Picking up from yesterday‘s reports of chemical attacks in Syria, we of course have to be very careful when watching the media/propaganda war concerning what is happening in Aleppo and in Syria in general.
We also know that there were two attacks, one of them being in the Salahuddin residential area of eastern Aleppo. Russian defense officials have claimed the perpetrators were militants from the ‘Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki‘ faction.
This particular group is still considered ‘moderate opposition’ by Washington: this is the same faction, for the record, that recently beheaded the 11 year-old Palestinian boy. There is very little chance that this ‘Nour al-Din al-Zenki’ is a ‘moderate’ group; though it is one of the factions that has recently been aided by Washington.
This issue of rebel groups in Syria having access to chemical weapons was discussed here yesterday. Also ongoing is the endless smoke-and-mirror game about ‘terrorist’ groups and ‘moderate opposition’, and terrorist groups that sometimes work with moderate opposition, or moderate opposition that has been known to defect to or be absorbed into terrorist factions.
Or – just to add to the ludicrousness of the entire scenario – terrorist groups that try to change their name and re-brand as ‘moderate opposition’.
We learnt – and it would almost be amusing if the whole situation in Syria wasn’t so soul-destroyingly tragic – just days ago that the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate (al-Nusra) has suddenly decided to break off all links with Al-Qaeda and change its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
The militant Islamist/Jihadist group has, of course, had years to make such a decision, but chose not to do so until now.
Why? Out of desperation, no doubt. Syrian regime forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have now encircled Aleppo, and the rebel militias know that the war could soon be over. Changing their name and disavowing Al-Qaeda is simply a desperate attempt to re-brand themselves as ‘moderates’ who can’t be targeted by the regime: but no one, not even Washington, appears to be sympathetic to their plight at this stage.
A number of international media outlets constantly portray the rebels in Aleppo as moderates and even noble freedom fighters, while also painting an almost romantic/heroic image of the city’s trapped civilian population being tirelessly defended by the besieged rebels against regime brutality.
In fact, the picture painted by Amnesty International suggests that al-Nusra and the ‘Aleppo Conquest coalition‘ has subjected the population to a brutal form of Sharia Law: which is hardly surprising, given the hardline Salafist make-up of most of the jihadist groups that have been internationally funded and supported to tear up Syria.
Al-Monitor reports that the groups operating in Aleppo ‘are practitioners of an ideology and governance that is barely distinguishable from the Islamic State (IS).’
In recent days, ‘humanitarian corridors’ were opened up in Aleppo (reportedly at Russian instigation) to allow civilians to leave the area and avoid being caught in the fighting.
How many people have departed via these corridors is uncertain, but there are reports that more than 150 families and even some opposition fighters have left the rebel-held areas. Yet a number of media groups have been sceptical about the humanitarian corridors. Al-Jazeera – unsurprisingly – is one of these, asking ‘what is Moscow’s true motive?’ and claiming that ‘activists have expressed doubts over the plan, saying it’s likely a pretext for the government to launch an attack and gain full control of Aleppo.’
What? Of course it is! There’s no pretext: the government fully intends to attack and reclaim Aleppo from the armed militias. Duh – that’s the whole point. And by ‘activists’, they are presumably referring to the highly suspect ‘White Helmets’ group that Vanessa Beeley has explored in detail on her blog.
Washington is also reported to have suggested the plan might be to attempt to ‘force an evacuation of civilians and the surrender of rebel groups in the city’. Well, yeah – again, that would be the whole point.
The BBC, again – as with yesterday – in fairness to Britain’s premier broadcaster (which, unlike virtually all American broadcasters, does usually aspire towards balance and complexity in its reporting – at least when it isn’t directly engaged in a government-led psy-op or geopolitical scheme), has acknowledged that use of these humanitarian corridors may have been prevented by those currently holding the city at gunpoint, noting ‘Some reports have said rebel groups are preventing civilians from leaving.’ There have been other suggestions that rebel groups have threatened violence or death to those trying to leave.
Which, if true, would suggest the armed groups are – and have been – using civilians as human shields to prevent an all-out government assault on those areas. In other words, they would know that once civilians and families have been offered a way out, there’s nothing left anymore to delay a decisive regime assault to recapture those areas.
Syrian President Bashar Assad – in an echo of what Gaddafi did five years ago – had in fact offered an amnesty for armed rebels surrendering within three months.
In other words, if we can trust the information, it appears the Assad government is trying to give as many people as possible the opportunity not only to get out of those areas but also to disentangle themselves from the armed militias (many of which are, let’s remind ourselves, armed and funded from outside Syria and include in their ranks numerous foreign fighters).
One would imagine the idea is that whoever is eventually left will be considered a legitimate enemy target.
I want to make something clear here: I know of course that real life and the real situation on the ground isn’t likely to be quite that simple or tidy. Also, where there is a major, horrible humanitarian crisis occurring, it can become distasteful or churlish to play guessing games. I don’t doubt that there are civilians suffering terribly in these areas – there are constant reports of starvation, malnourishment and illness.
And it makes me feel ill to think I’m minimalising or downplaying that suffering by focusing instead on al-Nusra/Al-Qaeda: but it is very important, at the informational level, to correct the international media mis-assertion that when Assad’s forces attack areas in Aleppo they are “trying to massacre civilians”.
International outlets mostly blame the Syrian and Russian governments – but they tend never to explore the nature/make-up/ideologies of the militias (some of them foreign-backed) that the Syrian government is trying to get out of those areas. And it has been the same since the war started in 2011: everything has been laid on the hands of Assad and the government and discussion of jihadist rebel crimes have been largely avoided (along with foreign governments and agencies’ involvement and the entire covert-ops nature of the Syrian War in general).
In fact, before the open emergence of ‘ISIS’ and the declaration of a ‘caliphate’ two years ago, those very same terrorists and jihadists (who the media now calls ‘ISIS’) were being referred to in international media as ‘opposition’ and ‘freedom fighters’.
This question of Aleppo has been going on for a long time already: and months ago, when regime forces launched an attack on Aleppo, international mainstream media portrayed it as Assad betraying the ceasefire agreement and attacking ‘moderate rebels’. However, even at the time, sources from within Washington were admitting that the fighters in Aleppo were primarily al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda) – and therefore exempt from any ceasefire conditions.
If it’s true – and we can’t know for sure that it is – that rebel fighters in those areas are preventing many civilians from leaving, then how is the Syrian government supposed to recapture Aleppo? Are they supposed to back off and leave Aleppo in the hands of armed Salafist/jihadist gangs being backed from abroad?
And then what? Allow them to turn it firmly into another extremist ‘caliphate’ like Raqqa?
As I noted yesterday, this latest chemical attack may be a symptom of desperation and urgency on part of the rebels in Aleppo. I would suggest – and this is only my suspicion – that the foreign-backed fighters in Syria and their international sponsors are desperate to salvage the regime-change project: which they cannot do if the Syrian Army retakes Aleppo and drives out the remnants of ISIS from Raqqa. Again, my suspicion is that all parties involved – those on the ground in Aleppo and those watching from foreign capitals – are desperate to prolong the fighting long enough for Hillary Clinton to assume the presidency.
At that time, some new way can be cooked up to re-frame this whole situation and to move away from the more adaptive, moderate and diplomatic Obama/Kerry way of operating.
But that is many months away – and all indications are that Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, could retake all of Syria before then: meaning, effectively, that the disastrous, bloody covert war in Syria that was begun in 2011 could be over before Neo-Con Hillary comes into power. At that point, with a new White House regime essentially unable to have any real case for further intervention in Syria, everyone will have to concede defeat and simply ‘let it go’.
So, until then, it becomes a race. And efforts to portray the Aleppo militias as ‘moderate opposition’ has failed to stop the Syrian/Russian alliance from moving against them; so now, lost for options, another chemical attack occurs that can be blamed on the government forces, while the Al-Qaeda-aligned al-Nusra scrambles to change its name and pretend it is suddenly a peaceful, pro-democracy group.
It may even be that the Assad regime knows it has to finish all of this quickly; not just for the sake of Syria, but for the sake of resolving all of this before the Obama administration is replaced by a more aggressive administration that will be much more intent on accomplishing the regime-change that was stalled back in 2013.