Aleppo has defined 21st century inhumanity and will go down in history as representing the worst of human carnage, just like Halabja, Srebrenica and Rwanda. There are no angels, no victors, only death and decimation.
Eastern Aleppo is reminiscent of Warsaw or Stalingrad at the end of World War II. The fact that scores of people can be cordoned off in homes and burnt alive reminds us of Rwanda.
The fact that men and young boys can be marched off and disappeared to their fates in mass graves reminds us of Srebrenica. Nothing has changed, and humankind has learnt nothing from history.
The rules of war and international law have lost all relevance, as no one is there to implement them or protect civilians. Civil society organisations have made money touting the doctrine of the Right to Protect (R2P) and human security, but in practice they have meant nothing.
Samantha Power may have written her Pulitzer prize-winning book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, but even as US ambassador to the UN she could do nothing to stop the killings in Syria.
This week a spokesperson for a non-partisan medical relief group operating in Syria told me on condition of anonymity that Syrian government forces had been slaughtering their doctors as they stood over their patients – killing them one by one.
Why? Allegedly part of the government’s strategy of forced displacement, to remove any form of functioning infrastructure in areas not yet under government control. That explains why all functioning hospitals had already been bombed out of existence in Eastern Aleppo by the end of November.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported this week that Syrian soldiers and allied Iraqi militiamen had been entering homes in eastern Aleppo and killing people on the spot – evidence of at least 83 summary executions of men, women and children.
There is no mercy in this war, which explains why civilians remain so fearful of fleeing besieged areas. When the hospitals run by Doctors Without Borders were first bombed in Syria, the refrain of the perpetrators was always that they had not been deliberately targeted, but the truth is now laid bare. Functioning hospitals service all sides, including the enemy, and enable civilian populations to remain in besieged areas when the strategy was to drive them out.
The classic tactic of the Syrian government forces has been to encircle rebel enclaves entirely, placing rebels and the civilian population under siege and squeezing the life out of the area. Rebel fighters have also used the same tactic.
Minimal, if any, food and medical supplies have been allowed into the numerous besieged towns. In terms of military tactics, it is understandable that government forces would want to weaken rebel groups and ensure they cannot be re-supplied, but the inhumanity has been in the simultaneous weakening of the civilian population.
The fall of Eastern Aleppo to government forces this week has been their most significant victory of the five-year war, but will embolden them to perfect this strategy in areas that remain under rebel control. Rebels still control large swathes of north-western Syria, much of the countryside of southern Syria and pockets of territory around Damascus and near Homs.
The first target will likely be the province of Idlib in the north-west, which is a stronghold of the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. It will be more difficult to completely encircle and cut off Idlib as it lies on the Turkish border, unlike Aleppo, where government forces were able to cut off the city from roads leading to Turkey where rebels could be resupplied and rearmed.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein warned this week: “The government’s crushing of Aleppo may encourage the regime to repeat the same strategy of slaughtering men, women and children elsewhere in Syria, notably Idlib province, Douma near Damascus, and Raqqa.”
What lies ahead is a scorched earth policy that will wipe out everything in its wake. If Jens Laerke, the UN humanitarian spokesperson, perceived the scenario in Aleppo this week to be the “complete meltdown of humanity”, then he should consider what exactly the UN plans to do next, as town after town is destined to fall to government forces in much the same way.
In the end, Syria will have reclaimed its sovereignty from marauding foreign jihadist fighters funded and armed by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, some of which were also funded by the US. But President Bashar al-Assad will preside over a country utterly in ruins.
Cry the beloved country, and the ancient city of Aleppo with its 5 000-year history, upon whose slopes Abraham’s sheep would graze.
The magnificent Aleppo of the Bible’s Book of Samuel and Psalm 60, and the great city Shakespeare referred to in Macbeth and Othello. Its walls and its people now lie in ruins.