While the Trump Turns- the war in Aleppo continues
By Steve Coll in The New Yorker
Syria - ASSAD’S WAR ON ALEPPO
An image of an injured child goes viral, but the fighting continues unabated.
On August 18th, Omran Daqneesh, who is five years old, survived an air strike on the apartment building where his family lived, in Aleppo, Syria. Rescue workers pulled him out of the rubble and took him to an ambulance. Mahmoud Raslan, of the Aleppo Media Center, who works in areas controlled by the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, photographed the child on video.
It is hard to imagine a battle like the one in Aleppo getting worse, but it is. According to the United Nations, as many as two hundred and seventy-five thousand people may be trapped in rebel districts, because government forces have cut off the roads. Those people and hundreds of thousands of other residents have no electricity or running water. Despite ongoing international negotiations and periodic agreements to enact ceasefires and allow the provision of humanitarian aid, Assad’s government has slow-rolled or blocked aid deliveries, which often must be made by truck, on contested roads. In May, the Syria International Support Group, which includes Russia, China, the Arab League, European nations, and the U.S., endorsed another ceasefire and pledged to “ensure full and sustained humanitarian access in Syria.” This summer, that promise crumbled, like many before it.
The rebels and the civilians in Aleppo have endured, even though they are largely helpless against aerial assault. In addition to continued armed resistance, they have put together an extraordinary array of rescue workers, ambulance drivers, nurses, doctors, underground hospitals, electronic I.C.U.s, media producers, and low-power radio stations that warn listeners about air raids. The U.S., Europe, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other nations, along with nongovernmental aid groups and the Syrian diaspora, have financed this infrastructure.
On August 14th, Al Jazeera released a film made by the Danish journalist Nagieb Khaja about the Syrian Civil Defense, a network of nearly three thousand first responders in rebel zones, who are known as “white helmets.” S.C.D. has pledged neutrality toward armed factions, but Assad’s forces and their allies have targeted it in “double tap” attacks, in which Syrian and Russian aircraft strike a rebel target, wait for rescue workers to turn up, and then bomb them as well. Khaja shot his film late last year in Aleppo, where he accompanied a squad of white helmets to the site of an attack. “People! Stop gathering in groups!” one of the rescuers shouts. “Spread out or they will shell!” Assad, through the conduct of his forces, has left little doubt that he is deliberately seeking to destroy medical and civil organizations in rebel areas in order to demoralize and depopulate those districts. (He may be succeeding. On Friday, people began to evacuate Darayya, near Damascus; the population has apparently capitulated, after four years of encirclement and assault.)
Photographs shared on social media are not a sound basis for making foreign policy, of course. In this conflict, online hoaxes and fake images proliferate, and, even when a picture can be verified, as in the case of Omran Daqneesh, it can be difficult from a distance to peer behind a portrait of individual pain into the environment from which it arose. The image of Omran might be understood as simply a representation of Syrian suffering. It might also be seen as a depiction of the resilient depth of local opposition to Assad’s regime. We saw Omran’s face because rescue workers saved him, a videographer recorded his shock, and an Internet connection carried his image abroad. If Aleppo’s rebels and its civilian volunteers and inhabitants collapse under Assad’s brutal siege, history will remember more than a photograph. ♦ (Yes....and those who continue to ignore this humanitarian disaster are doomed to live with the consequences of their- ie "our" inaction.)
Steve Coll, a staff writer, is the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, and reports on issues of intelligence and national security in the United States and abroad.