Fidest – Agenzia giornalistica/press agency

Quotidiano di informazione – Anno 29 n° 175

The fall of Aleppo to Bashar al-Assad’s soldiers seems imminent

Posted by fidest press agency su lunedì, 12 dicembre 2016

aleppoWHEN rebel forces surged into the city of Aleppo, then Syria’s largest, in the summer of 2012, they hoped to establish an alternative seat of power that could rival the government’s in the capital, Damascus. But those hopes quickly faded as the operation to seize the city stalled. The rebels could only capture half of Aleppo, splitting the city in two. A lethal stalemate ensued.The rebel’s hopes of ever breaking the deadlock are now dead. In July, forces loyal to the Syrian government cut the last remaining road into the east, imposing a siege that has slowly strangled life there. Russian and Syrian warplanes have relentlessly bombed hospitals, schools and marketplaces, crippling civilian infrastructure. With the east on its knees, the regime launched a devastating ground offensive on November 15th to drive rebel forces out of the city.Since then, the rebels have lost about three-quarters of their enclave, their last big urban stronghold anywhere in the country. Their defence of the city has crumbled faster than many expected. The Old City, whose winding alleyways were supposed to be well defended, fell quickly this week as pro-Syrian forces, including Shia militias from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, crashed through rebel lines on December 7th. Cornered by pro-government forces, defeat is inevitable.After four years of grinding urban combat that has killed thousands of civilians and destroyed large parts of the ancient city, the rebels face a stark choice: die fighting or surrender the enclave and hope to fight elsewhere. In public, rebel fighters and opposition politicians remain belligerent, vowing to fight to the last man rather than surrender to a government they despise. They have called for a five-day ceasefire to evacuate civilians and hundreds of wounded before discussing the future of the city, but fighting continues.In private rebel officials have been meeting Russian diplomats in Turkey to discuss a full withdrawal from Aleppo. With Ankara mediating, the rebels have been offered two choices: they can either head south to the rebel-controlled city of Idlib, taking only light weapons with them, or they can head north with heavier weapons to join other rebel units fighting alongside Turkish troops against Islamic State and Kurdish forces.Similar deals in recent months have seen rebel fighters evacuate other besieged areas. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, says diplomats and military experts from America and Russia will meet in Geneva over the weekend to flesh out the details of the rebel’s exit from Aleppo. Without a deal, civilian deaths will rapidly mount, as people are squeezed into an ever smaller space. Russia and the Syrian government have repeatedly said they will continue to bomb Aleppo until rebel forces withdraw.The rebels remain deeply suspicious of a regime that has routinely detained, tortured and executed those it accuses of helping “terrorists”, including doctors and teachers. The UN says that hundreds of men have already gone missing, having fled into government-held territory with tens of thousands of others desperate to escape the fighting. “Given the terrible record of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances, we are of course deeply concerned about the fate of these individuals,” a UN spokesman on human rights said on December 9th.Hundreds of activists, aid workers, councillors, rescue workers and doctors who have received support from the West remain trapped among the 100,000 or so civilians left in the east. The White Helmets, an organisation that pulls the dead and wounded from the rubble after air strikes, has given up and requested the immediate evacuation of its workers. “If we are not evacuated, our volunteers face torture and execution in the regime’s detention centres,” the group said in a statement. “We have good reason to fear for our lives.” In a sign of how close the rebel enclave is to collapse, the White Helmets have begun to destroy their rescue equipment to prevent it falling into the regime’s hands.While talks over the fate of the city continue, conditions inside the shrinking rebel enclave have rapidly deteriorated. Doctors there say they can only carry out basic first aid. Aid workers from the Red Cross operating in areas recently captured by the regime have found dead bodies trapped under the rubble and orphans who haven’t eaten for two days. Bread is in short supply.As the rebel enclave crumbles, hopes that President Bashar al-Assad will seek to negotiate an end to the broader conflict appear dimmer than ever. Mr Assad has repeatedly vowed to recapture the entire country. While large chunks of Syria remain outside his authority, the fall of Aleppo would give the president control over all the country’s major population centres and move him one step closer to achieving his aim. “Even if we finish in Aleppo, we will carry on with the war against them,” he said this week.The West and the Sunni Muslim world remain paralysed, unable or unwilling to help the civilian population or the rebel factions they support. Russia and China this week again vetoed a UN Security Council demand for a ceasefire. With Barack Obama, soon to leave office, showing no inclination to intervene, the loss of Aleppo is imminent. (font: The Economist) (photo: aleppo)

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