After the ceasefire negotiated by the United States and Russia collapsed on September 19, 2016, the Syrian regime and its Russian allies steadily intensified their ongoing bombing campaign against Aleppo. Since then, as many as 740 civilians have been killed, while at least 1900 others have been injured, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On October 20, 2016, the Syrian and Russian governments instituted another (extremely short-lived) ceasefire. According to Reuters, the “unilateral ceasefire backed by Russia had come into force to allow people to leave besieged eastern Aleppo, a move rejected by rebels who say they are preparing a counter-offensive to break the blockade.”
The purpose behind this ostensibly humanitarian gesture is, however, deeply sinister, and will likely end in even more bloodshed. Sharif Nashashibi, a London-based Syria analyst, argues in News Deeply that “as with previous cease-fires, this is an escalation – part of an overall military solution to the conflict – masquerading as diplomacy and humanitarianism.”
In Nashashibi’s view, the ceasefire’s purpose “is to facilitate the capture of eastern Aleppo by encouraging rebels to abandon their positions, before ramping up the previous onslaught under the pretext that those remaining in rebel-held areas are either fighters or sympathizers.” It should come as absolutely no surprise, therefore, that rebels and residents of the city alike are holding their ground and choosing not to leave.
The city’s residents not only refused to evacuate, but also mobilized a series of protests echoing the very same demands that sparked the uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad five years ago, namely, for freedom and liberty from the tyranny of the regime and its allies.
While these protests have received little attention, they are hardly new. During periods of calm in besieged areas of Syria, protests usually break out. In March of this year, for example, Aleppo, Idlib, and Hama were engulfed in mass protests calling for the fall of the Assad regime, both in between and during periods of constant shelling.
But, as Nashashibi points out, “[in the absence of] mass evacuations, a bloodbath following the pause – one that will be even greater than the city has become accustomed to – is guaranteed. This is not mere speculation. Military escalation by the regime and its allies have followed the end of every previous cease-fire.”
It seems that even good news in the form of a ceasefire is just bad news in disguise for besieged Syrians. The coming days will prove just how accurate Nashashibi’s words really are.