Syr­ian ob­server Joseph Ba­hout tells Arab News: ‘Aleppo’s fall is a mat­ter of time’

Arab News - - FRONT PAGE - JOYCE KARAM Arab News.

WASHINGTON/BEIRUT: The Bashar As­sad regime and its al­lies an­nounced the cap­ture of a large swathe of east­ern Aleppo from op­po­si­tion fight­ers on Mon­day in an ac­cel­er­at­ing at­tack that threat­ens to crush the op­po­si­tion in its most im­por­tant ur­ban strong­hold.

In the face of fierce bom­bard­ment and ground at­tacks, the fight­ers have with­drawn from the north­ern part of east­ern Aleppo to a more de­fen­si­ble front line along a big high­way af­ter losses that threat­ened to split their en­clave.

Thou­sands of res­i­dents were re­ported to have fled. An anti-regime fighter reached by Reuters said there was “ex­treme, ex­treme, ex­treme pres­sure” on the op­po­si­tion fight­ers.

The regime is now ey­ing a sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory that could turn the tide of the five-year-old con­flict and lay out new dy­nam­ics for the in­com­ing US ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Re­gain­ing con­trol of Ja­bal Badro, Baadeen, and Hanano dis­tricts in the last few days is no small thing for the forces loyal to the regime, ex­perts said.

De­spite the hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter at hand with 275,000 peo­ple trapped in east­ern Aleppo, hun­dreds dead over re­cent weeks and 10,000 dis­placed, ac­cord­ing to the UK-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, the Aleppo bat­tle is re­draw­ing “the con­tours” of the war, and pre­empts the pres­i­dency of Don­ald Trump on Jan. 20 with a new mil­i­tary land­scape.

The regime’s abil­ity, sup­ported by Rus­sia, to re­cap­ture ar­eas it ceded in 2012, speaks to the sym­bol­ism of the op­er­a­tion, as a se­ri­ous blow to the fight­ers and one in which heavy bom­bard­ment, use of clus­ter mu­ni­tion and sieges has paid off for As­sad.

“Aleppo’s fall is a mat­ter of time,” said Joseph Ba­hout, a scholar and close fol­lower of the Syr­ian war at the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace.

“Given the al­most com­plete lack of lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port for the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion forces and the deaf­en­ing si­lence and in­dif­fer­ence on the diplo­matic front, we can con­sider that Aleppo has fallen ‘po­lit­i­cally,’” Ba­hout told

The regime’s of­fen­sive “has been metic­u­lously pre­pared for months and in­cludes a wide ar­ray of lo­cal, na­tional and for­eign forces,” said Tobias Sch­nei­der, a de­fense an­a­lyst based in Washington.

“The dis­tricts cap­tured by the regime over the past 36 hours cut right through the heart of op­po­si­tion-held Aleppo... and now the regime is throw­ing its full weight at what re­mains of the op­po­si­tion­con­trolled ar­eas by seek­ing to break the sin­gle en­clave into three smaller parts,” Sch­nei­der added.

Mean­while, mem­ber states of the world’s chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog have slammed the As­sad regime for us­ing poi­son gas dur­ing its civil war and for fail­ing to fully ex­plain the scope of its chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram.

In Ber­lin, the head of Ger­many’s For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, an ally of Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, called for Ber­lin to im­pose sanc­tions on Rus­sia be­cause of its sup­port­ing role in the war in Syria.

Syr­i­ans walk through rub­ble of dam­aged build­ings as they flee clashes be­tween regime forces and op­po­si­tion fight­ers in east­ern Aleppo on Mon­day. (Reuters)

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