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What does a ceasefire mean for Aleppo?

Destruction in Aleppo

By Chandni Jain and Raghav Saraogi

On Tuesday, Syrian Government forces advanced deeper into East Aleppo, attacking the last rebel stronghold. Assad’s regime is winning the battle for Aleppo. As of Wednesday morning, the Syrian rebels, Russia and Turkey have reached a ceasefire to allow for evacuation. However, a battle which Assad, ISIL and the entire international community have collectively failed in, is the battle for humanity.

More than 80,000 civilians remain crammed in an area less than 10 square km, devoid of basic necessities.

A barrage of ‘goodbyes’ flood social media. Their final messages reflect their despair and helplessness as they flee government forces, reportedly carrying out extrajudicial killings. “Don’t believe anymore in United Nations… don’t believe anymore in the international community,” said Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, a well-known social media activist in east Aleppo. Another farewell message from a doctor says

Remember that there was once a city called Aleppo that the world erased from history.

What’s happening in Aleppo?

The battle for Aleppo is a microcosm of sorts for the war in Syria. In March 2011, protestors marched in capital Damascus, demanding democratic reforms from the government. In 2012, rebel forces launched an offensive to oust the government forces and capture northern Syria. Between March 2011 and February 2016, 470,000 civilians have lost their lives in the Syrian Civil War.  Aleppo has since been divided in half, with the opposition in control of the East while government supporters controlling the West.

Assad’s state forces are backed by Russian air strikes and Shia militias. Though, the dearth of military forces has forced Assad to turn to irregular militia known as the National Defense Forces. The rebel groups, on the other hand, are predominantly Sunni, receiving aid from President Bashar Al-Assad’s opponents, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The United Nations estimates that about 10 percent of the 8,000 rebel fighters in the city belong to a Qaeda-linked group, the Levant Conquest Front.

The United Nations estimates that about 10 percent of the 8,000 rebel fighters in the city belong to a Qaeda-linked group, the Levant Conquest Front. As of 13th December, more than 90% of the city had fallen to the government. The UN has reported 82 execution-style killings in recent days, in Aleppo alone. UNICEF reports that more than 100 unaccompanied children are trapped in a building in the besieged city of east Aleppo. The International Committee of the Red Cross has urged all actors ‘to depoliticise the process of protecting civilians.’

How far has diplomacy been successful?

On the diplomatic front, a lot is being said and done. France has called an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Former Chancellor George Osborne described the cause of the crisis as “a vacuum of Western leadership” criticising the UK Parliament’s decision to not intervene in 2013 as one of the worst decisions ever taken. Over the last few days, the United States has been making frantic calls to unrelenting Russia, for a ceasefire in Aleppo. Russia was widely criticised when it vetoed against a UN demand for ending the bombing.

A lot is being done on the diplomatic front to end the unrest going on in Aleppo

A lot is being done on the diplomatic front to end the unrest going on in Aleppo | Photo Courtesy: Los Angeles Times

After a delayed and prolonged negotiation, there is a ray of hope. The latest agreement between Syrian rebels with Russia for their withdrawal from occupied conclaves in Eastern Aleppo. Reports confirm that the government has now gained complete control over Aleppo. However, the real crisis begins now. International aid agencies must rehabilitate the millions displaced and restore some peace and order.

A gridlock for civilians and nations

The ceasefire brings an opportunity for civilians to safely leave besieged neighbourhoods.

The ceasefire brings an opportunity for civilians to safely leave besieged neighbourhoods. This perilous journey for them, intensified during the battle, hasn’t ended. A large number of elderly civilians, often on wheelchairs, are trying to move across the city. They don’t know when the war will end. The lack of active U.S. support keeps the rebels militarily handicapped. President Obama is geopolitically gridlocked by the implication of directly confronting Russia and, in some ways, of taking ISIS’s side.

Assad’s government has given its people no respite. This is made clear by some of the civilians in Easter Aleppo calling it the “hellish corner.” Even groups of people taking refuge in small neighbourhoods are still afraid of the regime’s arrival. With the people naming their government as opponents, the end game for Aleppo can now be only awaited. Only a historical intervention can restore the calm in the beleaguered country.


Featured Image Credit: Information Clearing House
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