In his remarks on the death and destruction a brutal war has wrought in Syria’s largest city UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon so rightly said that Aleppo has become “synonymous for hell.”
For the last four- and-a-half years, Aleppo has been the scene of a major confrontation between the government forces fully assisted by Iran and Hezbollah and a host of opposition groups – the Western-backed Free Syrian Army and Saudi and Qatari-supported Sunni fighters, including an al-Qaeda affiliate al Nusra Front, which has renamed itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. The recent accord between a rebels’ supporter, Turkey, and Assad regime ally, Moscow, raised hopes of an orderly evacuation of thousands of civilians and insurgents trapped in the war-ravaged city to northwestern province of Idlib.
But given the complexities involved it was hardly surprising for the operation to hit a snag. Within hours, the evacuation process came to an abrupt halt amid government accusations that the militants were violating the agreement. It was expected to be resumed though as Russian President Vladimir Putin said his people had been actively negotiating with the rebels via Turkey.
With the fall of Aleppo the Assad regime has now established its control over much of the country, making the US and its allies irrelevant to a negotiated settlement they had been trying to achieve under the UN auspices. With Turkey on its side, Russia has now indicated further talks will be held at a new venue of its choice: Kazakhstan. “The next step”, said Putin “will be to reach agreement on a complete cease-fire across all of Syria.” Hopefully, that will happen sooner rather than later.
This cruel, many-sided conflict has claimed an estimated 310,000 lives and displaced half of the country’s population since it began in 2012 as a pro-democracy movement, but was hijacked by outside powers for the furtherance of their geo-political objectives and brutal use of force of arguably inconceivable proportions by Bashar al-Assad. There came, therefore, Syria’s slide into a devastating civil war. Now that the rebels face defeat the US and its Western allies are unlikely to put new energy and resources into a lost war. In fact whilst Obama administration faced severe domestic criticism of its failed policy, the US State Department spokesman John Kirby told journalists that it was determined that military options will not “get us to the end we seek.” It remains to be seen though how president-elect Donald Trump would deal with the situation.
He seeks good relations with Russia but wants to tighten screws on Iran, Assad regime’s other principal supporter.
The fighting though may not be over yet. The rebels escaping to Idlib may regroup and start their unfinished work anew. For that they will need continued support of regional powers. So far these countries have been doing that in their single-minded pursuit of countering Iran’s influence in the region that has found its expression in the presence of Tehran’s and the ‘long arm of Iran’ Hezbollah’s fighters in Syria.
Prolonging the war will only benefit the IS, which is in no one’s interest. Saudi Arabia and Iran in particular need to grasp this stark reality, letting the Syrian people breathe a sigh of relief and pick up the pieces of their shattered lives to make new beginnings.