Millennium Post

Perspective on Syrian civil war

These columns have often spoken of the horrific humanitarian costs inflicted on the Syrian people during this protracted civil war. On Friday, as the Bashar al-Assad-led government forces closed in to take over the city of Aleppo from 'rebel' fighters, yet another ceasefire agreement collapsed at the cost of thousands of civilians stuck amidst the fighting. As part of the deal, tens of thousands of 'rebels' and civilians were supposed to be evacuated from eastern Aleppo to rebel-held Idlib, allowing the Syrian government to take full control of the city after years of fighting. According to Syrian government forces led by Assad, the deal collapsed because 'rebel' groups were attempting to smuggle prisoners and heavy weapons out with them. They argue that such attempts were in clear violation of the evacuation deal. News outlets sympathetic to rebel fighters, however, accused Shia militias loyal to the Syrian government of opening fire on convoys of civilians and 'rebels'. Through the course of this bloody war, readers outside the war zone have been fed with contesting information. Each contested narrative has sought to peddle a black and white understanding of the ground situation. As responsible observers, it is imperative not to be dragged into this information war, and understand the shades of grey. In the days leading up to Assad’s biggest victory in this protracted civil war, media outlets sympathetic to the West have spoken of the “fall of Aleppo” into the hands of Russia-backed Assad forces. Speaking at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the desperate situation in Syria, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, accused the Syrian government, backed by its allies Russia and Iran, for brutally killing unarmed civilians in Aleppo. She accused the three member states of putting a “noose” around civilians in the city. “Is there no execution of a child that gets under your skin?” she asked. “Is there literally nothing that shames you?” The hypocrisy of such assertions is astounding, considering Washington’s despicable human rights record, particularly in the middle east. Even during this war, Washington has either backed rebel forces involved in gross human rights violations or has been directly responsible for acts that have resulted in the killing of children and women. It has consistently refused to apologise or make reparations. Before dwelling further into America’s hypocrisy, it is imperative to note that Assad is not the lesser evil in this protracted war and should be held accountable for his regime’s crimes. 

In 2011, millions of Syrians rose up in protest against the Assad regime to demand political reform. In the spirit of the Arab Spring, the protest movement turned into a full-fledged revolution after government forces responded with gunfire, bombardment, mass arrests and torture. By the end of 2013, this revolution supported by an assortment of groups, including leftists, moderate Islamists and reactionary groups, descended into total anarchy, as the fight grew highly militarised. With the drastic and frightening arrival of the Islamic State, there was little left of the revolution. Many of those opposed to Assad fled after the country found itself mired in utter chaos. There is no doubt that Assad is responsible for the destruction of many cities in his battle against forces opposed to his regime, paving the way for the Islamic State. Among the other sins, there are credible reports of executions, torture and secret killings of unarmed civilians, besides support for militia groups responsible for egregious human rights violations. In Aleppo, the United Nations has reported of 82 civilians “massacred” in their homes by government forces and militia fighters earlier this week. Of course, it’s hard to forget the heart-rending videos of civilians stuck in rebel-held areas and their ‘final messages’ earlier this week, fearing imminent death at the hands of government forces. The international community must also spare a thought for courageous doctors in Eastern Aleppo, who have cared for people despite desperate conditions. Hospitals have often been targeted by air strikes conducted by Russian and Syrian government forces. In other words, no one should gloss over the multitude of sins committed by the Assad regime and the nation states that have backed this brutal regime.                  

 “But it’s time to tell the other truth: that many of the ‘rebels’ whom we in the West have been supporting – and which our preposterous [British] Prime Minister Theresa May indirectly blessed when she grovelled to the Gulf head-choppers last week – are among the cruellest and most ruthless of fighters in the Middle East,” writes Robert Fisk, a reputed British journalist, who has been covering the Middle East since the 1970s. “And while we have been tut-tutting at the frightfulness of Isis during the siege of Mosul (an event all too similar to Aleppo, although you wouldn’t think so from reading our narrative of the story), we have been willfully ignoring the behaviour of the rebels of Aleppo.” To the uninitiated, the so-called rebels consist of a motley crew of groups, ranging from fighters opposed to Assad to the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Al Nusra Front. Remember it’s the same Al-Qaeda, which was described by former US President George Bush as the “face of evil”, responsible for 9/11. Even the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in a recent statement has acknowledged the horrors committed by these so-called ‘rebel’ fighters. “During the last two weeks, Fatah al-Sham Front (formerly Al-Nusra Front) and the Abu Amara Battalion are alleged to have abducted and killed an unknown number of civilians who requested the armed groups to leave their neighbourhoods, to spare the lives of civilians” the statement read on December 10.  “We have also received reports that between 30 November and 1 December, armed opposition groups fired on civilians attempting to leave.” Furthermore, “indiscriminate attacks” had been conducted in heavily civilian areas of government-held western as well as ‘rebel’ eastern Aleppo, according to Fisk. It’s unfortunate that instead of outing these groups earlier, the UN chose to obscure the brutality of groups opposed to Assad deliberately.

However, one of the enduring tragedies of this civil war has been the utter failure of the international community, primarily the United Nations, in working out a peace deal. It is fair to argue that global powers, especially the United States and Russia, have shown no real appetite to work out a compromise deal on Syria. Instead, as the conflict has progressed, both sides have been dragged further into this quagmire. Both nations have used their veto powers in the UN Security Council to debilitating effect. Besides question over Assad’s fate, other unresolved concerns will significantly derail any future peace process. What’s worse, the Islamic State has found squirmed their way out of Raqqa and Mosul into Palmyra, retaking the once historic city once again from Syrian forces. Suffice it to say, the international community has forsaken the people of Syria through the course of this brutal war.     
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