Paddy Ashdown on Aleppo: ‘There must not be another Srebrenica’


The New York Times reports: Artillery shelling resumed early Wednesday on besieged eastern neighborhoods of the Syrian city of Aleppo, delaying a promised evacuation of thousands of civilians and medical staff members who had been expecting to leave under the aegis of a deal announced at the United Nations.

Buses that were supposed to evacuate some of the last holdouts in the heavily bombed neighborhoods left, empty, after waiting for hours, the Lebanese television station Al Manar, which is affiliated with the militant Shiite group Hezbollah reported — a sign that the evacuation process might not happen on Wednesday as planned.

The Pan-Arab television network Al Mayadeen showed buses idling at a prearranged evacuation point, waiting to take 5,000 fighters and their families to Atareb, a town west of Aleppo.

The opposition says that Iran, one of the Syrian government’s main allies, and its Shiite militia proxies were obstructing the deal; witnesses said that the militias had prevented a convoy of about 70 wounded people — mostly fighters and their relatives — from departing, despite the supposed deal announced at the United Nations. The militias, observers said, insisted that they would not allow anyone out until rebel groups had ended their siege of Fouaa and Kfarya, two encircled Shiite enclaves in Idlib Province.

Osama Abu Zayd, a legal adviser to Syrian opposition factions, told The Associated Press that the evacuation deal was being resisted by Iran’s field commander in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said it believed that Iran — a major ally of the Syrian government — had balked at the deal, annoyed that Russia and Turkey had not consulted it.

But the Russian Defense Ministry blamed the rebels for the impasse, saying on Wednesday that they had “resumed the hostilities” at dawn, trying to break through Syrian government positions to the northwest.

The impasse could be the sign of a stalling tactic by Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. His government has often skillfully played its backers — Iran, Russia and others — off one another. The disagreement could provide cover for what the Syrian government has wanted to do all along: finish off the enclave with force. As one Syrian military officer told Reuters in Aleppo recently, rebels must “surrender or die.”

Malek, an activist who has repeatedly moved around eastern Aleppo for his safety, and who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear that he would soon find himself in government territory, said he had looked forward to the evacuation, but that “nothing happened.”

Interviewed over the messaging service WhatsApp, he added, using a mournful idiom, “We didn’t taste the flavor of life.”

Troubles carrying out the accord were not surprising, as there was no international monitoring — United Nations officials said the Syrian government refused their repeated pleas to observe the process — and no mechanism to enforce the agreement. That has been a problem with other deals reached during the conflict.

Within eastern Aleppo, residents were alarmed as Russian news agencies broadcast remarks from the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, who said he expected the rebels to “stop their resistance within two, three days.” Those remarks alarmed observers, as the evacuation deal says rebels already agreed to stop fighting in exchange for being allowed to leave.

“They are planning to slaughter us all,” said Monther Etaky, a civilian activist who had been hoping to evacuate.

Salem, a dentist who had kept his clinic open until last week, and who finally moved to one of the last rebel neighborhoods when his own was taken by government forces, said he could hear heavy shelling.

“We slept a quiet night, but sadly the shelling is back,” he said Wednesday morning, asking to be identified only by his first name. “Please share my message: The cease-fire collapsed. The situation is bad again.” [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: British MPs are deceiving themselves if they believe they do not bear some of the responsibility for the “terrible tragedy” unfolding in Syria, the former chancellor, George Osborne, said on Tuesday during an often anguished emergency debate in the House of Commons on the carnage being inflicted in eastern Aleppo. In one of his first speeches in the Commons since losing office, Osborne said there had been “multiple opportunities to intervene” in Syria as he cited parliament’s decision in 2013 not to take military action after the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“Let’s be clear now: if you do not shape the world, you will be shaped by it. We are beginning to see the price of not intervening,” Osborne said.

The Commons voted by a majority of 13 in 2013 to reject military action after Labour combined with Tory rebels to deliver David Cameron his single biggest Commons rebuff. [Continue reading…]

Janine di Giovanni writes: Depending on your personal view, Aleppo has now fallen, or been retaken, or been liberated. But my interest is not with any political side. It’s with victims of state terror, and all the civilians whose lives have been shattered by a war that has been raging for more than five years. It is the most cynical conflict I have seen in 25 years of war reporting. Both the regime and opposition are guilty of war crimes, though one much more than the other.

What I’m considering now, from the comfort of my Paris home, is how a city falls. I am thinking of people cowering in basements and struggling with whether they flee from their city now, or wait. Who is coming to save them, or kill them? I know how that scenario goes. I lived through Sarajevo during the Bosnia war, and was in Grozny when it fell to (or was “liberated” by) Russian forces. I remember hiding in those basements waiting for the Russian tanks to come into the village, and wondering if I would be dead in a few hours.

I am thinking about the civilians – all of those people with whom I sat for hours while writing my book, or writing reports for the UN high commissioner for refugees – and what they are doing to survive. [Continue reading…]

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