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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le sort de la Syrie se joue à Alep

by Pierre Barbancey

The Fate of Syria will be Decided in Aleppo

Translated Friday 5 August 2016, by Henry Crapo

Encircled in those sections of the city that they still control, the jihadistes try to break free. The Free Syrian Army is absent from the scene.

Photo Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters

Aleppo, the true economic capital of Syria, is today the center of all battles. Half the city is in the hands of the “rebels”, a term that masks the reality of what they really represent. These rebels are almost exclusively islamists, grouped in different factions, of which the most important is the old Al-Nosra Front (Jabhat al-Nosra), which has recently broken off from its parent organisation al-Qaida with the permission of Osama ben Laden’s successor, the Egyptian Ayman Al Zawahiri, and which now calls itself the Fateh al-Cham Front. A change of name that is, above all, strategic. The aim, to install an islamic regime that would leave nothing to envy in Daesh, being the same thing, but which would put on a smoother face, to become an unavoidable factor in any future negociation. The collection of islamist groups, which have the use of arms captured from the camps of the Syrian Army, but are also furnished by Western nations, by the Gulf states, and by Turkey, are now encircled in those sections of Aleppo that they still hold.

But the capture, by the Syrian Arab Army, of the route to Castello, a route bringing the jihadists from Turkey and permitting reprovisioning of all sorts, has changed the balance of forces. Supported by Russian aviation, the Syrian soldiers have retaken new positions near Aleppo. A counter-offensive has reduced to nought the earlier gains made by the “rebels” in the offensive they launched on Sunday to break the siege. According to the pro-government newspaper Al-Watan, the troops of Damascus “advanced again to the south and south-west of Aleppo after having suffered severe setbacks” in their battle against the jihadist groups. The primary objective of the islamist assault was to conquer the government quarter of Ramoussa - on the south-west border of Aleppo, control of which would permit the rebels to open an axis for reprovisioning of their eastern sectors. It is also across Ramoussa that transits the provisioning of the army and civilian population of the western part of Aleppo. According to the pro-government site Al-Masdar News, “the rebels had managed to enter Ramoussa by exploding a tunnel that they had dug, but they were then blocked, and had to retire after a fierce battle; the regime has complete control of that sector”.

The United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, a political rearrangement

Russia announced the opening of four humanitarian corridors to bring food to the besieged population, or to let them leave the zones of conflict. Nevertheless, some forty non-governmental organisations, among which certain ones recently denounced the impossibility of access to aid the inhabitants, and judged “troubling” and “inadequate” the opening by Damascus of “supposed humanitarian corridors”. Clearly, the political equilibrium has been modified. No one speaks any more of the Free Syrian Army, the group supposed to represent, in the military terrain, an opposition supported notably by France, the United States, and Saudi Arabia. Which explains, without doubt, the attitude of the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who exhorted the protagonists in Aleppo to exercise restraint - a call judged “unacceptable” by Moscow. On his side, the UN emissary for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, hopes to bring together all the parties to the conflict, at the end of August in Geneva, to relaunch the process of negociation.

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