As the world watches, Aleppo descends into Dante’s Inferno

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metzlerBy John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — It’ s not often a senior UN official leaves a prepared and rigid script to emotionally describe a situation to delegates in the Security Council. But when Humanitarian Chief Stephen O’Brien told diplomats, “I am more or less at my wit’s end as a human being” in describing and cataloguing the horrors of Syria’s civil war, he was stating the painful truth.

As this column has stressed on many occasions, Syria has descended into Dante’s Inferno. During more than five years of conflict, 500,000 people have been killed and millions rendered homeless or displaced as refugees. The ongoing Syrian conflict has been viewed by many with shameful indifference. Echoes of Bosnia a generation ago.

A rescue worker carries a child after a bomb attack in the opposition-controlled Mashhad district of Aleppo, Syria. / Anadolu
A rescue worker carries a child after a bomb attack in the opposition-controlled Mashhad district of Aleppo, Syria. / Anadolu

Aleppo, and the ongoing siege by Assad government forces remains the epicenter of the conflict; this proud once-thriving city has been reduced to swaths of rubble, a jagged patchwork of control by terrorist factions, regime loyalists, and militias.

Starvation stalks the land while regime helicopters indiscriminately drop hideous “barrel bombs” and Russian jets pound presumably rebel positions. UN humanitarian aid waits in suspended animation as shells fall.

“Humanitarian conditions in eastern Aleppo have gone from terrible to terrifying and now barely survivable by human beings,” Stephen O’Brien asserted. There’s limited food and medicine for a beleaguered civilian population caught in the crossfire. He called on countries to use their influence to “put an end to the slaughterhouse that is Aleppo,” and to allow humanitarian access.

A pattern of medieval style sieges affect Aleppo and other towns: a brutal but effective way to isolate the opposition.

O’Brien stated that, at this time last year, 374,000 civilians were besieged; six months ago the number stood at 487,000, and today a total of 974,000, “Nearly one million Syrians are living tonight under siege.” He adds, “There is nothing subtle or complicated about the practice of besiegement…it is a deliberate tactic of cruelty to compound a people’s suffering for political, military and in some cases economic gain.”

Undersecretary General O’Brien added that, “attacks on civilian infrastructure, most notably hospitals and schools have become so commonplace it takes your breath away.”

Pre-war Syria had one of the most advanced health care systems in the world according to a World Health Organization official.

Thus, as Syria enters the labyrinth deeper into hell, UN humanitarian efforts continue in aiding nearly six million people across the country. Nonetheless O’Brien begged all concerned countries to respect UN Security Council resolutions to lift sieges and allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access throughout the embattled land.

A fractious Council debate followed with American Amb. Samantha Power stating that the Syrian government was following a “starve, get bombed or surrender” strategy. Amb. Power conceded that while “atrocities committed by terrorist organizations must be acknowledged,” she stressed the deadly role of the “government and Russian terror” in the civil war.

British Amb. Matthew Rycroft stated forcefully, “Russia has the power to allow the aid so desperately needed into the city, if it does not, the world will hold it to account for the barbarous result…I urge the Russian Federation to persuade the Syrian regime to let the UN do its job and get aid into Aleppo.”

Regarding Russian air strikes on hospitals in rebel areas Amb. Rycroft added, “We all want to counter terrorism in Syria, but attacks on schools and hospitals are not counter terrorist operations.”

Russia’s delegate Vladimir Safronkov denied the charges and went so far as to claim his government was assisting UN humanitarian aid in Syria and facilitating political efforts towards solving the expanding conflict.

Focusing on both the humanitarian and political side, Egypt’s Amb. Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta emphasized there “was no military solution” and that a comprehensive political settlement was needed. Indeed so, but how to reach that near impossible consensus goal?

Syria’s Amb. Bashar Jaafari decried the terrorism plaguing his country. “The terrorists were the tafiris that were influenced by Saudi Wahhabi teachings. They came from all over the world.” He emphasized, “It was the same terrorism that was being fought in Mosul with support by the international coalition.” He asked why there was a double standard on fighting them in his country? ISIL, Al-Nusra and other radical Islamic groups are dangerously entrenched.

Again, we return to Undersecretary General O’Brien who warns, “There is no amount of military operations that will see an end to the conflict. The only solution, as has been said countless times before, is a political solution.”

Finding an elusive political solution challenges diplomacy, morality, and indifference. Solve Syria now!

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]

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