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Evacuation of Aleppo Is in Interest of All, But It May Not Happen
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Ceasefires in Syria are difficult to arrange and particularly likely to collapse because their successful implementation involves so many parties inside and outside the country who hate and would like to kill each other. All of these powers have their own agendas that may have little to do with the wellbeing of those who want to leave a besieged enclave in safety.

The planned evacuation of fighters and civilians in Aleppo arranged between Turkey and Russia and due to take place on Wednesday morning predictably failed to occur. Street fighting resumed and it will be difficult for either side to exercise the degree of operational control necessary to get this to stop.

Furthermore, the Syrian government wants as part of an agreement the full or partial evacuation of two pro-government Shia towns, Fua and Kefraya, west of Aleppo that have a population of 20,000 and have been long besieged by the armed opposition. There is also disagreements about the exact numbers to be brought to safety in buses to the rebel-held province of Idlib. By Wednesday night, opposition groups spoke of another agreement being reached, but there was scepticism from some allies of Damascus, such as Hezbollah.

The situation is dangerous for everybody inside the much reduced rebel enclave in Aleppo and the UN says that it has evidence that 82 civilians have been summarily executed by pro-government forces. It believes that many more are dead. But comparisons by the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, with the Rwanda genocide of 1994 and the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 are wholly out of proportion. The most likely outcome is an evacuation of fighters and their families along with thousands of others who, for very good reasons, believe they are in danger from the Syrian security services.

The reason for believing that a ceasefire could hold if implemented and an evacuation are possible is that they have happened before and are in the interests of both the trapped rebel leadership inside east Aleppo and the government. The rebels’ military position has collapsed and they do not look as if they are able to stage a last stand. They may as well save their remaining fighters, families and supporters while they still can. At the same time, Jabhat al-Nusra, which has declared it is no longer an al-Qaeda affiliate, said to make up about 30 per cent of 1,500 fighters to be evacuated – according to the UN – and to be in operational command in east Aleppo, has usually been the last of the armed opposition groups to agree to ceasefires that are close to surrenders.


The Syrian government has an interest in a ceasefire and an evacuation – as has happened previously in and around Damascus – because a massacre would mean that other besieged rebel areas would have no alternative but to fight to the end. There are probably about thirty such enclaves left. The most important of these is eastern Ghouta, a large urban and agricultural area east of Damascus, where over 250,000 people have been blockaded for four years.

The severity of the sieges varies greatly with shortages but no starvation in eastern Ghouta in contrast to Madaya, a town west of Damascus where 43,000 people have been starving and even those with money can find no food to buy. In Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria some 110,000 people are besieged by Isis in a Syrian government-held enclave, but are receiving supplies dropped from Russian aircraft.

The figures for those besieged in Syria – excluding east Aleppo – was 590,000 in September according to the UN. The numbers are only roughly accurate because those inside an enclave have an interest in inflating them in order to get the maximum amount of aid. The UN has previously then made its own estimates of the real numbers and tried to persuade the Syrian government to allow in aid convoys with sufficient food to feed them.

The figures for fighters and civilians in east Aleppo differ widely and this may be one reason for the delayed evacuation. The UN used to estimate 250,000 to 275,000 people lived in east Aleppo and 1.5 million in government held West Aleppo (where many also receive aid) but now appears to have reduced this to 140,000 in the east. The number of fighters had originally been estimated at between 8,000 and 10,000, which may have been too high, but many may have been killed or have already surrendered.

A final reason for the government to want to bring the battle for Aleppo to a close as quickly as possible is that Isis has recaptured Palmyra and is threatening an important Syrian air base in the region. The government will want to transfer its best combat troops south to the Palmyra front as will their Russian allies, who highlighted their role in the recapture of the ancient city last March and are humiliated by its loss.

Of course, the fact that a ceasefire and an evacuation of east Aleppo is in the interests of government and armed opposition does not mean it is going to happen.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: ISIS, Syria 
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  1. Will someone PLEASE tell me why Joe Citizen (me) is supposed to give One Hair On A Rat’s Ass about Aleppo, its people and the tribulations of those who live anywhere near it?

    Does a South Korean salesman, a Chinese engineer, an Icelandic shopkeeper, a Malaysian fisherman or a Nigerian truck driver give a flying F about any of this?

    Why, why, why, why, why are the News Media Organs beating us every waking moment about it, using emotionally evocative language and breathless urgency?

    Who is trying to get PAID on this?

  2. Diogenes says:

    I’ve noticed a few people like you saying they don’t care what happens in Aleppo or even that is good that Arabs are killing each other. [No comment is required?]

    As for the article, we should not propagandists play on peoples sympathy or empathy of war victims in order to vilify a specific antagonist while ignoring those of the other side.

    People like Samantha Power are paid by their government to propagandize against those that America dislikes. Antagonists always claim the moral high ground and denounce their enemies as immoral yet they are hypocrites and conveniently use “double standards”.

    The plight of civilians in a war zone are cynically used as a propaganda tool by Americans when it suites them because they know that they can influence their population by playing on their sympathy for civilian victims but this won’t work on the rare sociopaths in their country, like dc.sunsets above. Enough said!

  3. @dc.sunsets

    Does a South Korean salesman, a Chinese engineer, an Icelandic shopkeeper, a Malaysian fisherman or a Nigerian truck driver give a flying F about any of this?

    ‘Cuz poor blind Nadim Fawzi Jouriye and his half-dozen shiftless spawn will never be resettled in Korea,China,Iceland,Malaysia or Nigeria.

    If you live in America though you are shit out of luck:

  4. The armed (foreign terrorist) opposition has a large interest in holding on to its captive civilian human shields and its white-helmet public relations sham.

  5. @dc.sunsets

    Most people in my experience are like you. Indifferent to the suffering of people they don’t know. Others however respond with compassion. I can’t tell you the why of it but I can assure you that your point of view is not universal. As for the corporate media, they have an agenda and are working to control your mind. I recommend you avoid them as much as possible.

  6. BDoyle says:

    It would be tempting for the regime to retake Palmyra as a matter of pride, but Palmyra is not going anywhere; it can wait. Probably more urgent strategically is to move up around Al Bab. Any territory lost to the Turks and their proxies is gone for the foreseeable future, so best to establish your line as far forward as possible.

    • Replies: @E. A. Costa
  7. @BDoyle

    Exactly right.

    This member of the Cockburns is an incompetent–really just retails the British, US and western mass media lines.

    The next strategic and tactical moves by the Russians and Syrians will be very subtle.

    ISIS retaking Palmyra, with US collusion obviously, is a sucker punch. Cockburn is obviously trying to shame the Syrians and Russians into walking into it or be “humiliated” by the western media–including him–which shows just what a palooka he is, both as a reporter and as an analyst.

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