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The international betrayal of Aleppo has global implications Open in fullscreen

Sam Hamad

The international betrayal of Aleppo has global implications

The rebel stronghold is holding on against a fierce offensive by pro-Assad forces [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 February, 2016

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Comment: Allowing Russia's air force to bomb the rebel stronghold while it is attacked by Iranian ground troops has caused humanitarian catastrophe, writes Sam Hamad.
It is common for many to remark of the pictures of Syria showing buildings reduced to rubble and scorched landscapes that they are reminiscent of something "post-apocalyptic" - but the apocalypse is still very much unfolding in Syria.

As I write this, the apocalypse, namely an Iranian-led pro-Assad ground force, encircles Aleppo - the largest and most strategic rebel stronghold, while Russia rains death upon it from above. 

There is nothing "post" about this "apocalypse".

When the Islamic State group (IS) carried out its Blitzkrieg assault across northern Iraq in 2014, one looked on at its genocidal assaults against Yezidis in Sinjar with horror, but safe in the knowledge that action would be taken by the powers that be.

As Russia unleashes its very own "shock and awe" on Aleppo, looking to deliver a mortal blow to the aspirations of free Syrians, the harsh reality is that Syrians are truly alone.

If the Syrian war has proven anything, it's the effectiveness of hard power, no matter how brutal and destructive the consequences.

The Assad regime and its allies have shown that the more lives you take and the more houses, towns and city blocks you destroy, the more you will be rewarded diplomatically.

Last week in Munich, the great powers sat down in a Syrian-free environment and agreed not to a ceasefire as was first announced, but rather a "cessation in hostilities", as John Kerry was quick to correct.
The agreement allows Russia to continue its attacks


Call it a ceasefire, or call it a "cessation in hostilities". The agreement is meaningless as far as "peace" is concerned.

Apart from the fact that it was only to come into effect a week after the deal was agreed, the agreement does not cover Russia's brutal bombardment of Aleppo.

The agreement allows Russia to continue its attacks on what it determines to be IS and the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise, which, as everybody knows, means continuing its attacks on the rebel-held areas on behalf of Assad.

The US, of course, knows that Russia has overwhelmingly not attacked IS or Nusra, but has rather targeted any armed Syrian opposition to Assad.

What this agreement means is the possibility of some aid reaching starving Syrians - something again that will be in the hands of the regime - while Russia continues its bombardment of Aleppo with the "official" acquiescence of the US and the rest of the "International Syria Support Group".

In a war that has been as destructive as Syria's one, it's difficult to think of anything in positive terms, but the ability of the rebels to hold on to Aleppo was a major accomplishment.

Never before in a war has a force that is allegedly "Western backed" been so thoroughly maligned and dehumanised in the West as the Syrian rebels - so it might come as a surprise to some when they hear of what rebel-held Aleppo represented.

It's important not to romanticise situations that arise in war, but the makeshift world of rebel-held Aleppo, imperfect as it is, stands as a precious example of what exactly Syrians are fighting for.

Within the areas that are no longer controlled by the regime, there exists a culture that could only have occurred due to its liberation.

Last year, Iranian-led forces launched a major offensive to break through the rebel defences and snuff out free Aleppo, but rebel forces, which employed a new tactic of creating a joint operations room, heroically repulsed it.

And what should've been one of the most uplifting moments of the so-called Arab Spring was largely ignored - the rebels, their ranks almost entirely filled with local volunteers, repelled the Iran, Hizballah, Shia militias and the National Defence Forces, as well as IS, and then managed to go on the offensive.

This was a key reason as to why Russia swooped in.
The scale of the bombardment is beyond anything Assad could muster


As long as much of Aleppo remained liberated, and with the rebels buoyed by the liberation of Idlib, they understood that the rebels would eventually liberate the remaining regime-held areas.

Russian intervention, with its vicious precision, has changed that.

The scale of the bombardment is beyond anything Assad could muster; hence the mass flight and the ability of Iranian-led forces to advance in areas they failed to take mere months ago.

It might very well be that in the coming weeks Aleppo falls to the forces of counter-revolution.

However, regardless of the circumstances, and much to the chagrin not just of Assad and his allies, but also those Western powers who want the revolution to die quietly so the focus can be solely on IS, it will not do so placidly.

IS, whose entire raison d'etre is based on capitalising on sectarian slaughter and the notion of a war against Islam, can only be empowered, as it has been at every stage of this war, by the destruction of free Syria and millions more lives cast into precariousness and touched by brutality.

It's a recruitment dream for IS.

Europe, in all its grubby privilege, will continue to cry about a "refugee crisis", often allowing far-right forces to determine the narrative, while supporting a policy of pure appeasement that allows refugees to be made on a titanic scale.

Apologists for Putin, Iran and Assad will no doubt accuse those of us who call for aid to the rebels in Aleppo of "warmongering", but the war is already here and has been for five years.

Russia and Iran's success has come at the expense of hundreds of thousands of lives and the destruction of an entire country - there comes a point where power must be met with power.

Those who wonder precisely what we mean by aid to the rebels, might consider the fact that so far, according to the US, 250,000 Syrian lives aren't worth a single anti-aircraft weapon - weaponry which would allow Syrians to defend themselves from aerial assaults.

But Russia, Iran and Assad can rest easy, while Syria burns, the "Friends of Syria" continue to talk of putting out the fire while dousing it with petrol.

The question now is not how many more Syrian lives will be lost before "the world" acts. The world rarely acts, so perhaps the question is rather more simple: how many more Syrian lives will be lost?

In the 1930s, those who claimed the mantle of democracy and liberty, undertook a policy of appeasing forces of fascism in Spain, Italy and Germany - it was this passive policy, far from warmongering, that led to one of the darkest periods in history.

It's the same darkness that now threatens to further engulf Syria.

Those who think that it will be confined there are living in a fantasy world.


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.  

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