In an interview with the Observer (1 May), Brita Haji Hasan, the head of the Aleppo City Council, highlighted the dramatic decline in the Syrian city’s population. He said, “In 2013 there were two million people in and around the city… there are 400,000 right now.”
The semi-siege like conditions that Aleppo is now under expose the sham of the so called “ceasefire” that was negotiated with the supposed support of all sides — US, Russia and Assad. The Geneva discussions which “achieved” the cessation of hostilities have brought little benefit to Aleppo.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has said that the ceasefire negotiated was now “barely alive”, and there are no dates set for further talks. While peace talks which have been in place since February 2016 have been collapsing, fighting between the Syrian army and rebel groups which control different districts of the city has increased, especially since late April. The situation is now dire enough for NGOs operating in the city to circulate a memo detailing the “complete absence of the fundamentals of safe humanitarian intervention, and the absence of a clear mechanism to monitor and document violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law”.
John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, has opened up discussions with Russia about reducing fighting in the Aleppo area. But while the Russian state media on Friday 29 April said that a “regime of calm” agreement sponsored by Moscow and Washington would apply in the capital and surrounding area, Aleppo was not included; rebel groups and Russian jets continued their hostilities.
The Saudi backed opposition has already walked out of the UN-backed negotiations. They along with NGOs, cited the fact that the humanitarian aid deliveries were being blocked into besieged areas. John Kerry stated that the US was attempting to continue negotiations for a cessation in fighting with “moderate rebels”, excluding only the Al-Qaeda-backed Jabhat al-Nusra. And Russia has said it continues to participate in talks and remains “committed”to an end to fighting in order to
reconvene peace talks.
Meanwhile Syrian parliamentary elections are now underway in government-controlled areas, with, unsurprisingly, only government backed and vetted candidates contesting for the votes of an 8 million (once 25 million) strong electorate. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported airstrikes and Assad shelling killing at least 131 civilians in rebel areas since the end of April. Rebel shelling of government areas had killed 71 civilians. The death of Aleppo’s last paediatrician in an airstrike caused mass outrage, and there are just 70 to 80 doctors left in Aleppo, dealing with extensive trauma injuries. Against this desperate backdrop, protests against the Assad Government and for an end to the siege of Aleppo have taken place in Tunisia, Turkey and Lebanon.