The fall of Syria’s largest city “is definitely a blow to any hope that Assad would be removed”
“To everyone who can hear me, we are here exposed to genocide in the besieged city of Aleppo. This may be my last video… With no safe zone and no life, every bomb is a new massacre. Save Aleppo, save humanity,” Lina Shamy, a Syrian woman living in Aleppo said in a video posted on her twitter account.
Her plea was one of thousands coming from the citizens of East Aleppo, an area that was under rebel control, but is now in the hands of the Syrian government again after a violent and aggressive military campaign. As forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have retaken all of Aleppo, citizens of the besieged area reported mass executions and even instances of troops burning citizens alive.
Pressure from the international community and in response to the civilian anguish, Russia, Assad’s closest ally, brokered a ceasefire deal with Turkey, thus ending the battle for the largest Syrian city, on Tuesday. The ceasefire was set to allow citizens of East Aleppo, like Lina Shamy, the ability to evacuate the war-torn area on Wednesday; however, sources close to Assad claim that the evacuations have been delayed another day. The fate of those civilians remains uncertain.
“As for the citizens of east Aleppo, there’s valid concern over their status,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a Jihad-Intel research fellow at the Middle East Forum, told The Media Line. “Where many of them could be disappeared by the regime’s security apparatus, never to be heard of again.”
Any hope for removing Assad from power has vanished as he now controls almost all of the most populous areas of the country.
“In terms of symbolism it is a huge blow to the Syrian opposition in their attempt to move on Damascus to bring down the regime,” Renad Mansour, a fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House, told The Media Line. “It is definitely a blow to any hope that Assad would be removed.”
On December 12, Syrian forces reported that they controlled 98 percent of the city, resulting in celebration in the western, government-held area of the city as their eastern counterparts face imprisonment or execution, analysts believe. As the fighting intensified, pro-government militias have been trying to stamp out the rebels.
“I cannot describe the situation anymore,” Dr. Khaula Sawah, CEO of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) USA, said in a press release. “Almost 100,000 people are waiting for the moment of death.”
Sources say that Iranian militias are turning away citizens and rebels from East Aleppo as they try to evacuate to opposition-held territories in the north.
What began as a series of protests in Syria calling for greater freedom and democratic reform during the Arab Spring, has turned into an almost six-year civil war with the Syrian government, Islamic State (ISIS) and rebel groups all vying for control. The opposition groups aimed at deposing Assad, who assumed the presidency in 2000.
Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, has been at the core of the fighting as rebels saw the city as an important step in their goal of moving on to the capital Damascus to bring down Assad and his regime. Since 2012, Aleppo has been split between a government-held western area and a rebel-controlled eastern side.
After four years of war battling for control of the city, Assad, backed by Russia, and forces loyal to him have retaken the city completely, an onslaught that began on November 27.
“The battle in East Aleppo should end quickly. They (rebels) don’t have much time. They either have to surrender or die,” Syrian Army Lieutenant-General Zaid al-Saleh said.
The international community feared for the lives of the citizens of East Aleppo, pleading to allow innocent civilians the chance to leave.
According to Laila Kiki, the media lead at the Syria Campaign, a global Syrian advocacy group based in Beirut, over the past few days Assad’s forces have ramped up their military effort in East Aleppo by targeting and bombing crowded buildings to increase casualties. The future of those who escape to West Aleppo and those who survive the military siege is unclear, especially those who have engaged in any type of activism.
“There are worries that men and young boys will be arrested and there have been executions,” Kiki told The Media Line. “The fate of humanitarian workers (in East Aleppo) is also very worrying because they have been targeted since day one by the regime.”
“The cruelty inflicted on those detained by Assad’s regime has been described as being worse than being killed,” Kiki added.
With 100,000 civilians left in the besieged areas of the city as of Tuesday, many were pleading for their lives by posting videos and messages on social media platforms, like Twitter.
“Now we are with 100,000 civilians trapped in an area of five square kilometers with non-stop bombs, shells and troops advancing on the ground… If we stay we fear for our lives… The women may be taken to camps, the men disappeared and anyone who is known to have supported civilians will face detention or execution… The regime has been trying to kill us for five years. Please don’t give them this chance,” The Syria Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, first responders in Syria, said in a message on December 12.
While, despite delays, it seems as though help is on the way for residents of the besieged city, some analysts are skeptical about how much help the international community can actually bring to these civilians.
“The Syrian tragedy has really discredited the international community which does nothing,” Mansour of Chatham House told The Media Line.
According to Firas Al Khateeb, the Damascus-based spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently 6.3 million displaced people in Syria.
“According to international law, the safety and well-being of civilians in times of war is the responsibility of whoever is in control on the ground,” Al Khateeb told The Media Line. “Be it armed groups or the government of Syria, they have to ensure the safety of civilians.
Once a bustling city, Aleppo has been completely destroyed. Russia says almost 6,000 civilians, a third of which were children, have left rebel-held Aleppo in the past day.
Recapturing Aleppo is a huge feat for Assad and his forces as it is clear he will remain in power and will “effectively come to control the most important cities in Syria,” Al-Tamimi told The Media Line.
But, the future of the Syrian state is unknown.
“This will bring an end to the idea that there is an actual chance to remove Assad from power,” Mansour told The Media Line. “But, it is clear that Syria is not just going to go back to a unitary state.”
Katie Beiter is a student journalist with The Media Line