Aleppo: ‘biggest civilian massacre since WWII’
Thousands are fleeing Eastern Aleppo as bombs rain down on schools and hospitals. Russia is planning to recapture the city before Donald Trump takes office — with it, they could win the war.
The planes flying over Eastern Aleppo on Monday did not just drop bombs — they dropped leaflets. ‘If you don’t leave these areas quickly you will be annihilated,’ they warned the citizens below. ‘Save yourselves… everyone has left you alone to face your doom.’
Rebels against the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad have controlled the area since 2012. But this weekend, Assad’s forces — backed by Russia and Iran — stepped up their assault and took back a third of the rebels’ territory. By Wednesday, 50,000 people had fled their homes. Syrian army officials say that they hope to recapture the entire city before Donald Trump takes office in January.
It could easily happen that way. Aleppo has been through ‘a slow-motion descent into hell,’ said a spokeswoman for the World Food Program this week. In the east there are just 30 doctors left, and no hospitals. People are scavenging through rubbish for food. Temperatures are dropping. Every day, more bombs fall onto the homes of civilians, killing children and rebels indiscriminately.
For the remaining residents, all that is left is despair. ‘I’m ready to agree to the regime’s terms — whatever they are — for the sake of stopping the killing,’ the activist Bassem Ayoub told The New York Times.
Aleppo was once known as the ‘jewel’ of Syria. It was the country’s second largest city and a thriving financial and cultural hub with a history stretching back thousands of years.
Now, it is the last urban stronghold of the rebels who first tried to depose President Assad in 2011. If he recaptures the city, the end of the war may be in sight.
Russian officials say that they have helped to ‘liberate’ the civilians under siege in Aleppo. But when the UN Security Council met yesterday, the French ambassador described the situation as ‘one of the biggest massacres of a civilian population since World War Two.’
What will happen if Assad wins?
Putin is the real winner, observe some. It was a risky move to get involved in the war against the US-backed rebels. But America and its allies did nothing. They were unwilling to repeat the mistakes of Iraq. Now, Russia has replaced the US as the major foreign influence in the Middle East — and America’s new president admires Putin for his strength. He must not be able to believe his luck.
But at what cost? asks former US ambassador Robert S. Ford. Russia and Assad may win Syria, but they will be governing a ‘half-dead corpse’. Their brutal campaign has destroyed the country’s greatest cities, radicalised thousands of its citizens, and wiped out any hope of a functioning economy. It is a Pyrrhic victory at best. At worst, it is one of the most horrifying crimes in history.
- Has Russia benefited from getting involved in Syria?
- Is there any hope for the Syrian rebels?
- Imagine that the civil war in Syria is over. Write down the three main priorities for rebuilding the country.
- Write a page-long briefing on the situation in Syria for the incoming US president, Donald Trump. Include suggestions about possible actions he could take.
Some People Say...
“There is no victory in war.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Is the war really over?
- Not yet. But Assad and Russia have made some of the biggest gains in Aleppo since 2012, and the rebels have very few resources left on their side. If the city falls to Assad, he would once again control the country’s five major cities. However, he would still face resistance from regional areas under rebel control, such as outside Damascus. And there is still the problem of Islamic State.
- Why didn’t civilians leave Aleppo sooner?
- For many it was an impossible choice: risk bombing and starvation in their homes, or leave and risk being captured by the Syrian government. Although Assad’s forces said that civilians could leave the city, few trust the government. Indeed, yesterday there were reports that refugees fleeing the city were being ‘detained’ by the military.
- Bashar al-Assad
- The Syrian president took over from his father in 2000 (the same year that Putin was first elected in Russia). He governed as a fairly ‘benign’ dictator for many years, but responded violently when protests against his rule broke out in 2011. The country then descended into civil war.
- The Russian army has conducted airstrikes over Syria since September 2015. Although it says it is targeting terrorists, humanitarian groups say that hundreds of civilians have been killed.
- The Shia country has long been an ally of Syria. It has supplied finances and military training to Assad’s regime. There are also Iranian militias fighting on the ground.
- According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
- UN Security Council
- A UN body responsible for international peace and security. Its five permanent members are Russia, China, France, the USA and the UK.
- A victory won at such a huge cost, it is almost a defeat. The term comes from King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who defeated the Roman army in 280 BC — but suffered enormous casualties in the process.