The five-year siege in Aleppo has all but come to an end, and the same might be said for the so-called “moderate rebels” backed by the West against Bashar al-Assad. Russia and Turkey negotiated a cease-fire in Aleppo that has started on Tuesday, failed on Wednesday, and then started again earlier today for the purpose of allowing the rebels and their wounded to withdraw. Instead, ambulances rushed in under fire again today in hopes of running the gauntlet away from Assad’s forces:
An operation to evacuate thousands of civilians and fighters from the last rebel bastion in Aleppo was under way on Thursday, part of a ceasefire deal that would end years of fighting for the city and mark a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said the evacuation of around 200 wounded people had started. Russia, a major ally of Assad, said 5,000 Syrian rebels and family members were being brought out of eastern Aleppo.
The convoy of 10 ambulances and at least 17 green buses with nearly 1,000 aboard drove from the Ramousah district next to the rebel-held area of Aleppo, which was besieged for months by Syrian government forces, a Reuters reporter on the scene said.
The Assad government promised safe passage to Idlib, guaranteed by the Russian military, for rebels and civilians who leave Aleppo under the terms of the cease-fire. Assad’s Iranian allies objected to this arrangement yesterday, demanding that rebels offer reciprocal terms in other areas they control. This led to a renewal of fighting in the city. That pushed the rebels into an even more untenable position, reducing their footprint to a square mile within Aleppo, according to the Russians.
As proxy wars go, this one has been a qualified success for Vladimir Putin and the mullahs of Iran, and a humiliation for Barack Obama:
By taking control of Aleppo, Assad has proved the power of his military coalition, aided by Russia’s air force and an array of Shi’ite militias from across the region.
Rebels have been backed by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies, but that support has fallen far short of the direct military assistance given to Assad by Russia and Iran.
The White House lamented that its options are limited:
Pressed by reporters about the U.S. response to the bloodshed, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the Obama administration continues to support humanitarian assistance and seek a negotiated end to the conflict. He rejected suggestions that the United States has a responsibility to do more to halt the violence.
He said the Syrian regime has “crossed all the lines,” bombing and starving its own citizens, in its attempt to consolidate power. “They do cross just about every line that I can think of,” Earnest said. “And frankly, they cross lines I hadn’t previously thought of.”
“What kind of civilized country is going to support those tactics? But that’s what Russia has done,” he added.
They certainly crossed one line of the Obama administration’s own making. Barack Obama drew a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons against civilians, a line that Obama promised would bring a swift military response. Unfortunately, Obama only talked about that red line — he didn’t do anything to build political support for a response in Congress or with the American people. When Assad crossed that line, Obama just assumed everyone would follow his lead at that time, only to discover that neither Congress nor the American people were prepared to give him a blank check for another military coup in the Middle East. After that humiliation, Obama quickly punted Syria to the Russians, who have been in command ever since.