Syria: Peace Talks Collapse, Aleppo Encircled, Disaster Looms

The past week has seen major developments on the ground in Syria which imperil the entirety of rebel held Syria. The regime has launched an offensive in the north Aleppo countryside which has cut the major rebel supply line from Turkey to Aleppo, leaving Free Aleppo almost completely encircled and 400,000 civilians potentially trapped. At the same time the regime is pursuing offensives in Daraa and Latakia province that are creating tens of thousands of refugees and driving back rebel frontlines. Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese sectarian militias backed by Russian air power are employing scorched earth tactics reminiscent of Russia’s attack on the Chechen capital Grozny in 1999, reducing towns and villages to rubble to secure military victories, at immense cost to civilians.

70,000 civilians have fled north Aleppo, 100,000 have fled Daraa, and tens of thousands are being displaced from Latakia, fleeing into Idlib province. This is the continuation of the regime’s strategy of depopulating and ethnically cleansing rebel held areas to make them easier to conquer.

These offensives are aimed at tipping the balance of the conflict decisively in the regime’s favour, destroying the nationalist-democratic opposition so that the choice of who to support in Syria is between the regime and ISIS. Timed to coincide with Geneva “peace” process, the attacks have lead to the collapse of these talks. The Syrian opposition Higher Negotiation Committee (HNC) initially refused to go to the talks until two preconditions were met; the aerial bombardment of civilians had ceased, and humanitarian access was granted to besieged areas. They were placed under immense pressure by US Secretary of State John Kerry to attend, with the US government threatening to withdraw all support from the opposition if they did not participate. The HNC eventually agreed to attend, but only to discuss its humanitarian preconditions for talks to begin. With the ongoing military offensives by the regime and continuing sieges on rebel held towns, the talks quickly broke down.

The reality is the talks are not about finding a just peace in Syria, they are, in the words of Syrian author and activist Robin Yassin-Kessab, a “pacification process”. They are utilised by the regime and its allies – aided and abetted by the US and the “friends of Syria” – to spread division among the rebels, and manoeuvre them into position where they are forced to accept a humiliating compromise that leaves the regime’s blood soaked state institutions intact and Assad in power. Aid has been reduced to the rebels by their backers to weaken them militarily and force them to attend, the US has ruled out Assad leaving being a precondition of talks, and both Islamic and Nationalist rebel groups have been placed on draft lists of “terrorist” groups drawn up by the Jordanian government, due to be finalised at the peace talks. Any groups on the list at the conclusion of the talks would be legitimate targets for the regime and its backers, and the international coalition against ISIS. The entire process was a diplomatic effort to isolate and divide the rebels, and legitimise further attacks on them if the regime was unable to secure a military victory.

The regime onslaught may now be the decisive factor. The seizing of the north Aleppo countryside has cut the major supply route to rebel held Aleppo and Idlib province. Aleppo is being subject to relentless aerial bombardment, as many as 200 airstrikes a day on military positions and civilian districts alike. The besiege and starve strategy that the regime has deployed to horrific effect in Madaya, Moadamiyeh and 47 other rebel towns, looks set to be the fate of Aleppo, but this time it will be 400,000 people subject to siege and starvation.

This is a catastrophe of epic proportions. If it is allowed to continue the defeat of the revolution will be guaranteed, and with it the prevention of any progressive resolution to the conflict.

Anti-war activists in Britain and internationally must protest Russia’s actions in Syria and call for the end of the bombing. Shamefully the anti-war movement in Britain, in particular the Stop the War Coalition, is silent on these issues. There are few if any reports on the bombing and encirclement of Aleppo, or the ongoing sieges of Madaya and Moadamiyeh and other rebel towns, even though dozens are still dying every month of starvation in besieged areas. This silence is aiding the imperialist powers by failing to mobilise public opposition in the west against the imperialist carve up taking place in Syria.

An international day of action is being planned for 23rd February by the Planet Syria campaign group about the situation in Syria. This can be a focus for protests and mobilisations to bring public pressure to bear to stop the ongoing massacres in Syria.

A version of this piece first appeared at RS21.

Mark Boothroyd is a member of RS21 and Syria Solidarity UK.