Abandoned by the world, “Aleppo is sinking into darkness”


Up to 300,000 civilians are living under a tightening siege around Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city, while government and rebel forces lock in to perhaps the fiercest fighting the conflict has seen in years.

While the UN said Thursday that diplomats are working around-the-clock to secure a humanitarian pause in the fighting to protect civilians, rights organisations and activists on the ground are raising concerns about a looming humanitarian catastrophe.

Abdulkafi al-Hamdu, a media activist and English professor at the University of Aleppo, told Equal Times that civilians have begun rationing supplies, preparing for the worst.

“We can’t find most of the necessary medicines. There is little food in the markets…[and there are] no houses which haven’t lost a relative, a friend or a neighbour,” he said, speaking from a rebel-held neighbourhood. “People have started forcing their children to eat just once a day.”

In mid-July, government forces closed in on the Castello Road, a bombed-out highway running out of east Aleppo that for months served as the final lifeline for the city’s rebels. With Castello closed, Syria’s largest city has been under siege for around two weeks.

The Russian Ministry of Defense recently announced a “large-scale humanitarian operation” in Aleppo — significantly, including the opening of three “humanitarian corridors” out of rebel-held parts of the city. Small bags of supplies and maps of the routes were dropped on the city. Bombings continued elsewhere.

The news has re-opened some of the controversies about the UN’s dealings with the Syrian government, and how it responds to developments on the ground.

UN special envoy to Syria, Steffan de Mistura, suggested that responsibility for safe exit of civilians and humanitarian access should be left to the UN.

“We have been studying with great attention and interest the Russian initiative that was sketched [on 28 June],” de Mistura said in the last week of July. “Our suggestion to Russia is to actually leave the delivery of aid through corridors to the UN and its partners. The UN and the humanitarian partners, as you know, know what to do.”

De Mistura tentatively welcomed the introduction of humanitarian corridors “under the right circumstances,” but appeared to acknowledge skepticism about them in reality given that they are being overseen by two parties to the conflict, who are still bombarding Aleppo.

“How do you expect convoys of humanitarian aid to actually reach those people if there is shelling and bombing from the air and from the ground?” de Mistura emphasised.


“Deeply flawed” plan

Aid organisations have criticised the UN for considering the Kremlin’s “deeply flawed” plan — not least because of ongoing fighting and concerns that the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad will use the safe exit of civilians as a pretext for a stepped-up campaign against those that remain behind in Aleppo.

Syrian and Russian airstrikes have pummelled the city day after day, targeting civilian infrastructure including four hospitals. Rebel groups have used those same neighbourhoods to launch artillery and rocket attacks on government-controlled parts of Aleppo as well. One such attack last week killed up to 40 people including several children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) recently warned that hospitals in east Aleppo were “buckling under the pressure from attacks and dwindling supplies.”

“Fighting has intensified over the past three weeks and the long-suffering people of Aleppo city are bearing the brunt of the devastation,” MSF said. “The population [in eastern Aleppo], and crucially the war-wounded and seriously ill, have no way out, while vital food and medical supplies cannot get in.”

In the past week, rebels from the Fateh Halab (Aleppo Conquest) operations room and jihadist-rebel Jaish al-Fateh (Conquest Army) launched a major counter-offensive against Syrian government forces and their allies. Early on, rebels regained territory to the south of the city. Over the weekend, rebels effectively broke the siege there and allowed for food to make it through to eastern Aleppo. Both sides are said to be amassing forces on the frontlines ahead of further clashes.

Aleppo has become the Syrian conflict’s defining battle — one that is clearly far from over. Meanwhile, civilians bear the brunt of the ongoing clashes, devastation and global geo-politics writ large.

“Aleppo is sinking into darkness,” said Hamdu. “People have found themselves abandoned by the world.”