rebel factions to accept a surrender under which they would abandon the city. In previous deals between the regime and rebels, they have been given safe passage to the opposition-held province of Idlib, while the civilians were forced to leave their homes too and leave to other areas.
Lavrov has confirmed that the Russians are actively talking to the Syrian opposition in Aleppo to try to establish some form of truce and also some form of “humanitarian access”
However, he also vowed Russia would continue its operations in eastern Aleppo and would rescue the city from what he described as “terrorists”, meaning that this ceasefire will take place only after the rebels defeat or their surrender.
Such a ceasefire will not save anything or ease the suffer of the civilians as the whole world asks. on the contrary, it will put give Russia and Assad a license to keep bombing Aleppo, destroying it to the ground and killing more of its civilians while appearing in the end as the heroes who agreed to end stop the war after nothing is left to fight for and dance on the rubble and dead bodies.
Western condemnations, no real moves
The western diplomats condemned the offensive and asked to stop it, while not mentioning any real steps their countries are willing to do to make this happen.
US Department of State officials have made it clear that nothing much can be done; western countries have convened an emergency security council meeting, but nothing more than words of condemnation and warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe was said.
Matthew Rycroft, the UK ambassador to the UN, pointed to UN figures that a million people are now living under siege across Syria, half of them children.
“Russia has vetoed time and again to prevent the security council from finding the unity necessary to end this war. And so I ask again Mr President, what will it take?” he said.
“Without a change in policy, without a change of heart, that’s exactly what this is – the slow, painful, bitter execution of a million Syrians, cut off from aid convoys, cut off from the world,” he said.
The French envoy, François Delattre, said the crushing of eastern Aleppo was not just a humanitarian calamity but also a strategic mistake.
“What is happening in Aleppo will only fuel chaos and terrorism. Not only is it not a way in our view to combat terrorism, but it is a mechanic way, automatic way, to fuel radicalisation and terrorism,” Delattre said.
While the Russian ambassador backed the offensive and his country’s intervention, giving a clear sign on the real way a global power defend its interests, with power and not empty words.
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, rejected calls for an end to the offensive, which is being spearheaded on the ground by Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian-led units, with Russian air support.
Churkin said Russia shared concern for the fate of the civilian population but argued their plight would not be eased by ceasing “counter-terrorist operations” against “bandits” that the UK and France had “coddled and fuelled”.
He called the White Helmet civil defence organisation, which digs people out of bombed buildings, a “pseudo-humanitarian” group, and said UN resolutions calling for an end to the bloodshed were “a pointless tactic”.
Russia’s propaganda machine is hard at work alongside the Syrian regime’s, trying to frame these events as the “liberation” of a population described as hostages of Islamic terrorists.
This is as false as it is cynical. “Terrorists” is the label attached to the opposition to Assad ever since the outbreak of the 2011 street uprising against his dictatorship – a revolution that morphed into a full-on civil war after the Damascus government decided to deploy military power, including missiles, barrel bombs and chemical weapons, against its own population.
The failure of west’s contradictory and piecemeal policies
Capturing eastern Aleppo would be the biggest victory for Assad regime since the start of the revolution against him in 2011, restoring his control over the whole city apart from a Kurdish-held area that has not fought against him.
It would also be seen as a victory for his allies, Russia and Iran, which have outmaneuvered the West and Assad’s regional enemies through direct military intervention.
For Assad regime, taking back Aleppo would make its forces focus on ending the remaining rebels-held areas. These areas include the rebels’ stronghold in Idlib in addition to isolated areas in rural Damascus, Homs, and Hama.
These areas have been under daily bombardment and crippling siege for years. The Old city of Homs and parts of rural Damascus has already been lost to Assad regime, and the remaining areas are expected to follow.
As a conclusion, defeating the rebels and retrieving Aleppo means destroying the last major resistance stronghold of the Syrian rebels and will lead eventually to the victory of Assad regime and ending the Syrian revolution.
The fate of rebel-held Aleppo spells the abject failure of the west’s contradictory and piecemeal policies. It is a humiliation for the UN. Its fall will be an unequivocal victory for Russian strategy. Aleppo will join an infamous list of cities whose names are synonymous with mass crimes committed while the world looked impotently on: Srebrenica, Grozny, even Guernica.