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What Hope For Aleppo?

Tuesday saw MPs grappling with the horrific battle of Aleppo, bombed by its own Syrian air force and its Russian allies. Overall 11 million people, half the population of Syria, have been driven from their homes. Three quarters of Aleppo‘s two million inhabitants have either escaped or been killed. Water supply and power have been cut off and every hospital has been bombed.

The frequency and precision with which the hospitals have been targeted suggests this is a deliberate tactic The Shadow Foreign Secretary described the situation for innocent civilians as “truly a hell on earth” They are in constant fear of death and their condition is likened to that of Guernica during the Spanish civil war. The UN special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, reckons Aleppo could be totally destroyed by the end of this year.

The Syrian regime has a long history of repression. Bashar al Assad succeeded his father Hafez al Assad in 2000. Initially he made reformist noises but responded to liberal calls for democracy with repression. The Assad family belong to the Alawite sect which is close to the Shia tradition. The Alawites are only 12 % of the Syrian people whilst 70% are Sunnis and 10% Christians. Thus the conflict in Syria is religious as well as political. This conflict triggered a revolt in 2011. Syria had no previous history of radical Islamists but Assad released prisoners to join foreign Islamists to enable him to present himself as the source of stability and in 2014 he was elected for a second term, winning 88.7% of the vote against two regime approved candidates. Despite this, two Islamist groups, the Nusra Front, affiliated to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, seized the opportunity to fight the Syrian army; giving Assad the excuse to declare war on his own people including the use of chemical weapons.

Syria and Russia have been allies since the Cold War days so it was no surprise when President Assad asked for their assistance in 2015, ostensibly to help defeat the Islamists but Russian planes have targeted the rebel democrats as well as the Islamists. Russia now has a permanent air base in Syria demonstrating that they are a power in the region, filling the vacuum left by America’s withdrawal. Their presence totally changes the dynamics of the Syrian civil war. The most attractive way of saving Aleppo would be to impose a no-fly zone, like the Americans imposed on Saddam Hussein, but enforcing it could lead to a larger conflict between Russia and the allies seeking to stop the bombing.

The only option for saving the people of Aleppo is to find a way of restarting talks between the US and Russia which broke down when a humanitarian convoy was bombed by Russian planes, killing 18 neutrals and preventing medical supplies and other essentials from reaching the besieged city. Russia then vetoed a motion before the UN Security Council which called for unhindered humanitarian access to Aleppo, making restarting talk even more unlikely.

As it stands there would seem to be no hope for that city and its people, except Jesus; the only sure source of hope any of us have.  So every reader of this blog is urged to pray to God, who is rich in mercy, to deliver the people of Aleppo from their “hell on earth”.

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