We must speak up on Aleppo

A Syrian boy holds a photograph showing a man carrying the dead body of a boy in Syria, during a demonstration in support of the inhabitants of the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo on Dec 16. - AFP

MY hearts bleeds as I read the news reports on the battle of Aleppo.

For the past five years, the Syrian Army under President Bashar Al-Assad has battled a motley of militants. 

The Syrian Civil War grew out of the unrest of the 2011 Arab Spring and escalated to armed conflict after al-Assad's government violently repressed protests calling for his removal. The Syrian government has since then refused efforts to negotiate with what it describes as armed terrorist groups.

The war is being fought by several factions: the Syrian Government and its various supporters, a loose alliance of Sunni Arab rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the Syrian Democratic Forces, Salafi militant groups who often co-operate with the Sunni rebels, and the Islamic State (IS).

On Sept 22, 2014, the United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began to strike IS targets inside Syria, as well as the Khorasan group in the Idlib Governorate to the west of Aleppo, and the al-Nusra Front around Ar-Raqqah, as part of the US-led military intervention.

The Russian intervention in the Syrian Civil War began in September 2015 after an official request by the Syrian government for military help against rebel and militant groups.

The intervention initially consisted of air strikes fired by Russian aircraft stationed in the Khmeimim base at targets primarily in north-western Syria, against militant groups opposed to the Syrian government, including the Syrian National Coalition, IS, al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda in the Levant) and the Army of Conquest.

Syria has been a playground for world powers seeking to extend their influence in the region with the Americans supporting the moderate rebels led by the Free Syrian Army and Russians standing firmly in the corner of Al-Assad.

The Sunni and Shia Islam rivalry has also gripped the middle east with Iran supporting Al-Assad as he belong to the Alawite sect which is an off-shoot of Shia Islam while most of the rebels of Sunni Muslims and are supported by Sunni Islam states led by Saudi Arabia.

For centuries, Aleppo was the Syrian region's largest city and the Ottoman Empire's third largest, after Constantinople and Cairo. It was Syria's largest city and also one of the largest cities in the Levant before the advent of the Syrian Civil War. Aleppo is an ancient metropolis, and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world; it may have been inhabited since the sixth millennium BC. Yet, the stories coming out of Aleppo today cannot help but break one’s heart. 

For four years, eastern Aleppo was a rebel bastion from which the opposition hoped it would bring an end to Assad’s rule. Instead, he brought down theirs. Aleppo was the last major urban stronghold the opposition had left.

There are harrowing stories of people being shot in the streets and women and children being subjected to wanton killing and torture. Aleppo was supposed to be part of a new Syria and given its historical backdrop, it stood as a sentry of opposition to Assad's rule.

Instead, Aleppo is now a necropolis for the hopes, aspirations and desires of a better future for the Syrian people.

In all this madness, the world has been slow or unwilling to act and instead allowed itself to be consumed in a tug of war between world powers seeking to showcase their domination whilst forgetting that their most basic and solemn duty was to prevent the loss of life and the destruction of a city that stood at one end of the historic Silk Road and as recent as 2006 was crowned the Islamic Capital of Culture.

A ceasefire agreement to evacuate tens of thousands of fighters and civilians from the remaining rebel-held pockets of eastern Aleppo has been suspended as of a couple of hours ago.

Speaking to Reuters news agency on Friday, a Syrian government official overseeing the operation said it was suspended due to "obstructions".

In the meantime more lives will be lost and this episode will forever stain the conscience of humanity and when there is finally a full account of what happened, those state and non-state actors who engendered or fanned the flames of violence will have to pay.

Until then, all good and peace-loving people must speak up for Aleppo and its people.

We cannot keep silent as we will be complicit. I welcome Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi's clarion call for the world to speak up on Aleppo and stop the desecration of lives and property and ensure that this ancient city is not reduced to rubble and graves.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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