Leila Al-Shami writes: As liberated Aleppo was falling, its horror broadcast by media activists in real time, thousands across the world took to the streets to protest the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding. Whilst such solidarity is vital, some may bitterly complain that it is six years too late. The last pockets of grassroots democracy and creative resistance are now being crushed, and the Syrian conflict mutates into a much darker and more terrifying phase.
An Assadist victory in Aleppo would not have been possible without Russian support. The regime was close to collapse in September 2015 when Putin intervened at the regime’s request. And it had been saved once before, by Iran, in 2013. The same pattern as Aleppo is being played out on dissenting communities elsewhere. Crippling starvation sieges are enforced on the ground by an array of mainly foreign and sectarian Shia militias backed by Iran, while bombs and missiles from Assad’s and Russia’s planes fall like rain from the skies. In forced capitulation deals people are exiled from their homes, perhaps permanently.
Russia initially intervened on the pretext of fighting ISIS. Yet over 80% of Russian bombs have fallen nowhere near territory controlled by the terror group. Instead they fall on communities which have self-organised in democratic local councils, on schools and hospitals which doctors and teachers are desperately trying to keep functioning, on volunteer relief workers who risk their lives to pull terrified and bloodied children from rubble.
In the first 305 days of its intervention, Russian airstrikes killed 2,704 civilians, including 746 children. Both Syrian and international human rights and humanitarian organisations testify to Russia’s systematic and deliberate targeting of hospitals as a strategy of war. Russia’s intervention was intended to prevent the regime’s collapse and help it regain lost territory, and it’s worked. [Continue reading…]