After months of particularly intense bombing campaigns and siege, the remaining pockets of rebel-held territory in East Aleppo are falling to the Syrian regime and its allies. Over the past several days, inhabitants have been posting their harrowing farewells over social media.
According to UN officials, the Syrian army and its allies have been executing civilians as they enter the besieged city. They have also reportedly forcibly recruited and detained civilians.
On Tuesday, December13, Turkish and Russian diplomats brokered an evacuation (or eviction) deal with the Syrian regime to move thousands of civilians and rebel fighters out of East Aleppo through humanitarian corridors. The agreement has left residents forced to choose between death and displacement.
Thousands who made the choice to leave were initially prevented from doing so by pro-regime militias as well as by rebel groups, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham. According to several reports, pro-Assad forces had unilaterally imposed new conditions for the evacuation. Rebel rocket fire and regime air strikes resumed, sparking concerns of further war crimes.
On Thursday, the parties negotiated a new deal to evacuate thousands of people over several days. There is, of course, no guarantee this agreement will hold or that all civilians who want to leave will be able to.
What does seem certain is that the Syrian regime will be able to exert full control over East Aleppo soon. The war over the eastern part of Syria’s commercial hub is far from over, however. It is, instead, entering another phase, in which the Syrian people will be besieged by regime institutions and networks. To exert control over this half of the city, the government will, in all likelihood, dispatch its security apparatus and militias to crush all opposition.
This will, in turn, bring a new round of atrocities and violations to the people of East Aleppo. Preventing this reality will require a nationwide ceasefire and a concerted push for a comprehensive political solution to the Syrian war.
Despite its recent military victory, the regime is ultimately in a precarious political position. It lacks popular legitimacy, while the proliferation of armed militias throughout the country precludes a return to the status quo ante. As such, Russia, the regime’s most important and powerful ally, may be willing to halt military operations and perhaps even support a negotiated resolution to the conflict. While the Russians will inevitably try and control the process, this opening, however limited, must be exploited.
In the meantime, international activists should mobilize and voice their support for short-term, international initiatives currently being proposed, such as a call for an immediate ceasefire and the redeployment of UN humanitarian staff ensuring safe passage for civilians from Aleppo. Solidarity with these initiatives is key, if for no other reason, than to help the Syrian people overcome this devastating war.