FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why the Evacuation of Aleppo May Not Happen

Ceasefires in Syria are difficult to arrange and particularly likely to collapse because their successful implementation involves so many parties inside and outside the country who hate and would like to kill each other. All of these powers have their own agendas that may have little to do with the wellbeing of those who want to leave a besieged enclave in safety.

The planned evacuation of fighters and civilians in Aleppo arranged between Turkey and Russia and due to take place on Wednesday morning predictably failed to occur. Street fighting resumed and it will be difficult for either side to exercise the degree of operational control necessary to get this to stop.

Furthermore, the Syrian government wants as part of an agreement the full or partial evacuation of two pro-government Shia towns, Fua and Kefraya, west of Aleppo that have a population of 20,000 and have been long besieged by the armed opposition. There is also disagreements about the exact numbers to be brought to safety in buses to the rebel-held province of Idlib. By Wednesday night, opposition groups spoke of another agreement being reached, but there was scepticism from some allies of Damascus, such as Hezbollah.

The situation is dangerous for everybody inside the much reduced rebel enclave in Aleppo and the UN says that it has evidence that 82 civilians have been summarily executed by pro-government forces. It believes that many more are dead. But comparisons by the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, with the Rwanda genocide of 1994 and the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 are wholly out of proportion. The most likely outcome is an evacuation of fighters and their families along with thousands of others who, for very good reasons, believe they are in danger from the Syrian security services.

The reason for believing that a ceasefire could hold if implemented and an evacuation are possible is that they have happened before and are in the interests of both the trapped rebel leadership inside east Aleppo and the government. The rebels’ military position has collapsed and they do not look as if they are able to stage a last stand. They may as well save their remaining fighters, families and supporters while they still can. At the same time, Jabhat al-Nusra, which has declared it is no longer an al-Qaeda affiliate, said to make up about 30 per cent of 1,500 fighters to be evacuated – according to the UN – and to be in operational command in east Aleppo, has usually been the last of the armed opposition groups to agree to ceasefires that are close to surrenders.

The Syrian government has an interest in a ceasefire and an evacuation – as has happened previously in and around Damascus – because a massacre would mean that other besieged rebel areas would have no alternative but to fight to the end. There are probably about thirty such enclaves left. The most important of these is eastern Ghouta, a large urban and agricultural area east of Damascus, where over 250,000 people have been blockaded for four years.

The severity of the sieges varies greatly with shortages but no starvation in eastern Ghouta in contrast to Madaya, a town west of Damascus where 43,000 people have been starving and even those with money can find no food to buy. In Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria some 110,000 people are besieged by Isis in a Syrian government-held enclave, but are receiving supplies dropped from Russian aircraft.

The figures for those besieged in Syria – excluding east Aleppo – was 590,000 in September according to the UN. The numbers are only roughly accurate because those inside an enclave have an interest in inflating them in order to get the maximum amount of aid. The UN has previously then made its own estimates of the real numbers and tried to persuade the Syrian government to allow in aid convoys with sufficient food to feed them.

The figures for fighters and civilians in east Aleppo differ widely and this may be one reason for the delayed evacuation. The UN used to estimate 250,000 to 275,000 people lived in east Aleppo and 1.5 million in government held West Aleppo (where many also receive aid) but now appears to have reduced this to 140,000 in the east. The number of fighters had originally been estimated at between 8,000 and 10,000, which may have been too high, but many may have been killed or have already surrendered.

A final reason for the government to want to bring the battle for Aleppo to a close as quickly as possible is that Isis has recaptured Palmyra and is threatening an important Syrian air base in the region. The government will want to transfer its best combat troops south to the Palmyra front as will their Russian allies, who highlighted their role in the recapture of the ancient city last March and are humiliated by its loss.

Of course, the fact that a ceasefire and an evacuation of east Aleppo is in the interests of government and armed opposition does not mean it is going to happen.

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
Mitchel Cohen
A Tale of Two Citations: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Michael Harrington’s “The Other America”
Jake Johnston
Haiti and the Collapse of a Political and Economic System
Dave Lindorff
It’s Not Just Trump and the Republicans
Laura Flanders
An End to Amazon’s Two-Bit Romance. No Low-Rent Rendezvous.
Patrick Walker
Venezuelan Coup Democrats Vomit on Green New Deal
Natalie Dowzicky
The Millennial Generation Will Tear Down Trump’s Wall
Nick Licata
Of Stress and Inequality
Joseph G. Ramsey
Waking Up on President’s Day During the Reign of Donald Trump
Elliot Sperber
Greater Than Food
Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
Rob Urie
The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State
Jim Kavanagh
The Siege of Venezuela and the Travails of Empire
Paul Street
Someone Needs to Teach These As$#oles a Lesson
Andrew Levine
World Historical Donald: Unwitting and Unwilling Author of The Green New Deal
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Third Rail-Roaded
Eric Draitser
Impacts of Exploding US Oil Production on Climate and Foreign Policy
Ron Jacobs
Maduro, Guaidó and American Exceptionalism
John Laforge
Nuclear Power Can’t Survive, Much Less Slow Climate Disruption
Joyce Nelson
Venezuela & The Mighty Wurlitzer
Jonathan Cook
In Hebron, Israel Removes the Last Restraint on Its Settlers’ Reign of Terror
Ramzy Baroud
Enough Western Meddling and Interventions: Let the Venezuelan People Decide
Robert Fantina
Congress, Israel and the Politics of “Righteous Indignation”
Dave Lindorff
Using Students, Teachers, Journalists and other Professionals as Spies Puts Everyone in Jeopardy
Kathy Kelly
What it Really Takes to Secure Peace in Afghanistan
Brian Cloughley
In Libya, “We Came, We Saw, He Died.” Now, Maduro?
Nicky Reid
The Councils Before Maduro!
Gary Leupp
“It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail