Russian Air Force hits Aleppo hard

Desperate Syrians throng the Turkish border Take a city with a population similar to that of Chicago and an urban area more or less the size of Manchester, England.

Internally displaced Syrians who fled from Aleppo arrive in the village of Mabrouka on February 6 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Internally displaced Syrians who fled from Aleppo arrive in the village of Mabrouka on February 6
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Take a city with a population similar to that of Chicago and an urban area more or less the size of Manchester, England.
Now, bomb it. Not just one bomb.
Not a campaign of urban terror, like the Paris attack last November that left 130 people dead.
Go even further than the attacks of September 11, 2001 that killed close to 3,000 people.
Aleppo, once a Levantine gem and formerly the largest city in Syria, with a population of about 2.5 million, has been a battleground for close to four years. As of January 2013, Syrian President Bashar Assad lost control of the city to a ragtag league of rebel forces, that alongside local noncombatants is now being bombarded by the Russian Air Force as no civilian population has been since the end of World War II.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is Assad’s top backer. Chris Woods, the editor of the monitoring website, told The Media Line there is “no doubt that a major Russian air campaign is going on right now.”
Thus supported by Russian firepower, Assad’s forces, which flailed and failed to retake the city for years, now have besieged Aleppo.
“There’s one main reason for the change in the Syrian situation: the deployment of Russian fighter planes to northwestern Syria in late August, and the nationwide aerial assaults they began a month later,” writes Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel.
“Russia’s entry into the picture prevented the regime’s collapse,” he continues, which is “something Assad had genuinely feared in the spring and summer, and quickly stabilized its defensive lines.”
Atlantic Council scholar Frederic C. Hof published an article this week arguing, in effect, that the United States has been played by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had a plan all along.
According to Hof, the Russians’ aim in Syria was to decimate rebel groups and divide the country into two zones, one controlled by Assad, the other by the Islamic State, to force Western powers to choose between Assad, whom they have long detested, and Islamic State, the new barbaric bugaboo. Assad, according to this plan, would then survive.
“Civilians already subjected to indiscriminate air attacks would, with the arrival of regime ground forces on their doorsteps, have one more nightmare with which to deal: the prospect of regime intelligence operatives and shabiha gangsters going door-to-door to kill, loot, arrest, and rape as they wish,” Hof writes.
Indeed, residents of Aleppo are fleeing for their lives.
Somewhere between 35,000 and 70,000 refugees are now thronging the Turkish border in inclement wintry weather, and a jittery Turkey, which has already taken in 2.5 million Syrian refugees, is for now keeping an eye on them, but keeping them out.
The desperation of Aleppo’s remaining population, estimated to be about half a million, is such that they are willing to risk their children’s lives to escape. About a dozen children have drowned in the attempt to make it to Europe in the past few days alone. Those who are stuck in the city – the old, the infirm, the disabled – are frightened and bitterly resigned.
Children are also dying in the bombardments.
The Syrian Network, an independent, non-partisan organization, is posting images of murdered children on its heartbreaking Twitter feed. At press time, the last was the sweet-looking Yazan Al Badawi, killed on February 8 by “regime warplanes” firing missiles.
Jenan Moussa, a reporter for Arabic Al Aan TV, tweeted “I am speaking over Skype with an activist from Aleppo. He sums it all up. ‘Civilians have no say in what is happening in Syria. People are waiting with rice. If regime army comes in, people will throw rice in celebration. If Russia comes, they will learn Russian. If the US comes, they will learn English. If Saudis come, we’ll use the rice to make mansaf [a rice dish] in celebration.’” Stung by the accusations that Russia is causing a humanitarian disaster, the Russian Defense Ministry posted an angry retort directed at NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, posted on its Facebook page.
“The crisis in Syria has been caused not by the operation conducted by the Russian Aerospace Forces, but by the thoughtless activities of the NATO member-states, which have brought the region of the Middle East into the chaos,” the post reads.
More mysteriously, it continues, “Before the Russian aviation arrived in Syria, the NATO member-states had already imitated fighting against international terrorism in the format of ‘Nanai kids wrestling.’” Then, directly, “Concerning the words of Stoltenberg on the “tension” in the region caused by the Russian presence in Syria – that is nonsense,” the Russian Defense Ministry writes.
“If there is anybody who is ‘strained’ by the actions of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria they are terrorists. The Russian Defense Ministry has been openly telling and showing this to the whole world since the start of the Russian operation.”
For the thousands of desperate refugees at the border, this offers very little comfort.
“We are expecting 70,000 [refugees] if Aleppo falls,” sighs Seyfi Tashan, the president of the Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara. “Turkey is in a very difficult situation.”
“It’s a slow process,” he explained, in a conversation with The Media Line, with Turkey supervising temporary camps just across the Syrian border, “trying to keep them safe and look after them, but at the same time providing careful scrutiny.”
Highlighting the urgency of the situation, German chancellor Angela Merkel was in Ankara on Monday.
“We are talking with our European friends and we’ll see what we can do,” Tashan said.
Then, losing his customary diplomatic reserve, he continued.
“Europe will do nothing, as they have done in previous crises. Europe is a self-centered and egotistic place that can hardly move its finger. Have you seen the crisis in European countries after the migrants came to its doors? I do not expect much from Europe.
“I think the US and Russia will have to sit down and talk about a real solution.”
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