Syria: Aleppo has become a ‘new Srebrenica’
Inhabitants right to see indifference to their destruction as a betrayal
‘In the 1990s, we said never again,” a UN official recalls. “Aleppo is the new Srebrenica.” After four years of bombardment by government forces, the siege is complete. There is no way out any more nor a way in for food and humanitarian supplies. The final throttling of Syria’s second city by the government of Bashir al Assad, assisted by Russian air power, threatens the lives of an estimated 300,000 desperate inhabitants living in the rubble of the rebel-controlled eastern part of the city. Hunger and indiscriminate bombing are taking a daily toll – the Red Cross describes the situation as “devastating and overwhelming”. To call Aleppo a new Srebrenica is, if anything, an understatement. But such a call to the conscience of the world is right.
Reports in the last two days suggest a desperate offensive by rebel forces to break the siege, but with only limited success in the north and south of the city. Offers by the Russians to facilitate a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to flee and rebel soldiers to surrender ring hollow and have no credibility with humanitarian organisations or the UN. These people have every reason to fear for their lives if they move from the hell of the cellars of Aleppo to government-controlled territory. This government of butchers has form, and only a few dozen families appear to have left the besieged territory.
The fear is that we are approaching an Aleppo endgame, the recapture of a city divided since 2012 which has represented the heart of the opposition to Assad. Its capture would mark not only a potential humanitarian catastrophe and military victory for Assad, but a critical shift in the political balance of forces, cementing his control over the nation’s urban centres. A political shift that will change the dynamic of any potential talks about a post-Assad Syria.
Is this the point at which we give up all hope of a negotiated settlement in Syria? This is the fruit of an implicit policy that has rationalised the continuing survival of Assad, even tolerance of his regime, as the lesser of two evils in the fight against Islamic State and its allies. And yet fails to understand that if Aleppo falls and its Sunni population is massacred, the whirlwind of despair created among the angry, disillusioned young of the region, who will flock to IS and its ilk, will sow terrible vengeance in Europe’s streets. Or will simply join the flood of migrants pressing at our gates.
Our security and the security of the Syrian people, our fate and theirs, are indissolubly linked. Like it or not. European states must urgently redouble pressure – political and economic if necessary – on Russia to break decisively with the Assad regime whose survival depends almost entirely on its old ally. Our memory of Srebrenica demands it.