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Talk of a No-Fly Zone Distracts from Realistic Solutions for Aleppo
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The proposal put forward in Parliament to shoot down Russian and Syrian aircraft over Eastern Aleppo in a bid to end the bombardment of this part of the city is wholly unrealistic. The West is not going to risk a war against a nuclear power and its Syrian ally in order to help the 250,000 to 275,000 civilians trapped there. To pretend anything else is empty bombast detached from the realities on the ground. The danger of such wild schemes is that they divert attention from more realistic plans to save the besieged from further suffering and death.

These realities in Aleppo are that the city, once the industrial heart of Syria, has been split between government in the west and rebels in the east since 2012. In the course of this year, the Syrian army and Shia paramilitary forces from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon have surrounded East Aleppo which is being battered into ruins by Russian and Syrian air strikes and shelling. Hospitals and health care centres are being systematically destroyed. There is an economic blockade with UN aid convoys unable to pass through government checkpoints. It is near impossible to cook such food as there is because of the lack of propane gas cylinders and kerosene.

East Aleppo was first fully encircled by pro-government in forces in July when they cut the so-called Castello road in the north of the city which was the last link to rebel areas to the west. The main supply road from East Aleppo to Turkey had been severed in February. A rebel counter-offensive briefly broke through the siege lines in August in the Ramouseh Road in south Aleppo only for the Syrian army and its allies to re-impose the siege in September.

It looks unlikely that the encirclement can be broken by military means. The last time around the rebels suffered heavy casualties put at around 500 dead. The lesson of all the many sieges taking place in Syria and Iraq over the last year – Daraya in Damascus, al-Waer in Homs, Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq – is that rebel light infantry stands no chance in the long term against heavy air attack directed from the ground.

The UN estimates that there are 8,000 rebel fighters in Aleppo of which 900 belong to Fatah al-Sham, previously the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. They can inflict heavy losses on pro-government forces in street fighting if they fight to the last, but at the end of the day they will lose unless there is a change in the military balance in Syria through one or more of the outside powers involved in the conflict intervening more forcefully in the air or on the ground. President Bashar al-Assad has made clear that he is not going to relax his grip on East Aleppo, saying that he will go on fighting “with the rebels until they leave Aleppo. They have to. There’s no other option.” It is unlikely that anybody will stop him.

The UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has proposed that there be mass evacuation of fighters and civilians to rebel-held Idlib province. He says that he personally is “ready physically to accompany you.” The Syrian government says that it is willing to give safe passage, but this sounds better than it is because of the extreme distrust on the rebel side of any assurances from Damascus that they will be safe from the Mukhabarat secret police now and in the future. The UN says that about half the civilians in East Aleppo are ready to leave now, but this is accompanied by understandable wariness.

During the siege of the Old City of Homs two years ago, which in many ways resembles the siege of Aleppo today, I talked to a middle aged man who had evidently been on the rebel side and two of whose sons were missing. He himself was free and living with other displaced people in a school in Homs, but he could not go to Damascus to ask about the fate of his sons because he rightly suspected that he himself – the last adult male in his family still free – would be arrested on the road and detained for an indefinite period. I said that I supposed that all men of military age were at risk. He laughed hollowly and replied that “we all at risk, every single one of us.”

This fear of the Syrian security forces is a main reason why civilians and others will not want to leave. Other reasons include the sheer danger of appearing on the streets in order to go and the attitude of the rebel fighters. In most rebel-held districts in Syria and Iraq rebels of whatever stripe do not want civilians to depart because they act as human shields. In some cases, they are forcibly prevented from doing so and those that get out have to pay large bribes, as has happened in Mosul and Raqqa in recent months. An organised withdrawal from East Aleppo under the auspices of the UN may be the best option for the civilians remaining there, but the collapse of the Russian-US ceasefire shows how difficult it will be to arrange.

Are there alternative scenarios if not solutions? In Syria there usually are because there are so many players inside and outside the country, all claiming hypocritically to be acting in the interests of the Syrian people but invariably consulting their own interests first, second and third. It is difficult to see where any outside force willing to break the siege will come from. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, normally so belligerent on behalf of the Syrian insurgents, has been surprisingly mute about the fate of Aleppo. This is probably because he is more concerned with the threat from the Syrian Kurds and on fostering goods relations with President Putin with whom he has just signed a gas deal.


A further aspect of the Syrian crisis tends to be underestimated in the West which is over-obsessed with Russian intervention. Iran and Shia communities in Iraq and Lebanon see the struggle for Syria as a struggle for their own existence. They provide many of the fighters attacking East Aleppo and they are not going to give up until they win.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Syria 
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  1. Realist says:

    The current Syrian government is the legal, duly elected government. And the only legal foreign intervention is that which is invited by the Syrian government.

  2. Rehmat says:

    I would not be surprised if soon these US traitors dish a bill in Congress urging Pentagon not to kill ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

    On October 11, 2016, Michael Rubin, penned a Op-Ed at the Israel lobby, “American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI)”, official website, entitled, “Don’t Kill Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”

    Rubin is a former senior military instructor at the Pentagon and currently a ‘resident scholar’ at AEI. He also pens propaganda lies for AJC mouthpiece The Commentary.

  3. Suppose some state in the US was being held my heavily armed militants destined to overthrow the national government: What do you suppose would be the treatment it would receive at the hands of the sovereign government in DC? Now, what would we think if Russia proposed a no-fly zone over that state for humanitarian purpose and moved planes to some place like Canada to make it happen?

  4. Heaven=purest form of communism. America and Russia on the road to a heavenly heaven [where zero happens, according to priestly classes] and China to an earthly and not ever a heavenly heaven.
    Now you know why oligarchic and priestly classes hate China and wish it nothing but harm.
    But america, among many other empires and countries, have also been so far on the road to creating an earthly hell for many– and usually weak, dysfunctional countries.

    But why so much hate of and anger against russia which isn’t or seems not to be on the road to create a heaven on earth?????

  5. Washington wants to prevent the completion of New Silk Road pipelines, rail, all sorts of commerce between Asia and Europe. Europe ought to be raising Hell about our impediment of this critical link through Syria. All sorts of good things happen for Asia and Europe and the Middle East with a new Silk Road accompanied by pipelines, cargo lines, ports in the Med,. The possibilities for manufacturing and distribution of energy and goods sell themselves, even with benefits for the U.S. sending refined product back East via tankers in the Med. Why, why, why, they ask. Why do I find myself rooting against the antics my country is committing the last 10 years, to no good end, at great expense?

    Obviously, until our Pentagon is reeled in, this never ends.

  6. PC writes: “The Syrian government says that it is willing to give safe passage, but this sounds better than it is because of the extreme distrust on the rebel side of any assurances from Damascus that they will be safe from the Mukhabarat secret police now and in the future. The UN says that about half the civilians in East Aleppo are ready to leave now, but this is accompanied by understandable wariness.”

    Perhaps the author could mention one of the many recent articles showing that the Syrian government has allowed thousands of rebels to be relocated safely (even allowing them to take their weapons with them)? Thousands of others have laid down their arms, accepted amnesty and have reintegrated into Syrian society.

    Here’s one such example:

    Unsurprisingly the mainstream media in the west, intent on vilifying Assad as “barbaric,” make no mention of this highly civilized behavior within the Syrian conflict.

  7. The West is not going to risk a war against a nuclear power and its Syrian ally in order to help the 250,000 to 275,000 civilians trapped there.

    Of course not. The West (Imperial Washington) cares not at all about the people of Syria. No more than it cares about the people of South Dakota. Yet we know that Hillary wants war with Russia. We know this because she is calling for a no-fly zone over Syria which cannot be accomplished without going to war with Russia. We know that her motives are not humanitarian because what she wants to do will cause immense human suffering and death. But her motives are irrelevant. She must be stopped. Humanity needs regime change in Washington.

  8. TheJester says:

    Patrick, you are in the “weeds”. Please look at the “trees”. No one cares about “realistic solutions for Aleppo”. Either the Jihadists win or Syria wins. It’s war, you know. Yes, we know the MSM are reporting daily casualties in terms of how many children were killed or wounded by the Syrians/Russians. This is propaganda.

    In the last week of July 1943, the British and Americans bombed Hamburg killing 43,600 civilians. Either what is happening in Aleppo is not worth mentioning in the measure of things … or, Britain and the United States are guilty of massive war crimes … almost incomprehensible war crimes. (I’ll hold mention of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for another day.) There is no middle ground. The Germans never killed 43,600 civilians in a week in their so-called “death camps”.

  9. L.K says:

    PATRICK COCKBURN == British propagandist.

  10. Fynn says:

    Very informative rundown of what is happening concerning Aleppo. I greatly appreciate this form of reporting from the honest lefty, Patrick Cockburn. Hope somebody forwarded to Gary Johnson.

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