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Why Aleppo's Evacuation Was No Such Thing

28/12/2016 15:52
John Wilhelm is a photoholic via Getty Images

The 'evacuation' of Aleppo temporarily cast the world's conscience on Syria once more. Images of civilians choosing between expulsion or annihilation have flooded our TV screens and Twitter feeds. But despite this mass attention, somehow it is the reality that has been silenced.

Aleppo is not an evacuation of communities from danger to a place of refuge. It is the forced displacement of civilians from their homes. The point-blank shooting of civilians dragged from their homes by Regime soldiers and militias as reported by the UN. This is no evacuation, this is ethnic cleansing.

What we are observing is the dictator Assad's achievement of his ultimate goal: the eradication of the Syrian opposition, the decimation of the revolution. Aleppo's fall to Assad is significant for the dictator. For four years the city has been a black eye for Assad's supposed legitimacy. As a result, it has borne the brunt of Assad's military forces as he has worked to exterminate them.

Since the 'evacuation' concluded, our TV screens are once more devoid of talk of Syria. But it is incumbent upon the media to show the world that the refugees, although relocated, remain in the greatest of peril - with Assad still their gravest danger. Where are they? What protections are in place for civilians when they arrive in Idlib in mid-winter? Are the doctors who were operating in the bombed-out carcasses of hospitals safe? Is the little girl whose tweets captured our hearts still alive? Perhaps the media decided it was unpalatable to intrude on our festive cheer with the continued suffering of the Syrian people that we, the world, have failed to prevent? Or perhaps even worse, that without the clickbait convoys the everyday genocide wasn't newsworthy?
Ask yourself why Assad would want to ship tens of thousands of civilians out of Aleppo? Why would he move them to Idlib? The civilians and opposition fighters of Aleppo have been cleansed from the city because of their politics - their desire for change in Syria and for the end of Assad's tyranny that started in 2011 with the peaceful revolution.

Let's not suggest that the worldwide reporting of Aleppo's 'evacuation' has not been an international propaganda battle. At the UN Security Council, the Syrian Regime's envoy Bashar Jaafari, in his desperation, showed a photo from June of Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces liberating Fallujah as evidence of the Syrian Regime's humanity in Aleppo. But the media reporting of this was disappointingly muted - why was this blatant attempt at fake news so under-reported?

What will happen now? The Assad Regime, most likely with Russia's support, will turn its weapons on Idlib and then gradually other areas still holding the flame of the revolution. Maybe the race to Raqqah will begin in earnest with Assad and Russia recognising that a genuine attempt to defeat Daesh would offer the ultimate PR win: consolidating Assad's narrative as a Government tackling terrorism, recasting Russian geopolitics as liberation, undermining the US-led Global Coalition, and silencing voices for change in Syria.

Whilst Assad curates an image as scourge of violent jihadi groups, he benefits greatly from the muddy waters they create. The fight against Daesh in particular justifying the jet contrails in the Syrian sky, but not the actual 'extremists' targeted on the ground. Indeed, Assad has been known to wave through the release of Daesh prisoners - as their abhorrent insurgency lends legitimacy to Regime belligerence and allows them to obfuscate their true intent.

Moreover it is the Assad Regime's brutalisation of the Syrian people that has long been the greatest recruiting sergeant for Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and other jihadi groups, including Daesh. The ethnic cleansing of Aleppo risks radicalising individuals forcibly displaced from the city. Jihadi groups are operating within Idlib, and Assad has thrown Aleppo's civilians and revolutionary fighters into an area in which they are more likely to be forced to join a terrorist group or indeed become radicalised. It will also give carte blanche to Assad to bomb these areas. In this way the 'evacuation' was nothing more than a stay of execution for the vast majority. The ethnic cleansing of Aleppo will also undoubtedly feed the narrative of jihadist organisations around the World who will use it to further radicalise individuals who see that their Muslim brothers and sisters are under attack.

What should not be absent from our discussions is the role of the UN in Aleppo's fall. As the US ambassador to the United Nations rightly said, "Aleppo will join the ranks of those events in world history that define modern evil, that stain our conscience decades later... Halabja, Rwanda, Srebrenica, and now Aleppo". But what has the UN done to stop this? It has asked for permission from the aggressor to deliver aid: never granted and insufficiently challenged. It has deployed monitors to observe the 'evacuation': too late. It has failed to ground the aircraft committing genocide. Even now the UN fails to acknowledge the war crime taking place in Aleppo.

What Syria needed, and what the international community should have delivered, was the grounding of Assad's Air Force. This could have been achieved without putting British aircraft or members of the Armed Forces at risk through the use of targeted cruise missiles. Also the US failed in its negotiations to agree with Russia where the terrorists were occupying territory and where the opposition were taking a stand. Perhaps this was an impossible task. But either way the map agreed essentially marked all opposition areas as terrorist-held areas, and therefore open targets. Carte blanche again for Assad.

What Aleppo lays bare is that Russia's purported goal of eradicating Daesh from Syria was a lie. It has helped the Assad regime focus on destroying the opposition. Russia has acted as Assad's protector and guarantor, and their words have repeatedly failed to take any true meaning. Russia has the power to use its significant influence over Assad to curtail these atrocities, and has thus far chosen not to act. It has chosen not to force Assad to adhere to the agreements it makes on its behalf. With the ceasefire announced today the question is whether Russia will finally bring Assad to heel. It will hopefully bring some relief to civilians from the daily bombardments they suffer, but if negotiations take place as Turkey and Russia appear to have agreed, they must include all internationally recognised opposition groups, not just the Russia-approved opposition groups.

The world has watched on as ethnic cleansing took place in Syria. We should be ashamed. The people of Aleppo continue to suffer, but does the World continue to care?

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