There is a growing demand in the Western countries for indicting Basher al-Assad by the International Criminal Court for war crimes committed in Aleppo, writes Mohammad Amjad Hossain in Virginia
A war of words between the United States and the Russian Federation over the siege of Aleppo, the second biggest city of Syria in the north, is likely to turn into a full-fledged war. Presently, the Obama administration has threatened to impose further economic sanctions against Russia if medical supply and food aid do not reach the people in eastern part of Aleppo. The ceasefire agreement was violated by Russia and Syria when both of them began bombardment on civilians and hospitals of Aleppo.
Aleppo has long been a prominent economic, cultural and political centre, and with a population of 4.2 million, it ranks among the leading cities of the Middle East. Located about 70 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea, Aleppo has a moderate climate. The majority of its population are Sunni Muslims, but they live alongside large number of Christians affiliated with various churches. Tens of thousands of Armenian refugees from Anatolia settled in Aleppo during the World War I and strengthened the traditionally prominent Christian presence. The local Jewish community, whose roots went back to pre-Islamic times, also grew during the modern period, but the Arab-Israeli hostilities caused most of its members to leave the country in around 1948. The remaining Jewish presence came to an end with the departure of the last Jews in 1994.
With the establishment of modern Syria in 1920, Aleppo continued to serve as the seat of government for the surrounding region. Its Sunni landowning families, with their counterparts from Damascus, dominated national politics during the French mandate (1920-1946) and the first two decades of independence. The old landlords began to be displaced from 1960 by a new political elite composed of men of provincial and minority origins, particularly Alawi Shitte. Land-reform measures had resulted in expropriation of the great agricultural estates which in fact helped to break the political back of the Sunni community. In the 1970s and 1980s, opposition in Aleppo and other Sunni majority centres had clashed with Hafez al-Assad's regime, which is predominantly minority Alawi Shitte. Hafez al-Assad, who was chief of Air Force in 1963, was elected President of Syria in 1971 and continued till 2000.
Aleppo's manufacturing sector, however, remained strong and today is a major industrial hub. It produces fine silk and cotton fabric, soaps, and dyes, foods, leather goods and articles of gold and silver. Since Aleppo is the second biggest city after Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad is determined to reoccupy it from freedom fighters as well as ISIS militants. Both groups are fighting from different angles in Aleppo. Vladimir Putin is determined to take revenge against the US administration of America as he could not tolerate presence of the NATO in his backyard as well as sanctions. These actions by the Western powers encouraged Putin to join hands with Bashar-al-Assad to fight back.
Russian jets resumed heavy bombing of eastern part of Aleppo on October 11 after several days of relative calm, according to the Syrian Observatory Human Rights group. Death toll rose to 25 with many injured. As of now at least 50 civilians succumbed to injury from bombings. Russia also announced a couple days back that a naval base would be opened in the Mediterranean Sea near Syria.
Vladimir Putin is desperate to defend Bashar al-Assad, so his country vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on October 9 proposed by France and Spain on ending hostility in war-torn Syria. US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power accused Russia of 'barbarism' for its air strikes on Aleppo. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to the people, Russia and Assad are bombing civilians, humanitarian convoys and hospitals, said Samantha Power. Meanwhile, the UK's Secretary for Foreign Ministry Boris Johnson accused Russia of war crimes. On October 11, the French Foreign Minister called upon the International Criminal Court to investigate for possible war crimes. French President Hollande is reported to have said that he would not receive Putin during opening of a new Russian orthodox church next to Eiffel Tower along with a Russian cultural centre and an exhibition. According to a news item, Putin has postponed his visit to Paris which is a reflection of growing division between Russia and the Western powers.
Mohammad Amjad Hossain, retired diplomat from Bangladesh, writes from Virginia