The future of Aleppo will show whether Syria can rise from the ashes

Anshel Pfeffer reports: The forces besieging Aleppo will not try to capture it. Tens of thousands of fighters who have hardened by over four years of fighting for their homes are determined to defend their city and now every corner and rooftop of its ancient alleyways. Even a large and advanced army would emerge from such an urban warfare operation with hundreds, perhaps thousands of casualties. The ill-trained Shi’ite militias who have no experience of such warfare and are unacquainted with the city have little chance.

Abu Firas, a former Syrian army colonel and today a commander in the Shami Front, the largest rebel group fighting in Aleppo, says, “we haven’t seen on the battlefield recently any Syrian soldiers fighting for the regime. All the banners and the bodies of fighters we killed are of foreigners from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have no problem fighting them off, our men are well-trained after all these years of fighting. But they have the Russian airstrikes which make all the difference.”

Even if the forces fighting for President Bashar Assad’s regime cut off the last road leading to Aleppo, and close the last remaining kilometers in the ring of siege, the regime does not have sufficient forces to keep the pressure up for long. The rebels will succeed in breaking a way out and bringing in supplies. The local civil organizations have accumulated enough food for around a quarter of million civilians still in the city, which will last months and are meanwhile practicing growing vegetables on rooftops and digging supply tunnels. Instead of the fuel that cannot reach the city to powers it generators, they are working on alternative energy sources from waste.

Other large civilian areas in Syria, such as the rebel-held East Goutah suburb of Damascus, have withheld siege for years now. Aleppo will not fall. It will be bombarded and exhausted and as long as fighters are willing to remain, it won’t be occupied. But life there will become hell. An even worse hell than that which has existed in Syria for the last five years. And for how long can a nation live in hell?

That is, if there is still a Syrian nation.

In opposition circles, there is talk in recent months that the Assad regime has given up on recapturing most of the Syria’s territory and is now focusing on establishing “Suria al-mufida” – useful Syria. They’ve given up long ago on eastern Syria which is occupied by ISIS. The Kurdish enclaves in the north and the Druze area in the south will be allowed to remain autonomous without regime interference (no-one of course is talking any more of regaining the Golan from Israel). The regime is aiming at capturing and “cleansing” the Damascus and Aleppo districts and deepening its control of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast. That is enough to keep the Assad family regime, as a Russian client-state and an Iranian dependancy.

The regime’s main obstacle to achieving that goal is the rebel groups still controlling large areas of “Useful Syria” which continue to demand either democracy or the rule of Islam. The solution to this is carnage, exile and complete submission.

Last week, the international community’s diplomatic attempts at imposing a political solution totally failed, when the talks on Syria’s future ended in Geneva before they began. The official reason was the refusal of the opposition’s representatives to enter negotiations while Russian planes were bombing their homes back in Aleppo. Even if a ceasefire is announced at some stage, what is doubtful right now while the Russians believe they have the advantage, a “political solution” will be far from enough for a country that has lost a third of its population.

Syria has almost ceased to exist. There are enclaves and fiefdoms and an organized crime family which continues to safeguard its interests in Damascus and on the coast and a government in exile in Turkey and millions of refugees. The resilience of the people of Aleppo in face of the siege will be an indication of whether Syria can rise from the ashes. [Continue reading…]

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