Aleppo’s agony: ‘Nobody’s helping us’
BEIRUT - The forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad are tightening the siege of the rebel-held sector of the ancient city of Aleppo in what many analysts say could be the decisive battle of the 5-year-old Syrian war.
The city council estimates there are 326,000 civilians trapped inside the rebel-held enclave in the eastern sector of the city.
“We’re facing a major humanitarian crisis and nobody’s helping us,” declared council leader Brita Haji Hasan. “Everyone’s just watching. Most of the civilians already dying are women and children.”
Those in Aleppo are cut off from relief aid as their food supplies, along with electricity and water, steadily dwindle.
The price of what food is available is skyrocketing as Assad’s forces tighten the noose around the rebel stronghold in a bid to bolster the government’s position at UN-sponsored peace negotiations scheduled to resume in Geneva in August.
International aid groups warned that those left in the rebel enclave face starvation within weeks while the handful of medical centres still functioning are repeatedly bombed.
Hasan said the rebel-held sector can “keep going for two or three months but the people will starve in large numbers”.
The regime seems intent on starving the rebel stronghold into submission, a tactic Damascus has repeatedly employed since the uprising against Assad’s harsh rule erupted in March 2011.
Damascus insists air raids on Aleppo are aimed at rebel forces but, according to Brett McGurk, the US official who deals with the rebel groups, the Syrian Air Force is a “criminal enterprise” dropping highly destructive barrel bombs — metal containers such as oil drums filled with explosives and shrapnel — on civilian areas and hospitals.
Aleppo, one of the oldest inhabited sites in the world, has been divided since mid-2012, with rebels holding the eastern sector and Assad’s forces the western part.
On July 16th-17th, government forces, supported by Russian air power, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shia militias, completed the encirclement of the rebel sector by cutting the insurgents’ last supply lifeline known as the Castello Road, which runs north to the Turkish border.
On July 28th, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoygu said three humanitarian corridors were being opened to allow civilians to flee. Assad announced a general amnesty for rebels who surrender. Few people — fighters or civilians — however, have tried to leave the city.
Aleppo is the last strategic urban stronghold held by a rebellion, which has been on the defensive since Russia unleashed its firepower to save Assad in September 2015.
“Whoever emerges victorious from the battle will come closer to a nationwide victory,” observed Syrian politician Ammar Bakour. “The battle for Aleppo is crucial to both sides.”