Dozens of civilians have been killed and hundreds more injured by regime airstrikes on Aleppo in the past ten days. Dictator Bashar al-Assad’s exploding barrels signalled the end of the partial, and fragile, ceasefire that came into effect in March.
The Syrian war was born out of Assad’s fierce repression of the popular revolution in 2011. Before the war, Aleppo was Syria’s largest city and its economic powerhouse. It is now divided between a western sector controlled by Assad’s army and an eastern sector where an estimated 300,000 still live under the control of various rebel armed groups.
The regime’s airstrikes deliberately target vital civilian infrastructure, like the al Quds hospital where the eastern sector’s last known paediatrician was killed. Other medical facilities, as well as the city’s water pumping station, were also destroyed by airstrikes in the past few days.
The current assault is so intense that for the first time in the city’s history, Friday prayers were cancelled.
In retaliation, reactionary jihadist groups like the Nusra front have indiscriminately shelled government-held neighbourhoods, killing and injuring civilians.
The latest onslaught is a continuation of last February’s battles in which the regime and its allies were able to cut off Aleppo’s direct supply route to Turkey. In spite of its material superiority, the regime lacks enough dependable personnel and instead relies on foreign sectarian militias.
It is unlikely that Assad’s army will attempt to storm Aleppo for the moment as it would imply close-quarter fighting where the army’s advantage will fade and the assailants would suffer heavy casualties.
Rather, we can expect a prolonged siege of the city and intense bombardment to pressure the population into submission. The regime has used this gruesome tactic since the beginning of the uprising in 2011. Unsurprisingly the latest offensive is taking place a few days before a scheduled round of Geneva talks as gains on the “battlefield” translate in increased bargaining power in the political arena.
Western powers are adopting a wait-and-see attitude in the meantime.
They – along with Russia, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia – are getting into position to compete for political and economic influence in Syria and the region as part of any future settlement.
Until then, more ordinary Syrians will be killed and more will see their homes and neighbourhoods destroyed, but this does not cause imperialist powers (Western or otherwise) any concern. Body counts are the bargaining chips of imperialist carve ups, and the Iraqi people can testify to that.
The disregard for human lives is reflected in the European Union’s response to the refugee crisis. European governments would clearly rather let people desperately fleeing war and persecution drown in the Mediterranean than open their borders.
This shows the utter futility of appealing to Western governments’ supposed ‘humanitarian consciousness’ to impose a no-fly-zone over Syria to save civilian lives.