“Aleppo’s liberation: Everyone was celebrating, the city looked like it was a big wedding”, “Iran-Russia-Hezbollah liberate Aleppo”, “Syrian women make ‘Thank You’ calendar for Russian military” – These recent headlines would not read familiar to those whose news feed is populated by sources like the BBC, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Washington Post and the New York Times. This, however, is the sort of news that one would come across on Aleppo from the Russian and Iranian news outlets. (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s recent military successes have depended heavily on help from Russia, Iran and the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group, causing the pro-government side to outnumber and overpower their adversaries.)
Also, the reference to the anti-Assad groups is likely to be “Foreign-backed terrorists”, “militants”, “insurgents” or even “jihadists”, instead of the more neutral term “rebels” that is employed by the Western media. President Assad recently appeared on Syrian State television to proclaim the victory and celebration of “liberation of Aleppo”. He referred to the push back to the “terrorists” as “history in making”.
Within this alternate narrative, Aleppo has been ‘liberated’ and restored to the nation. There is nary a mention of the civilian death count from the air offensive launched by Russia in East Aleppo even though two days ago, Twitter and WhatsApp saw a deluge of “final messages” from the city’s trapped civilian, non-combatant activist and journalist residents expressing the precariousness of their lives and the deadliness of their situation. In harrowing words, they had implored the international community to stop the killings siege of Aleppo. Echoing that, while US Secretary of State John Kerry accused Assad of committing “nothing short of a massacre”, the ‘liberated’ Aleppo residents in the official, Russian and Iranian narrative ‘expressed’ relief over “the end of occupation of terrorists” and finally feeling a “resurgence of peaceful life in the city”.
Add to all this the multitude of motives, vested interests and the possibility of fake news and the facts get distorted even further. The RT outlet claimed yesterday that the social media pleas by the ‘refugees’ were actually planted in a PR stunt by filmmakers and activists with professed commitments to the anti-government groups — who are not even based in the war zone of Aleppo.
The partial reason for this wide schism in the reports is the divide between East and West Aleppo – the former was controlled by anti-government groups (at this point, no longer) and the latter by the pro-government forces. The hands of neither side are clean and both have committed the worst possible atrocities against civilians during the pitched ongoing battle. In Eastern Aleppo, refugees fear being lumped into a pro-rebel faction and suffering imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Assad regime. The government has promised amnesty to those who surrender, but the unarmed activists are unassured of their safety.
Calls for a ceasefire by the UN earlier had been ignored by Syria and its allies, who refused to stop until all anti-government elements in East Aleppo were either dead or had surrendered – thus waging a total war wherein no difference was observed between combatants and civilians in the foe’s bastion. Meanwhile, there were also, however, quite a few pro-government Syrians like Fares Shehabi, a pro-regime MP from Aleppo, who celebrated the advancement of the government forces in the eastern pockets. He recently castigated the international media on Twitter for spreading lies and siding with the ‘terrorists’.
The great temple of lies! pic.twitter.com/6Ydfmm7XB7
— Fares Shehabi (@ShehabiFares) December 16, 2016
To all those hypocrites! Why & why & why we never heard your voices when the people of Aleppo were under siege for years by your “rebels”?! https://t.co/uBxyxIo2p5
— Fares Shehabi (@ShehabiFares) December 15, 2016
Perhaps like all known violent, unending conflicts – whether it be Israel-Palestine or until recently, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan State – there is no morally high ground to be claimed by any side. After Aleppo is secured, there are a number of other areas in Syria that the government might target militarily, to the detriment of people who may get trapped there. What this points to is that even if the pro-government forces eventually win, they will face a deeply divided and injured, remainder of people.
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