Am I alive? Where am I? Where is my family?
With these words, the children of Aleppo emerge from under the rubble, in a city where mornings are akin to a daily rebirth – for if they can sleep, they don’t know whether they’ll remain alive until the next day or not. For the past fifteen days, the people of Aleppo have endured a vicious military campaign, unleashed upon them by Russia and the Assad regime.
This campaign was premeditated and organised in full view of the international media and community; many an international media outlet had warned that Russia was amassing its troops in Syria and preparing for a major military operation aimed at taking control of the eastern section of Aleppo. Russia, now Assad’s most powerful ally, brought over its largest airplane carrier along with volunteers to fight alongside its army.
Aleppo’s civilians did not sleep on the night of November 15 and the sound of the bombs was very different from what they were accustomed to. Bunker busters were dropped at random in the city’s eastern neighbourhoods, in the most destructive campaign the city has ever been subjected to. According to statistics by the Syria Civil Defence, more than 2000 air strikes and 7000 artillery shells targeted the city. They specifically targeted hospitals and Civil Defence centres, to prevent any attempts to rescue injured civilians. All hospitals were taken out of commission; the Civil Defence’s equipment was inoperative, rendering it useless in the effort to rescue civilians.
After Assad used barrel bombs filled with toxic gas, that lead to multiple deaths from asphyxiation, those heavily shelled areas were rendered uninhabitable. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) then secured corridors to allow civilians to withdraw before the arrival of Assad’s ground troops, and then retreated to its second line of defence. The regime’s army thus entered the Masaken Hanano housing district, and the death toll for the first ten days of the offensive was 508 civilians, according to the Free Health Directorate of Aleppo. The army then extended its control on Al-Sakhur, with clashes shifting to Al-Bab road as the FSA established barricades in the southern part of Eastern Aleppo, which the FSA views as the best area from which to defend the city.
As the FSA granted civilians the freedom to move to whichever area they deemed safest, a few moved to regime-controlled areas, with Russian guarantees of safe passage. Most relocated to the Kurdish-dominated Sheikh Maksoud neighbourhood. We received information that the Kurdish YPG, which controls the neighbourhood, arrested a number of young people aged 18 and upwards and handed them over to the regime, which promptly arrested them under the pretext that they were wanted for military service.
Concurrently, the YPG has advanced onto and taken control of three opposition-held neighbourhoods, as part of a secret agreement with the regime forces. The FSA, it stands to mention, has fended off the YPG and the regime’s advancement for four years in addition to fighting ISIS terrorists, as part of “Operation Euphrates Shield” which was launched by Turkey a few months ago.
Several politicians and analysts saw fit to announce the fall of the city of Aleppo, or even the end of the Syrian revolution, after the latest retreat of opposition forces. We find this unacceptable. Only those fighting on the ground can declare the fall of a city. As we speak, the FSA continuous to fight in Aleppo with all the means in its power, to regain control of the situation.
The latest siege of Aleppo was not only conducted by Syrian regime forces. According to information gathered from combatants apprehended by the Free Syrian Army in previous battles, Syrians represent a mere 20% of those fighting on the regime’s side. Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard lead the ground operations, along with Afghan fighters and Shiite militias from multiple countries, backed by air cover from Russia and the Syrian regime. According to information we’ve received, 4000 Hezbollah fighters have entered Syria over the past two months, in preparation for the battle of Aleppo.
What happens after Aleppo?
It’s too early to talk about the aftermath of Aleppo, it is not over yet.
It is true that the regime’s progression is a catastrophic development. But fighters remain in the heart of Eastern Aleppo, with thousands more outside of the city. They could tip the scales at any moment and the regime forces could become besieged in the same city they’re laying siege to.
This has happened numerous times during the revolution: the regime would advance into an area, only for it to be retaken by the revolutionaries.
What is notable, and deplorable, is the deafening global silence on what is taking place in Aleppo. Though the international community knew full well that Russia was gearing for an attack on the city, taking advantage of the transitional phase in the United States, not a single measure was taken to halt this operation, or at the very least to protect the area’s more than 250,000 civilians, mostly women and children.
The unjustifiable American silence outright serves Russia and Assad, who is attempting to regain control over Syria regardless of the toll on human lives. Europe’s attempts to push the political needle, a fig leaf for its long-lasting negligence, are pointless, as it would take too long and would change nothing on the battlefield. Europe has failed to uphold the principles of human rights it claims to cherish, much like it has failed to stand up to Russia which has defied the entire world by violating every human right in its onslaught on the Syrian people.
This military escalation on this densely populated city destroys one of the world’s oldest cities, expels its inhabitants from their homes, and deprives, yet again, more than five million people from the dream to return to their homeland. Many considered Aleppo to be a city they could safely return to, even if the liberation of the entirety of Syria’s territory was further delayed.
Russia perceives controlling Aleppo as additional leverage over the new American administration, which had announced it would cease supporting the opposition.
The Free Army wants you to know that the Revolution did not start with support from the US or anyone else, and it won’t stop should they withhold support. This is our right, and we are defending our country from a foreign occupation that now commands the country’s economic and military capabilities. We want to remove a dictatorial and criminal regime that has proven its willingness to sell its own country, kill its own people, all for the sake of maintaining its throne. As long as the regime remains, so will terrorism in the region.
The revolution will not cease. Revolution is an idea; and ideas do not die.