At the time of writing, Russian bombs and Assad regime rockets are slamming into Free Aleppo. Over 250 civilians have been killed in the last ten days, and every hour is broken by bombs and artillery. The eastern half of Aleppo, home to the working-class districts and poor slums of Syria’s largest city, has been held by the Syrian opposition since mid-2012. It is being ground into dust.
Frequently ignored, except when the occasional regime atrocity penetrates the media fugue, Free Aleppo has long been a bastion of the Syrian revolution. In contrast to regime-controlled areas, it contains a civil society that still exists despite the four years of airstrikes, barrel bombs and siege attempts by Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
An elected city council keeps basic services running – publishing its meetings and accounts on its Facebook page – while preparing for the possibility of a total siege. Journalists and local council workers organise unions to protect themselves and provide local services, while the Syria Civil Defense saves people from the rubble left by bombs. Dozens of schools provide a secular curriculum taught to coeducational classes; some run by revolutionary NGOs such as Kesh Malek, others supported by British-Syrian charities like Syria Relief. Aid organisations distribute food to the unemployed, widows and orphans, while Free Syrian Army and Islamic militias guard against regime attacks.
Now the regime is seeking to crush this attempt at a free society. The ceasefire, always partial and subject to violations, was completely destroyed by hundreds of airstrikes on Aleppo, accompanied by barrel bombs and ground assaults towards the end of April.
The ceasefire was brokered by the US and Russia in an attempt to create support for a political solution to the conflict. It was always one sided – regime artillery and barrel bombs continued to fall – but the lull in fighting gave a chance for the peaceful protest movement to re-emerge, and again raise its demand for a Free Syria.
Despite the rebels ceasing their attacks and the resumption of peaceful protests, none of the opposition’s basic conditions for the ceasefire were met by Assad’s regime. No humanitarian aid was delivered to besieged areas, in which 1m Syrians are trapped. Few of the 215,000 detainees held by the regime were released. And crucially, no commitment was made to the removal of Assad and his inner circle – the central issue of the negotiations.
The opposition only participated in the talks and ceasefire under massive pressure from the US, with the secretary of state, John Kerry, threatening to cut off US aid to the opposition if it did not participate. With no improvement in their situation after two months, and facing the continued bombardment of civilian areas, armed rebel groups began to reopen fronts with the regime.
With the resumption of fighting as a pretext, and having cut a key supply route to the city back in February, the regime now believes it can ‘retake’ the city. You only have to look at the city of Homs or the town of Zabadani to see what this means for Aleppo.
A blasted wasteland of buildings, emptied of its populace by brutal unrelenting violence and the removal of all the basic necessities of life. With no popular support, the regime can only ‘retake’ areas by expelling the entire rebellious population. In Homs, the residents were expelled to the suburb of Al Waer, where 100,000 remain people besieged, while in Zabadani all civilians have fled to the nearby besieged towns of Madaya and Baqeen. 500 rebels still hold the centre of the ruined town. Despite a fragile truce, a regime sniper killed the last remaining doctor in March.
If the regime and its backers are allowed to enforce a siege and depopulate Aleppo it will be a devastating setback for the revolt, and will embolden radical extremist forces – both those of the regime and the Islamic militias.
Aleppo has long been held by Free Syrian Army brigades, organised in the Fatah Halab (Conquest Aleppo) coalition. Several groups even receive US support. Yet this didn’t stop Col. Steve Warren, the US military spokesperson in Baghdad, from declaring: “It’s primarily al-Nusra who holds Aleppo, and of course, al-Nusra is not part of the cessation of hostilities.”
This is just one example of the US giving its tacit consent to the destruction of the Syrian opposition by the regime and its backers. In December, John Kerry declared in a press conference alongside Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov: “We see Syria fundamentally very similarly, we want the same outcomes, we see the same dangers, we understand the same challenges.” At an aid conference in February, in comments to Syrian aid workers, Kerry blamed the opposition for the continued fighting and said to expect three months of bombing that would ‘decimate’ the opposition.
It should be clear that both the US and Russia see the continued existence of a grassroots revolutionary movement in opposition areas as a greater threat than the Assad regime. They are openly collaborating to ensure this movement is destroyed, either by forcing it to accept a humiliating defeat, or by the expulsion of the entire population.
For those who have sat on the fence about Syria, who have declared it ‘too complicated’, now is the time to act. A city of 300,000 people is being pounded into rubble by a vicious dictatorship, backed openly or tacitly by the world’s imperialist powers. Silence in this situation is complicity. Free Aleppo is the 21st century Paris Commune, and it is being crushed.
There is a protest on Saturday 7 May against the attacks on hospitals in Syria and around the world. Please join the demonstration to show solidarity with the people of Aleppo. Visit www.syriauk.org for news and information about the Syrian struggle.
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