Aleppo’s tragedy is the world’s shame

By Salman Haider, The Statesman/ANN

NEW DELHI — After more than five years of intense civil strife, there is a flutter of expectation that the war in Aleppo could be winding down. It is not over yet, and military engagements still occur in the devastated city, but a gradual restoration of the situation seems to have started, so that the beleaguered city can find some breathing space and begin to lick its wounds. Pictures from the battle zone give a horrifying portrait of destruction of a different level of intensity from the sporadic mob attacks more commonly witnessed during the civil strife; extensive use of heavy weapons on the ground and through aerial attacks have wrought unimaginable damage and destroyed large parts of the city, including several monuments of world heritage status that may be impossible to replace. Yet in the midst of the wreckage, some brave and hardy souls refused to leave when they had the opportunity and have said they will stay on no matter what, even as the supplies of almost everything run out, including food and medicine. As the situation has remained precarious and every laboriously negotiated cease-fire has failed to hold, the U.N. secretary general, usually reticent in his choice of language, was moved to describe Aleppo as the new synonym for hell. In this somber setting yet another attempt is currently under way to revive the cease-fire and permit the evacuation of civilians. The U.N. Security Council, whose earlier interventions achieved little, is once again attempting to halt the fighting but the outcome remains uncertain. And even if the immediate conflict is placed in temporary abeyance, there is no certainty that it could lead to a wider cessation of hostilities — on the contrary, according to some reports the rebels who are now at bay against President Assad may be prepared to fight on even if they lose their hold in Aleppo. There is thus little early expectation of an end to the humanitarian disaster that has taken such an unimaginably high toll. Some Impact on the Conscience The events in Aleppo have had some impact on the conscience of the world, though not as much as they might have. There is widespread criticism of the international failure to act decisively at the proper time and of the manner by which partisan considerations have divided the peace effort and impeded reconciliation. In these circumstances, the humanitarian issue has been overshadowed by the bewildering variety of state and non-state actors, with their own ethnic and ideological claims. External support from various sources for the many contending groups and factions has done much to make the task of reconciliation almost impossibly complicated and has added to the suffering of the city’s population. Geopolitical factors have had a baleful effect as different foreign players have been drawn into the situation, but though many have become involved, the international community as a whole has not been able to work together to bring its collective judgment to bear.

As already mentioned, the U.N. Security Council is making another effort but opinion within the Council is divided, which makes collective action impossible.