The U.S. State Department insists that the “cessation of hostilities” in Syria is doing great, even as dictator Bashar Assad vowed the “bloodshed won’t come to an end” until all rebel forces have been destroyed.
“Our war against terrorism will continue, not because we like wars – as it was they who waged wars against us – but because the bloodshed won’t come to an end until we root out terrorism wherever it is and regardless of whatever masks it wears on,” Assad thundered to his Parliament on Tuesday, as quoted by CNN.
Assad also vowed to “liberate every inch of Syria,” declaring that “our only option is victory, otherwise Syria will not continue.”
“Terrorist” is Assad’s term for everyone who opposes his rule in Syria, including the rebels nominally supported by the United States.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner responded by dismissing Assad’s threats as hot air. “He basically got up and said what he always says, which is that he’s going to never back down, never step aside, going to keep up the fight and never recognize the role that he has directly played in creating the conditions that exist today in Syria,” Toner said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Toner also lectured Assad that he is “sadly mistaken if he thinks there’s a military solution” to his predicament and warned him not to attack the opposition groups covered by the ceasefire agreement, which includes essentially every rebel group except ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates.
“The very fact that we have a cessation of hostilities – as imperfect as it is – has saved lives,” Toner insisted.
“Imperfect” is a delicate choice of word, since this particular ceasefire includes an awful lot of firing. On Thursday, UNICEF reported that three hospitals in rebel-held sections of the embattled city of Aleppo were bombed, including the only pediatric facility in the city.
“After the attack, it was a horrible moment,” said one doctor, as quoted by NBC News. “The nurses were running away to the basement carrying the babies, and many of them started to cry.”
Widney Brown of Physicians for Human Rights denounced Assad’s “scorched-earth plan to reclaim Syria,” said there has been a “systematic assault on hospitals during this conflict,” and declared that the attacks “must be called exactly what they are: war crimes.”
It is not clear if Syrian or Russian bombs hit these hospitals during the State Department’s vaunted “ceasefire.” The Russians made a great show of declaring that major combat operations were winding down in Syria a few months ago, but in reality, their air campaign has continued almost unabated.
Reuters cites the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that at least 50 airstrikes hitting rebel-held areas around Aleppo on Sunday alone, killing at least 32 people. The attacks included “barrel bombs” filled with explosives and shrapnel dropped from helicopters – Assad’s infamous signature weapon for taking out civilian populations, second only to his weapons of mass destruction in bloody effectiveness.
Syrian and Russian jets also hit targets in the northwestern province of Idlib, including a “bustling market in the heart of the city.” This followed “some of the heaviest raids on residential areas for months.”
Rebel forces reportedly responded with intense mortar attacks on government-held areas of Aleppo, which is not the sort of thing one expects to see during a “ceasefire.”
The Syrian government accused Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and “several major Western countries” of backing the rebels, enabling a surge in their attacks, and deliberately sabotaging the “political process” they claim to desire as a resolution of the Syrian crisis.
Contrary to the State Department’s blithe assurances that the ceasefire is healthy, the Associated Press reported Thursday that it has “collapsed.”
Iran’s defense minister emerged from a trilateral meeting with Russian and Syrian officials to demand a new ceasefire that “doesn’t help terrorists to get more powerful,” which sounds like it would involve even less cessation of hostilities than the current arrangement.
The State Department seems bizarrely confident it can shame Assad into leaving power, despite his demonstrated willingness to murder people on an industrial scale to keep his throne. In reality, Assad feels more secure than ever, with the tide of the long and bloody rebellion finally swinging his way, Russia and Iran behind him, and defeat for the insurgency just a few key battles away.