Syria: Peace talks collapse, Aleppo encircled, disaster looms for rebels

Mark Boothroyd puts the Syrian regime’s offensives in Aleppo into context and discusses what anti-war activists in Britain and internationally can do.

Kafranbel Peace talks fail

The past week has seen major developments on the ground in Syria which imperil the entirety of rebel held Syria. The regime has launched an offensive in the north Aleppo countryside which has cut the major rebel supply line from Turkey to Aleppo, leaving Free Aleppo almost completely encircled and 400,000 civilians potentially trapped. At the same time the regime is pursuing offensives in Daraa and Latakia province that are creating tens of thousands of refugees and driving back rebel frontlines. Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese sectarian militias backed by Russian air power are employing scorched earth tactics reminiscent of Russia’s attack on the Chechen capital Grozny in 1999, reducing towns and villages to rubble to secure military victories, at immense cost to civilians.

70,000 civilians have fled north Aleppo, 100,000 have fled Daraa, and tens of thousands are being displaced from Latakia, fleeing into Idlib province. This is the continuation of the regime’s strategy of depopulating and ethnically cleansing rebel held areas to make them easier to conquer.

These offensives are aimed at tipping the balance of the conflict decisively in the regime’s favour, destroying the nationalist-democratic opposition so that the choice of who to support in Syria is between the regime and ISIS. Timed to coincide with Geneva “peace” process, the attacks have lead to the collapse of these talks. The Syrian opposition Higher Negotiation Committee (HNC) initially refused to go to the talks until two preconditions were met; the aerial bombardment of civilians had ceased, and humanitarian access was granted to besieged areas. They were placed under immense pressure by US Secretary of State John Kerry to attend, with the US government threatening to withdraw all support from the opposition if they did not participate. The HNC eventually agreed to attend, but only to discuss its humanitarian preconditions for talks to begin. With the ongoing military offensives by the regime and continuing sieges on rebel held towns, the talks quickly broke down.

The reality is the talks are not about finding a just peace in Syria, they are, in the words of Syrian author and activist Robin Yassin-Kessab, a “pacification process”. They are utilised by the regime and its allies – aided and abetted by the US and the “friends of Syria” – to spread division among the rebels, and manoeuvre them into position where they are forced to accept a humiliating compromise that leaves the regime’s blood soaked state institutions intact and Assad in power. Aid has been reduced to the rebels by their backers to weaken them militarily and force them to attend, the US has ruled out Assad leaving being a precondition of talks, and both Islamic and Nationalist rebel groups have been placed on draft lists of “terrorist” groups drawn up by the Jordanian government, due to be finalised at the peace talks. Any groups on the list at the conclusion of the talks would be legitimate targets for the regime and its backers, and the international coalition against ISIS. The entire process was a diplomatic effort to isolate and divide the rebels, and legitimise further attacks on them if the regime was unable to secure a military victory.

The regime onslaught may now be the decisive factor. The seizing of the north Aleppo countryside has cut the major supply route to rebel held Aleppo and Idlib province. Aleppo is being subject to relentless aerial bombardment, as many as 200 airstrikes a day on military positions and civilian districts alike. The besiege and starve strategy that the regime has deployed to horrific effect in Madaya, Moadamiyeh and 47 other rebel towns, looks set to be the fate of Aleppo, but this time it will be 400,000 people subject to siege and starvation.

This is a catastrophe of epic proportions. If it is allowed to continue the defeat of the revolution will be guaranteed, and with it the prevention of any progressive resolution to the conflict.

Anti-war activists in Britain and internationally must protest Russia’s actions in Syria and call for the end of the bombing, lifting of the regime’s sieges and for real aid to the rebels to allow them to defend their towns and cities from attack. The US blockade of anti-aircraft weaponry to the rebels has critically weakened them, allowing the regime and Russian airforces to bomb unimpeded and devastate rebel held areas.

Shamefully the anti-war movement in Britain, in particular the Stop the War Coalition, is silent on these issues. There are few if any reports on the bombing and encirclement of Aleppo, or the ongoing sieges of Madaya and Moadamiyeh and other rebel towns, even though dozens are still dying every month of starvation in besieged areas. This silence is aiding the imperialist powers by failing to mobilise public opposition in the west against the imperialist carve up taking place in Syria.

An international day of action is being planned for 23rd February by the Planet Syria campaign group about the situation in Syria. This can be a focus for protests and mobilisations to bring public pressure to bear to stop the ongoing massacres in Syria.


  1. Arjun, this is lazy criticism that the article reads like a state department press release. Is the part where it points out that the rebels backers have cut aid to them, and are trying to force them to accept a peace deal which preserves the Assad regime’s murderous institutions and preserve Assad himself, is that like a state department press release? Perhaps you missed it back in Decmeber when John Kerry said the U.S. and Russia share the same aims in Syria. Anyone not blinkered by the islamophobic propaganda pouring out of the Stop the War Coalition would understand that the U.S. and Russia are effectively in alliance over Syria and are trying to bury what’s left of the revolution through military onslaught and diplomatic treachery. The fact that “revolutionary socialists” don’t understand this is due to the fact leading members of the anti-war movement and well know radical leftists have pushed a pro-regime narrative on the left, meaning most activists are totally ignorant of the existence of 400+ democratic local councils in Syria, and the presence of 60,000-70,000 nationalist-democratic rebels, along side the 40,000 Salafists and 15,000 jihadists who get all the media coverage because they conveniently fit the Western governments islamophobic war on terror narrative.

    Do you make your support for the Palestinians struggle conditional on the politics of their organisations? Surely revolutionary and national liberation struggles deserve our unconditional support? Why the double standard when it comes to Syrians and their fight against Assad and his imperialist backers?

    Fairweather Stevens, I’ve written extensively on Syria and helped found the Syria Solidarity Movement, we were campaigning against the Assad regime’s war on the Syrian people and in defence of Syria refugees well before the rest of the world woke up to the refugee crisis and the real scale of the devastation in Syria.

    Purple library guy perhaps you aren’t aware of Hezbollah’s record of brutal sectarian massacres in Syria, or perhaps you skirt over those atrocities due to some
    misguided “anti-imperialist” politics which gives a free pass for tyrants to slaughter their people as long as they aren’t backed by the U.S. Either way you don’t have a point.

  2. So . . . if I understand correctly, the side you back in this is the US State Department and its mythical non-Salafist rebels, the ones it managed to spend millions of dollars training . . . six of? And/or the al-Nusra front?
    I cannot see any reason for this position other than either terminal naivete or being an arm of the CIA. Wow, if I stuck around this site I bet I could expect to see some articles backing Israel against Hezbollah! Revolutionary socialist? Pssh!

  3. Putin’s problem is Syria is that the more he “wins”, the more he loses. By “wining” he bogs himself down eternally. He turns Syria into a colonial protectorate and Assad into a Russian puppet. He is then forced to defend that position indefinitely against all comers.The obvious solution for Syria is for the Syrians to choose their president in a free and fair election under international supervision. Having brought in a foreign military power to bomb his own people, neither Assad or any of his clan are likely to win such an election. And having bombed just about every faction in Syria, the first thing that the new president is going to do, regardless of what faction he comes from, is kick Putin out of his precious naval base, which is the only thing he’s fighting for in the first place. That would discredit him at home in the eyes of his elderly Soviet-generation supporters and would probably bring him down. Thus, Putin is stuck. He has to prevent Assad’s overthrow, he has to prevent a definitive settlement, he has to prevent an election and he has to prevent a ceasefire. All this suits the Americans perfectly. Once Putin is thoroughly bogged down, it will be easy to get a guerilla war going against him and that war can be extended to the Chechens or even the Crimean Tatars. Putin is trying to outsmart an assasin by committing suicide!

  4. “Mark Boothroyd puts the Syrian regime’s offensives in Aleppo into context ” ???
    I’ll have to assume this does not mean ‘historical context.’ It’s as if the author was born on September 30th, 2015, ignoring four years of horror, refugees, merciless, indiscriminate warfare, mass murders and civilian executions. Happy Birthday.

  5. Its deeply disturbing to me that an article from a “revolutionary socialist” outlet can read so much like a generic press release from the US State Department.

    I don’t understand why we should cheerlead a rebellion that is today dominated by hardline sectarian Salafi groups that are acting as a proxy force for Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and which are being aided and abetted by the CIA, all via a multi-billion dollar effort stretching back to the 2012. Its not like this is a secret–this has been reported on by mainstream outlets like New York Times and Washington Post, and more serious foreign policy and geopolitics outlets like the Carnegie Endowment and Foreign Policy.

    Don’t get me wrong–Assad is a brute and a butcher and bears much responsibility for the way the civil war has spiraled into a vortex of sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing–but to act like the rebels are unconditionally “the goodies” and Assad and Co. are “the baddies” is ludicrous, as are demands for socialists to protest and pressure the US to escalate its already significant role in pouring fire onto the conflict.

    And no mention of what role the Kurdish-lead Syrian Democratic Forces are playing in the Aleppo front?


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