On Thursday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared on state television to announce that the tattered city of Aleppo had been liberated. Driving the last terrorists out of the city was “history in the making,” Assad said. Evacuations of civilians and soldiers from the rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo began on Thursday, after a ceasefire was coordinated between the Assad regime and the insurgents.
On Friday, just 24 hours after the evacuation process started, the removal of people from the city ended abruptly after 8,000 people had successfully been removed. Evacuees included civilians and resistance fighters alike. Syrian state news has accused rebels of smuggling weapons out of the torn city and firing on the convoys deployed to assist in the evacuation. Anti-state activists said government forces blocked the passage in protest of the continued attacks on two Shiite villages by insurgents.
The World Health Organization said that their staff were asked to leave the evacuation area in eastern Aleppo, but did not know why the process ended. Elizabeth Hoff, the World Health Organization’s representative, said that “no reason was given,” adding that “a very high number of people” still need to be safely removed from eastern Aleppo.
Robert Mardini, a director for the International Committee of the Red Cross, tweeted that the process had been halted, but offered no reason why the efforts were stopped:
Regretfully, the operation was put on hold. We urge the parties to ensure it can be relaunched & proceed in the right conditions.
- Robert Mardini (@RmardiniICRC)
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a group that has been documenting human rights abuses in Syria since 2006, connected the suspension to a separate evacuation effort in two Shiite villages. The two villages are located in nearby Idlib Province, Fua, and Kefraya, and have been flooded with rebel fighters for years. These villages were not originally a part of the evacuation deal, but that changed on Wednesday when pro-government shooters fired on the evacuation convoys.
Syria has been locked in a brutal civil war for four years. Much of the destruction has been focused on Aleppo, Syria’s once largest city. It was the nation’s financial center, and held a population of 2.3 million. Aleppo is also a Unesco World Heritage site, famous for its 12th Century Great Mosque and 13th Century citadel. The uprising and inevitable civil war in Syria began in 2011, with the election of President Bashar al-Assad.
In March 2011, democratic protesters took to the streets in the southern Syrian city of Deraa following the arrest and torture of teenagers. These adolescents were detained after painting revolutionary slogans on a school wall. After government security forces shot and killed several of the demonstrators, an uprising started to build.
The civil unrest caused nationwide protests, demanding that Assad resign from his position. The state’s use of violence to quash civilian dissidents only fueled the fire that would birth a rebellion. By the summer of 2011, hundreds of thousands began protesting across the nation. Protesters and opponents of the Syrian government began arming themselves, first in self-defense of the violent regime. This evolved into attacks on government security forces, with the intention of removing them from their local regions.
Rebel groups began to form and mobilize to take back control of cities and villages. In 2012, the continued conflict migrated to Damascus, the capital of Syria. According to the UN, by June 2013, 90,000 people had been killed. By August 2015, that number climbed to 250,000. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, today the combined casualties exceed 420,000.
Common with any civil war, the line that rebels drew in the sand had become blurry. No longer is the Syrian government dealing with insurgents who simply call for Assad’s resignation. The resistance grew into a sectarian coalition, placing a divide between the nation’s Sunni Muslim majority against Assad’s Shia Alawite ideology. Middle-Eastern and world powers alike were also drawn into the conflict. Further muddying the waters, the rise of the Islamic State (IS) to overthrow the Syrian government only made things that much more confusing.
For years, multiple groups fought to control bits and pieces of the country. These groups include: The Assad/State regime in the West, Kurdish fighters in the north, the presence of Hezbollah in the south, and the Islamic State mixed in throughout the nation. A UN commission documented countless war crimes from all parties involved, including rape, torture, murder, and the disappearance of civilians. Syrian citizens also continued to suffer through the blockading of food, water, and health services. The fundamentalist terror group Islamic State, infamous for the slaughter of innocent people throughout the Middle-East, has arguably caused more harm to civilians than all of the others. Those who refuse to accept IS rule are subject to beatings, torture, amputations, and public execution.
On the world stage, Russia and Iran have supported the Shia Alawite government of President Assad. The Iranian government has backed the Assad regime with lines of credit, oil, advisers of war, and weapons. Russia has supported the Syrian state with military air strikes against all opposition rebel factions. The Hezbollah movement, a Shia Islamist group from Lebanon, placed fighters in the southwestern region of Syria in support of Assad.
The opposition, largely composed of the Sunni sect, has enjoyed support from nations throughout the globe – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, as well as the United States, France, and the UK.
With the support of international backers, the civil war in Syria has become more than just an internal conflict – it sparked an international proxy war.
Now that a ceasefire agreement has been made, with some people being successfully removed from the tattered region of eastern Aleppo, perhaps this conflict will soon come to a true end. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like there are any real winners of this civil war, regardless of President Assad’s declaration of victory on Thursday. It seems as though Assad’s tyrannical Shia government will still rule the predominately Sunni population. Millions of innocent lives have been devastated, and hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children have died. Syria’s great cities lie in ruin. Regardless of the victor, at the end of it all, every Syrian citizen has ultimately lost the war.