The devastation in Syria, which I have written about previously, continues unabated. In recent weeks, the Assad regime, with full military backing by Russia, Iran and some Iraqi militias, has laid a brutal siege over Aleppo. Aleppo is considered one of the last major bastions of major support and supplies for the rebels who have risen against the regime since the beginning of the civil conflict years ago in March 2011.
Aleppo was once the largest city in Syria. After the start of the uprising against Assad, it has been a rebel stronghold, particularly in the Eastern side. For some time in 2013, ISIS also had a presence in Aleppo but were effectively pushed out by the rebels.
In September 2015, Russia entered the conflict with a major military presence as Assad was seen to be tottering. The Russians provided airstrikes to support Assad’s ground troops and effectively shored up the regime to ensure it does not topple. In February of this year, the US and Russia negotiated a truce. As I had posited earlier, this truce seemed to be rather tenuous and a chance for the different sides to re-arm. The truce only lasted 3 months.
In July, Assad and his allies launched a full-scale assault on Eastern Aleppo to try and end the major rebel resistance once and for all. Given that this area is home to over 250,000 people, there were serious alarms raised about possible human rights abuses and loss of civilian life. On 14 December, after massive shelling and gunfire by the Assad regime had pounded the rebels into a corner, Russia and Turkey negotiated another ceasefire. Sadly, the ceasefire again appears to be in name only and not a true cessation of hostilities, with continued attacks and bombing.
The world has watched the entire scene unfold with horror and helplessness, pleading with the regime and its backers to not put civilians at risk and show a modicum of concern for the desperate population. The UN described the result as an ‘uncompromising military victory’ but stressed that civilians must be allowed to leave unharmed. Since the conflict has begun, over 400,000 displaced have already vacated their homes from the city.
The reality is that with Aleppo now having effectively being re-taken by Assad, the momentum has now swung dramatically in his favor. The rebels have been dealt a crushing blow, though by no means are they finished as they still lay claim to other areas in the country. The conflict will continue albeit now more on Assad’s terms.
It is clear with the urgency and drastic measures that the regime and it allies have taken in Aleppo that they were desperate to end this resistance in the major city as soon as they could. Specifically, with current US President Obama in a lame duck session and President-Elect Trump only to assume office on 20 January, they sensed a window of opportunity to claim the city as prize with little Western interference. They may have been wary of the unpredictability of Trump’s administration and wanted him to enter office with the dynamics of Syria firmly in Assad’s favor.
Geopolitics aside, it is worth remember that Syria is an obscene tragedy and there are no good guys involved or a side to root for. We can only lament from afar for what humanity has been reduced to and pray for the safety of those few who are left to their own.