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Aleppo has fallen but there are no winners in this war

Naghma Sehar | Updated on: 16 December 2016, 22:12 IST

The beleaguered government of President Bashar al-Assad has once again taken control of the Syrian city of Aleppo. For centuries, Aleppo was the most beautiful city in the region. However, the ongoing civil war has left the most ancient metropolis of Syria in shambles.

Barring a few hours of truce created by a deal between Russia and Turkey, the devastating battle of Aleppo has continued incessantly for the past four years and four months. However, the guns had hardly gone silent and the residents of the city heaved a sigh of relief when the war broke out again.

The Assad administration asked for the list of people who were leaving the city. But Turkey was not ready to comply as it planned to evacuate its fighters under the cover of migrants.

The lines are blurred between "terrorists" and "rebels" in this conflict. The definition of these terms depends on the source of your inputs. For the western media outlets like CNN and BBC, all the combatants fighting against the Assad government are rebels. However, they are dreaded terrorists for the news agencies of Syria, Russia and Iran.

Lines between 'terrorist' and 'rebel' are blurred. It depends on your source of information

Besides the Islamic State, as many as 140 groups have waged war against the government. These include the Free Syrian Army backed by western powers and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the Al-Nusra Front, known to be an offshoot of al-Qaeda. Jihadis from countries like Afghanistan, Sudan and Pakistan have joined the battle in large numbers.

Mass shootings were reported in the city when the Assad government broke the deal to evacuate the residents. The United Nations has alleged large-scale human rights violations during the war. Meanwhile, the Assad government has refused to allow the UN observers to monitor the evacuation of the city.

The rebellion

The civil war in Syria broke out six years ago. It was fueled by US support to the rebels. Soon the entire country turned into a theatre of a proxy war between the USA and Russia. The Vladimir Putin administration has staunchly backed the Assad regime. Assad's ouster from power would mean the precious gas reserves would fall into the hands of western powers. This prospect is dreaded by the Kremlin as it wants European nations to continue to rely on Russia for energy needs.

The results of this power game were disastrous as the anti-Assad campaign was soon taken over by the Islamic State turning the entire region into the hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism.

The western media has blamed Putin, Assad and Iran for Aleppo's devastation. In 2011, the Assad government waged a bloody war against the largely peaceful demonstrations by the rebels. The war has claimed around 4 lakh people ever since. Lakhs of Syrians have migrated to Europe.

The question is whether Assad would have survived without the support of Russia and Iran. Will USA's President-elect Donald Trump, who apparently has a soft corner for Putin, appeal to his Russian counterpart to end this bloodshed? One needs to keep in mind that rebel forces were raised by the US and Obama administration was benevolent in supplying arms to them.

Now, when it is no longer possible to differentiate between political rebels and the Islamic State, the US is targeting anti-Assad forces. The attempts to pressurise Assad through UN Security Council resolutions were scuttled by veto-wielding Russia. The common Syrians paid a heavy price for this tussle between US and Russia.

In October 2015, pro-Assad forces were on the verge of defeat. However, Russia came to their rescue by entering into the battlefield. The Russian forces targeted groups supported by the USA and Arab countries. Iran also jumped on the bandwagon by sending over 5,000 Hezbollah to fight alongside the Assad forces. This only helped the Islamic State gain ground.

Obama asked Assad to relinquish power to end the civil war. But his hands were tied by the US Congress and the American public that were against embroiling the country in yet another armed conflict. Perhaps Obama will always feel the pinch of leaving the White House without resolving the Syrian crisis.

What lies ahead

Aleppo lies in shambles today. It has lost its heritage as well as its people. In fact, the ongoing war in West Asia has severely damaged much of history that was a part of humanity's collective memory.

Although, the victory in Aleppo is a landmark event in the six-year-old war. But it is not likely to end the conflict any time soon. Assad is now even more dependent on Russia and Iran.

The pain of a ruined country and society is stinging. Yet the violence is far from over. The theatre of war will now shift to the city of Palmyra.

First published: 16 December 2016, 22:12 IST