Yesterday evening I was able to make contact with someone I know in Aleppo. As most of you are aware, I was there last year. At that time, many people had returned to the city after the FSA had pushed Syrian regime soldiers out of about 80% of the city. Now, nearly a year later, Aleppo is once again almost a ghost town, very few people remain. The people have fled to Turkey, the countryside or to regime held areas.
What has brought about this situation? There are a number of elements. The first is the fragmented way the FSA has been operating, different brigades operating independently of each other with no effective central command. There was Gen. Salim Idriss, who until very recently was head of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of the FSA but he has proven to be less than effective and therefore replaced by Col. Abdul Lilal Al Bashir who has more active experience. Whether that will make any difference remains to be seen. By far the biggest problem now facing the people in the north of Syria are DAASH, the commonly used term by the Syrians for ISIS or ISIL, both different acronyms for the same group.
It is often widely reported that DAASH is a part of Al Qaeda but the evidence is mounting that they are also working in collaboration with the Syrian regime. As an example, a few weeks ago the FSA made a big push to retake territory that was controlled by them. In the short term it worked, what was very interesting was how many of the DAASH fighters ran for protection in regime controlled areas. Also the DAASH commander of Menbij, a city close to Aleppo, is a Jordanian who was working at the Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan. Work is being made to collect evidence of the links between DAASH and the Syrian regime. The leadership of Al Qaeda has even ordered DAASH to go back to Iraq, but they refuse and so there is falling out between them. To be honest the situation is confusing, nobody is 100% sure of what exactly is going on, the game is well hidden at the moment.
So now there is a situation where DAASH control the border between Syria and Turkey as well as all the important towns and cities in the north. The FSA for now, has gone to ground, there is talk of them being supplied with new weapon systems, but as will always be the case it will not be enough to recover lost territory in the long term. Also in my conversation with my contact yesterday in Aleppo he told me that the regime is dropping 15-20 barrel bombs on the city per day. They are rolled out of helicopters and are not designed for accuracy, simply to kill as many people as possible. What is interesting is that the places used as headquarters by DAASH in Aleppo and other towns and cities they control are never targeted by these barrel bombs! It isn’t as if they try to hide their locations, they hang their flag and paint the building with their colours. They know they won’t be bombed by the regime unless there is prior notice so they can move out first.
In the south of the country, in the Daraa region, there is a different situation. Recently different brigades of the FSA have joined forces to create a new army division, the Al Yarmouk Division. Here in the south DAASH has not been able to get a foothold but that does not mean the situation is clear. They are still being controlled to a certain extent by Jordan. Saudi Arabia supplies them weapons but they have to pass through Jordan, however the Jordanians strictly limit how much is passed on to the FSA in the south. Also they stipulate where the FSA can and cannot attack. They will even target the FSA with artillery if they try to attack certain targets. The result is that the Al Yarmouk Division is being permitted to create a clearly defined autonomous area that is free of the Syrian regime but only according to the dictates of Jordan. Why could this be?
I have written several times in the past that the objective of the international political community is to divide Syria, which is happening now. Iran is supporting Bashar al Assad with everything it has, it needs direct access to the Mediterranean. The regime is consolidating its position from Damascus all the way up to Latakia. In the middle is the city of Homs, which is subject to the most brutal destruction. Its population is being starved into submission. Homs is a key city for the regime because it sits on the road that connects Damascus to the sea. In the meantime, many in the city have been killed by hunger and illness, women and children. No thought is given to them at all.
Then as I said before, in the south a new area is slowly being formed. The south of Syria has very good ground water supplies. Jordan has always been envious of this, it always struggles to have sufficient water of good quality. The eventual plan will, it seems, to affiliate the southern region of Syria with Jordan. This will give them access to the water and in return the people in the south of Syria will get protection from the regime. It hasn’t happened yet but things are definitely moving in this direction.
Then we come back to Northern Syria, here is where the different extremist groups, Sunni and Shia, are fighting each other. They have been permitted to bring in weapons via Turkey and Iraq and Lebanon. The strategy being to allow them to become strong enough so they have enough power to fight to the death. The problem with this of course is that it is the ordinary Syrian people who are suffering the most. The vast majority of the extremists are foreigners who are simply using the revolution in Syria for their own purposes. This is something that most newspapers don’t mention, the impression is given that because there are extremists fighting in Syria they must be Syrian. Yes a very small number are but the overwhelming majority are foreigners and they are permitted by surrounding countries to enter Syria with heavy weapons.
When I was talking to my contact in Aleppo yesterday he told me that there is only the most basic food. Water is in short supply, they collect and store what they can. He told me that trying to get food aid across the border from Turkey to the people is too risky. DAASH will steal it for themselves and what is left will be sold for highly inflated prices. Syria is a humanitarian disaster on a huge scale. We in the West have become numb to the news reports, why should we care, they are from a different culture, religion and language. They are human beings with the same hopes and desires as us. People are people, they want the chance to have a home, a family, a job, security and dignity. They want the ability to live without fear of brutality simply because they disagree with what the government is doing. That is a human right and the West is deliberately denying them their rights because the politicians are more interested in playing a game of power with the rule; if they can’t control then they will destroy.