Following the Syrian army’s encirclement of the jihadi rebels in eastern Aleppo a predictable outcry has begun in the West in which the Syrian government and Russia are being accused of aiming to starve Aleppo into submission. The Syrian-Russian plan for setting up humanitarian corridors of the city is being derided, and there are mounting calls for the siege to be lifted.
As a general rule Western governments and the Western media tend not to make such calls when the besiegers are Western militaries or are aligned with the West. They did not for example demand an immediate stop of the shelling and sieges of population centres and cities in eastern Ukraine by the Ukrainian army during the conflict there. Nor did they make similar demands for during the Iraqi military’s recent US-backed siege of the Daesh controlled Iraqi city of Ramadi.
In passing I should say that there is some dispute about the number of people in the rebel controlled area of eastern Aleppo. Most reports say the number is 300,000. However the Guardian’s Martin Chulov – a journalist who tends to be sympathetic to the rebels – puts the number much lower, at about 40,000.
It is however important not to become distracted by questions of double-standards or precise numbers important though they are. Unquestionably there are people in the encircled area of eastern Aleppo who are in urgent need of help. Everything humanly possible should be done to help them, and the military operation should be conducted in a way that minimises loss of civilian life. Historical experience shows that proper military tactics can make that possible without compromising the ultimate success of the military operation, and as I have said previously I am sure that that is what will be done.
The focus on the humanitarian consequences of the siege however distracts from the far more important question of why there is a siege of eastern Aleppo at all.
In February the US and Russia agreed a joint ceasefire plan which was confirmed in a succession of resolutions by the UN Security Council. This called for a cessation of hostilities in Syria which excluded known terrorist groups such as Daesh and Jabhat Al-Nusra. It also called for rebel groups in Syria to dissociate themselves and separate themselves from UN declared terrorist groups like Jabhat Al-Nusra, and for negotiations in Geneva to be held between all the Syrian parties to achieve a political settlement.
Since February this process has been deadlocked. The rebel groups in and around Aleppo refused to dissociate themselves or separate themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra. Jabhat Al-Nusra for its part, with the support of the other rebel groups, exploited the cessation of hostilities and the pullout in March of part of the Russian aerial strike force to launch a series of counter-offensives against the Syrian army in and around Aleppo. The negotiations in Geneva went nowhere, with the Syrian rebels and their Western and Arab backers continuing to insist on the removal of President Assad as a pre-condition for a peace settlement….
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