Over the last twenty four hours, the Syrian Arab Army has made significant advances in Aleppo against FSA and al-Nusra rebels, specifically in the neighborhoods of Sheikh Saeed, Jabal Bastro, and Sakhour. Widespread reports describe mass surrenders of rebel forces to government troops, as well as civilians making an exodus from rebel held East Aleppo and taking refuge with the Kurds who have long controlled the district of Sheikh Maksoud.
The Syrian military appears to have been poised to seize the strategic momentum of the battle, once they were able to obtain it, capitalizing on recent victories by continuing to advance forward before the rebels could solidify a new status quo. Aleppo will be a turning point for the Syrian regime, one that echoes the confidence already felt within President Assad’s inner circle.
Aleppo was Syria’s second most important city after Damascus, constituting their economy’s industrial and manufacturing base. Most residents of the city had little initial interest in an armed uprising as they were benefitting from the existing civil-political structures, however, many in rural areas outside the city did not feel the same way. Long ignored by the central government, these Jihadists came to occupy the city and many locals were forced to take up arms. In this light, the mass surrenders described over the last day make sense. Many didn’t want to fight in the first place.
When SOFREP visited Syria a few weeks ago, President Assad described six corridors open for civilians and rebel militia members to surrender or flee to government held areas in Aleppo. Other sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity pointed out that many of those press ganged into service with rebel forces would like to defect, but are fearful of retribution doled out by government forces if they surrender.
For many, the heavy handed airstrikes launched by both Russia and Syria in Aleppo, the widespread suffering of civilians, and the use of chemical weapons such as chlorine gas (almost certainly by the rebels), signifies a crumbling of international norms. Unfortunately, scenes like those out of devastated Aleppo have been the norm throughout history more often than not. The human rights abuses, air strikes, and human misery created by the city are not an erosion but rather just the next step in a long term perpetual crisis that is likely to envelope the Middle East for decades, long after the Syrian Civil War has concluded.
It is a region-wide crisis of identity, but hopefully most Middle Eastern states will be able to resolve it without sinking to levels of violence that we’ve seen in Aleppo.
Featured image courtesy of YouTube.