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Vested interests aggravating Syrian conflict

Apr 30. 2016
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By The Nation

The recent turn of events in aleppo is worrying because it could lead to an intensification of the civil war

Amid hundreds of shells, bombs and mortars raining down on the city of Aleppo in Syria, four medical facilities on both sides of the frontline have been devastated, prompting the International Commission of the Red Cross (ICRC) to call for an immediate halt to the attacks.

“There can be no justification for these appalling acts of violence deliberately targeting hospitals and clinics, which are prohibited under International Humanitarian Law. People keep dying in these attacks. There is no safe place anymore in Aleppo. Even in hospitals,” said Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC in Syria.

“For the sake of the people in Aleppo, we call for all to stop this indiscriminate violence.”

Government jets bombarded rebel-held areas of the city on Friday, hitting three clinics and an ambulance. On Wednesday, air strikes by the regime levelled a hospital, prompting rebel responses with rockets, hitting a mosque and medical facilities.

The ICRC said the intensification of fighting in the recent days could result in a humanitarian disaster for millions who may not be within reach of any aid.

Besides the tragedy on the ground, at the international level, the spiralling violence has obstructed a concerted effort to fight the brutal Islamic State.

US President Barack Obama announced that he would be sending up to 250 Special Forces to help train Syrian rebels in their fight against the Islamic State.

All the while, the stakeholders – Russia, Iran, US and its Nato allies – were trying to push through a series of ceasefires in various pockets in the country, although Aleppo was not included in the discussion.

The world has to be concerned with the fate of Aleppo because if this historic city falls to the Bashar al-Assad regime, the civil war in this country will take a whole new turn. It is also a defining moment for the international community, specifically for the West and Russia.

Russia’s direct military intervention was supposed to help defeat Islamic State fighters. But instead, much of Russia’s air strikes were directed at the anti-government forces.

The rebels have been controlling part of Aleppo since 2012. It they are ousted from Aleppo, there will nobody left on the ground, except the Islamic State and the regime of Assad. If that’s the case, a negotiated settlement with the Syrian opposition will remain a pipe dream.

Allepo has since 2011, when the uprising started, been a symbol of the revolution. The bombardment of this city started as peace talks were about to take off in Geneva.

Needless to say, the talks faltered after that. Russia, in spite of public rhetoric, succeeded in making sure that the Syrian opposition will not have its say at any negotiating table. Without stakes on the ground, it is hard to make any demands.

If the battle ground in Syria becomes one in which Islamic State fighters are pitted against Assad’s regime, one can be sure that the both sides will put a strong religious spin on it. The Islamic State will claim that it is the sole Sunni representative in this conflict against a Shi’ite regime that is backed by Iran. The anti-Assad coalition, meanwhile, will be left with no allies on the ground in Syria.

And if it comes to that, and assuming that Moscow will go all the way for Assad, Russia will be pitted against the Islamic State on the ground and possibly back home as well where lone wolf terrorists could turn the heat up on Russia. If it could happen in Sydney and Paris, it could happen in Moscow and other Russian cities.

In the final analysis, in spite of the anti-Islamic State rhetoric, it is not the Islamic State that’s on the mind of Moscow. Russia wants to secure a place at the negotiating table to determine the fate of Syria and to some extent, the future of the Middle East.

The West and its allies should stop pretending that Russia is a partner in this fight and hold Moscow accountable for the incidents on the ground in Syria.

The so-called “cessation of hostilities” that started in late February is a myth because both the Assad regime and Moscow never observed it.

The offensive in Aleppo has been going on for 10 days now and more than 225 people – including 50 from the Friday’s air strike on a hospital – have been killed. And sadly, the end is nowhere in sight.

These attacks should be enough for the West and its allies to consider strengthening support for the rebels on the ground.

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