By Christopher Kozak with Genevieve Casagrande
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is within two miles of besieging over 200,000 civilians in Aleppo City. Pro-regime forces established fire control over the primary ground line of communication into opposition-held districts of Aleppo City on July 8 after seizing a key hill overlooking the Castello Highway north of the city. Regime forces including the elite Syrian Arab Army Republican Guard later launched an offensive in the Khalidiyah Industrial District of Northern Aleppo City on July 12, advancing from the south towards the Castello Road. The advances mark the latest high-water mark in a multi-phase campaign to encircle and besiege Syria’s largest urban center, an effort that began in October 2015 with support from Russian airpower and Iranian ground reinforcement. The Assad regime has long relied upon siege-and-starve tactics in order to force the submission of opposition pockets throughout the Syrian Civil War. The threat of a looming siege in Aleppo has already begun to impact conditions in neighborhoods across the city. The price of staple foods such as flour and rice reportedly more than tripled over the past few days as municipal leaders implemented mandatory rationing and fell back upon prepared stockpiles of supplies. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned on July 13 that humanitarian agencies only have enough assistance in position to provide one month of food for 145,000 out of an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 civilians living in opposition-held parts of Aleppo City.
A successful siege would constitute a serious blow to the non-jihadist opposition and would ensure the further radicalization of the Syrian opposition in northwestern Syria. Aleppo City has remained the priority effort for Russia and Iran in Syria. The regime and its allies will likely leverage the siege to secure meaningful political concessions from the international community. An anonymous source quoted by Al-Rai in Kuwait claimed that Russia, Syria, and Iran agreed as early as June 10 to close the supply line into Aleppo City and thereby impose a ceasefire by force as the first step towards political negotiations that favor the regime. If true, this vision appears close to becoming a reality – particularly given recent steps towards a limited military partnership between the U.S. and Russia in Syria. The Syrian Sunni population will not accept a negotiation that allows President Assad to remain in power. Political negotiations that fail to address the legitimate grievances of Syrian Sunnis will only strengthen the hand of irreconcilable groups such as ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra at the expense of acceptable opposition groups. The siege of Aleppo City thus does not represent the beginning of the end of the Syrian Civil War, but rather the driver of a new, deadlier phase of long-term disorder in the Middle East.