The residents of Syria’s besieged city of Aleppo received a text Sunday, believed to have come from the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, demanding they leave the city or perish when a “strategically planned assault using high precision weapons occurs within 24 hours.”
CNN notes that, on Monday, residents had still not seen evidence of the assault beginning. Many had refused to leave “on principle,” CNN notes, quoting a schoolteacher who said: “We want the world to know we are here to stay, not… because we could not go out. We could have gone out many times — death might come, but death might come anywhere. But our freedom cannot be found anywhere.”
By Tuesday, however, outlets reported the obvious beginning of a new military campaign. The Russian government, Assad’s most steadfast ally, confirmed that it had begun bombing targets in Homs and Idlib provinces, but not Aleppo city. Fox News quotes Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stating that the attacks will target “ammunition depots, training camps and armaments factories in the rebel-held province of Idlib and the central province of Homs.”
Activists told Fox News, however, that the bombs have begun to fall in east Aleppo.
Some civilians lack the means to relocate, unlike those who chose to stay, and are rapidly running out of options for sustenance. Some have begun growing small crops on their rooftops but have no means of cooking — CNN reports a gas cylinder to cook costs about $200. Meat and bread are in short supply.
Russian and Syrian officials have long maintained that the assault on Aleppo — for which there are no official death tolls, but an outsized number of children are believed to be among the casualties — is a necessary part of the war on “terrorists,” and Russia initially entered the Syrian fray arguing that the fight against the Islamic State required a more global effort. But the Islamic State has made its base in Raqqa, far south of the nation’s largest city of Aleppo. Aleppo itself has no known Islamic State presence. CNN estimates 275,000 civilians remain trapped in Aleppo.
What Aleppo does have is jihadists belonging to the al-Nusra Front, formerly the armed Syrian wing of al-Qaeda, and a variety of other anti-Assad Sunni jihadist elements. These have begun to turn on the more moderate Syrian rebels of the Free Syrian Army, attacking each other instead of Russian-backed Assad forces.
Unlike other volatile areas of Syria, Aleppo is also not part of Rojava, or Syrian Kurdistan, and does not boast the presence of the formidable Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG and YPJ). These forces have instead dedicated themselves to the liberation of Islamic State-held territories.
The Syrian government is boasting of “killing scores” in the latest assault on the Aleppo region on the web page of its state-run media outlet SANA. The Syrian army, in an article published Tuesday reads, “continued targeting terrorists’ positions and hotbeds in different areas across the country, eliminating scores of them and destroying their weaponry.” SANA claims Russian officials have warned the current operation may expand deeper into “other areas” outside of Homs and Idlib, without specifically mentioning Aleppo.
The Assad regime and its Russian allies have added to their arguments the claim that rebels have gotten their hands on chemical weapons and are actively using them against Syrian soldiers. Both nations are petitioning the United Nations to intervene.
Assad has repeatedly employed the use of chemical weapons on civilians since the civil war began in 2011.
These accusations do not appear to affect the government’s attempt at selling Aleppo as a metropolitan tourist destination, and not a war zone. In October, the government released a video encouraging Syrians to “holiday” in Aleppo as the year draws to a close.