ATIF SHAMIM SYED | Caravan Daily
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]iege, bomb and starve. The Syrian regime has been following the same pattern since 2011 to bring the resistance to its knees. The opposition is bled slowly until it decides to lay down its weapons and evacuate the areas it was holding and defending.
The Syrian Arab Army and its patchwork of imported militias has very limited capabilities for carrying out comprehensive ground offensive so the strategy suits it quite well. The slow and cruel siege coupled with relentless aerial bombing chokes the opposition into submission.
This medieval technique has already been successfully employed in rebel held areas of Daraya, Al-Waer, and the suburbs of Damascus and Homs.
East Aleppo – the last remaining opposition stronghold in Northern Syria with an estimated population of 250,000 souls – is subjected to continuous bombing, death and destruction. Is there a possibility that the rebels in the city will lay down their weapons like their peers in other parts of the country?
At least, the Syrian regime and its allies think it is possible. That is why the city is being bombed with an unprecedented ferocity after the truce between America and Russia collapsed.
The current airstrikes are the hardest in the past five years of civil war resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths. Aleppans are trapped within their homes. There is no food, water or electricity.
There are allegations that Russians are using bunker buster bombs for the purpose of destroying facilities that are buried underground. These accusations are based on pictures of very deep craters that are found in many places within the city. Residents of Aleppo have stated that the bombs go off like earthquakes. The UN has made it clear that using these kinds of weapons in densely populated areas constitutes a war crime.
Rebels within the area have reported that they are short of weapons, fuel and food. Some of them haven’t eaten in days.
The aerial bombardment is fiercer in the southern districts which are still populated by civilians. This could be a tactic for scaring these people into leaving these areas so that a ground offensive can be carried out.
Military strategists, however, think that a full-scale ground offensive in not on the cards since the regime lacks the resources to carry it out and its Lebanese allies may not be willing to throw more battle-hardened men into the pitched street battles that will follow if the regime tries to wrest back East Aleppo from the rebels. The losses will be too much to bear for Hezbollah which is already stretched thin.
For the time being, the regime is concentrating on following a scorched earth policy by razing whatever remains of the infrastructure in East Aleppo. In a recent bombing campaign, the underground emergency room of the very few operating hospitals in Aleppo was obliterated by a bunker buster. A water extraction station was also destroyed.
The regime is also simultaneously sending messages to the residents of Aleppo through SMS and social media. These messages promise that if they raise the Syrian flag on their roofs, they will be spared. Alternatively, they can also go to the airport in order to save their lives. The airport lies to the south east of the city and is under government control. The two-pronged approach seeks to rid the city of its population making it easier to occupy at some later stage.
The regime had presented a similar offer to Aleppans in July by opening humanitarian corridors out of the city. Very few of them took the offer and left the city. Most of the residents chose to remain.
Aleppo holds enormous symbolic value to the Syrian uprising. For now, it seems that the city has chosen to fight to the very end.