Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia appear to mounting a humanitarian operation in Aleppo by opening safe corridors for the 300,000 civilians and rebels they have laid siege to. In effect, they are offering surrender or genocide. Some choice, writes Hamish de Bretton-Gordon.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon is a chemical weapons adviser to NGOs working in Syria and Iraq. He is a former commanding officer of the UK Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment and NATO’s Rapid Reaction CBRN Battalion.
Against a back drop of four terror attacks in Germany and two in France in the last ten days, a genocide is developing in Aleppo (Syria) which, at the far end of the scale, could see up to 300,000 Syrians killed in front of our eyes.
The Assad Regime, supported by the Russians, appears completely determined to take Syria’s second city, where 300,000 civilians and rebels are trapped with current hope of escape. And the rebels fighting Assad in Aleppo show no signs of surrender. UOSSM, the charity I support and advise, has, at the latest count, four hospitals/clinics in Aleppo, all of which have been directly targeted by the Assad regime and Russian jets and are now barely functioning underground. UOSSM only has a handful of doctors left in Aleppo and very few medicines.
This is the same for our partner charities SAMS and MSF. With no food, no medicines and no chance of escape, the thousands trapped and starving in Aleppo have no hope unless the West, and in particular the members of the International Syria Support Group (UNSC), act decisively and soon.
Since the last route out of Aleppo was cut off earlier this month, no food has come in and nobody has been allowed to leave. Like Halabja in the 1980s and Srebrenica in the 1990s the world seems paralysed and unable to act. There may have been some excuse for Halabja happening at a time before blanket media and social media coverage, though much less so for Srebrenica. But the catastrophe in Aleppo is taking place before the world’s eyes. Multiple social media feeds show what is happen on an almost hourly basis.
How is it in the 21st Century that we can watch another genocide unfold in front of our eyes? Despite Stephen O’Brien, the UN humanitarian chief, calling for a ceasefire, member states of the UNSC are not falling over themselves to bring this to fruition. And the prospect of a US-Russia deal to end the violence lacks credibility in the eyes of Syrians, as the current US administration has continuously failed to keep Russia to any of its promises and international obligations.
The terror events in Europe are undoubtedly the focus for those countries directly affected and many of them blame the uncontrolled flow of the millions of migrants into Europe over the last four years for the heightened terror threat. Is it no surprise that there will be some Islamic State (IS) terrorists among the millions who have fled to Europe.
The last time I was in Syria, around 12 months ago, Syrians I spoke to made it clear that the driving force for them to come to Europe was the bombs of the Assad’s aircraft and the terror unleashed by IS. Some of the Syrians believed that if they made it to Germany they would be given a house, a car, a job and money. From their desperate position in Syria this must have seemed like Nirvana.
It is not just returning foreign fighters and the very few Jihadists among the refugees that are creating terror in the towns and cities of Europe, but also the lone wolves the very recently radicalised, like in Germany. Across the world, fermenting anger and hatred has turned people into ‘sleepers’, ready and waiting to strike.
Without wanting to insight racial hatred across communities by demonising refugees and those of a Middle Eastern origin, this group of ‘sleepers’ in Western communities is the most challenging to seek out. But by working with Syrian, Iraqi and other communities in these threatened countries it is possible to separate the good from the bad or the ones to be watched. In parallel, a more compassionate and comprehensive European policy on refugees and migration would remove the illegal smuggling routes, and instead allow for more effective vetting.
If the international community doesn’t act to protect civilians in Aleppo and across Syria it will further fuel the IS ideal of attacking those who oppose them. The lack of political will to decisively engage in Syria for the last five years, personified by the potential Aleppo genocide, will provide all the foot soldiers IS needs in Europe and elsewhere for the foreseeable future.
The international community – with Europe at the forefront – has the opportunity to turn the tide against IS by finally making good of its promises of protecting Syrian civilians in Aleppo and across Syria. Only then can the prospect of finding a sustainable political solution become a reality.