More Than One Truth To Tell In The Awful Story of Aleppo
Our political masters are in league with the Syrian
rebels, and for the same reason as the rebels kidnap
their victims – money
By Robert Fisk
December 14, 2016
politicians, “experts” and journalists are going to have
to reboot their stories over the next few days now that
Bashar al-Assad’s army has retaken control of
Aleppo. We’re going to find out if the 250,000
civilians “trapped” in the city were indeed that
numerous. We’re going to hear far more about why they
were not able to leave when the Syrian government and
Russian air force staged their ferocious bombardment of
the eastern part of the city.
And we’re going
to learn a lot more about the “rebels” whom we in the
West – the US, Britain and our head-chopping mates in
the Gulf – have been supporting.
They did, after
Jabhat al-Nusra, alias
Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), the “folk” – as George W Bush
called them – who committed the crimes against humanity
in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on 11 September
2001. Remember the War on Terror? Remember the “pure
evil” of al-Qaeda. Remember all the warnings from our
beloved security services in the UK about how al-Qaeda
can still strike terror in London?
Not when the
rebels, including al-Qaeda, were bravely defending east
Aleppo, we didn’t – because a powerful tale of heroism,
democracy and suffering was being woven for us, a
narrative of good guys versus bad guys as explosive
and dishonest as “weapons of mass destruction”.
Back in the
Saddam Hussein – when a few of us argued that the
illegal invasion of Iraq would lead to catastrophe and
untold suffering, and that
Tony Blair and George Bush were taking us down the
path to perdition – it was incumbent upon us, always, to
profess our repugnance of Saddam and his regime. We had
to remind readers, constantly, that Saddam was one of
the Triple Pillars of the Axis of Evil.
So here goes
the usual mantra again, which we must repeat ad nauseam
to avoid the usual hate mail and abuse that will today
be cast at anyone veering away from the approved and
deeply flawed version of the Syrian tragedy.
Yes, Bashar al-Assad
has brutally destroyed vast tracts of his cities in his
battle against those who wish to overthrow his regime.
Yes, that regime has a multitude of sins to its name:
torture, executions, secret prisons, the killing of
civilians, and – if we include the Syrian militia thugs
under nominal control of the regime – a frightening
version of ethnic cleansing.
Yes, we should
fear for the lives of the courageous doctors of eastern
Aleppo and the people for whom they have been caring.
Anyone who saw the footage of the young man taken out of
the line of refugees fleeing Aleppo last week by the
regime’s intelligence men should fear for all those who
have not been permitted to cross the government lines.
And let’s remember how the UN grimly reported it had
been told of 82 civilians “massacred” in their homes in
the last 24 hours.
But it’s time
to tell the other truth: that many of the “rebels” whom
we in the West have been supporting – and which our
preposterous Prime Minister Theresa May indirectly
blessed when she grovelled to the Gulf head-choppers
last week – are among the cruellest and most ruthless of
fighters in the Middle East. And while we have been
tut-tutting at the frightfulness of Isis during the
siege of Mosul (an event all too similar to Aleppo,
although you wouldn’t think so from reading our
narrative of the story), we have been willfully ignoring
the behaviour of the rebels of Aleppo.
Only a few
weeks ago, I interviewed one of the very first Muslim
families to flee eastern Aleppo during a ceasefire. The
father had just been told that his brother was to be
executed by the rebels because he crossed the frontline
with his wife and son. He condemned the rebels for
closing the schools and putting weapons close to
hospitals. And he was no pro-regime stooge; he even
admired Isis for their good behaviour in the early days
of the siege.
Around the same
time, Syrian soldiers were privately expressing their
belief to me that the Americans would allow Isis to
leave Mosul to again attack the regime in Syria. An
American general had actually expressed his fear that
Iraqi Shiite militiamen might prevent Isis from fleeing
across the Iraqi border to Syria.
Well, so it
came to pass. In three vast columns of suicide trucks
and thousands of armed supporters, Isis has just swarmed
across the desert from
in Iraq, and from
and Deir ez-Zour in eastern Syria to seize the beautiful
city of Palmyra all over again.
It is highly
instructive to look at our reporting of these two
parallel events. Almost every headline today speaks of
the “fall” of Aleppo to the Syrian army – when in any
other circumstances, we would have surely said that the
army had “recaptured” it from the “rebels” – while Isis
was reported to have “recaptured” Palmyra when (given
their own murderous behaviour) we should surely have
announced that the Roman city had “fallen” once more
under their grotesque rule.
These are the men – our “chaps”, I suppose, if we keep
to the current jihadi narrative – who after their first
occupation of the city last year beheaded the
82-year-old scholar who tried to protect the Roman
treasures and then placed his spectacles back on his
By their own
admission, the Russians flew 64 bombing sorties against
the Isis attackers outside Palmyra. But given the huge
columns of dust thrown up by the Isis convoys, why
didn’t the American air force join in the bombardment of
their greatest enemy? But no: for some reason, the US
satellites and drones and intelligence just didn’t spot
them – any more than they did when Isis drove identical
convoys of suicide trucks to seize Palmyra when they
first took the city in May 2015.
doubting what a setback
Palmyra represents for both the Syrian army and the
Russians – however symbolic rather than military. Syrian
officers told me in Palmyra earlier this year that Isis
would never be allowed to return. There was a Russian
military base in the city. Russian aircraft flew
overhead. A Russian orchestra had just played in the
Roman ruins to celebrate Palmyra’s liberation.
happened? Most likely is that the Syrian military simply
didn’t have the manpower to defend Palmyra while closing
in on eastern Aleppo.
They will have
to take Palmyra back – quickly. But for Bashar al-Assad,
the end of the Aleppo siege means that Isis, al-Nusra,
al-Qaeda and all the other Salafist groups and their
allies can no longer claim a base, or create a capital,
in the long line of great cities that form the spine of
Syria: Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo.
Back to Aleppo.
The familiar and now tired political-journalistic
narrative is in need of refreshing. The evidence has
been clear for some days. After months of condemning the
iniquities of the Syrian regime while obscuring the
identity and brutality of its opponents in Aleppo, the
human rights organisations – sniffing defeat for the
rebels – began only a few days ago to spread their
criticism to include the defenders of eastern Aleppo.
Take the UN
High Commissioner for Human Rights. After last week
running through its usual – and perfectly understandable
– fears for the civilian population of eastern Aleppo
and their medical workers, and for civilians subject to
government reprisals and for “hundreds of men” who may
have gone missing after crossing the frontlines, the UN
suddenly expressed other concerns.
last two weeks, Fatah al-Sham Front [in other words,
al-Qaeda] and the Abu Amara Battalion are alleged to
have abducted and killed an unknown number of civilians
who requested the armed groups to leave their
neighbourhoods, to spare the lives of civilians...,” it
“We have also
received reports that between 30 November and 1
December, armed opposition groups fired on civilians
attempting to leave.” Furthermore, “indiscriminate
attacks” had been conducted on heavily civilian areas of
government-held western as well as ‘rebel’ eastern
I suspect we
shall be hearing more of this in the coming days. Next
month, we shall also be reading a frightening new book,
Merchants of Men, by Italian journalist Loretta
Napoleoni, on the funding of the war in Syria. She
catalogues kidnapping-for-cash by both government and
rebel forces in Syria, but also has harsh words for our
own profession of journalism.
were kidnapped by armed groups in eastern Syria, she
writes, “fell victim to a sort of Hemingway syndrome:
war correspondents supporting the insurgency trust the
rebels and place their lives in their hands because they
are in league with them.” But, “the insurgency is just a
variation of criminal jihadism, a modern phenomenon that
has only one loyalty: money.”
Is this too
harsh on my profession? Are we really “in league” with
political masters are – and for the same reason as the
rebels kidnap their victims: money. Hence the disgrace
of Brexit May and her buffoonerie of ministers who last
week prostrated themselves to the Sunni autocrats who
fund the jihadis of Syria in the hope of winning
billions of pounds in post-Brexit arms sales to the
In a few hours,
the British parliament is to debate the plight of the
doctors, nurses, wounded children and civilians of
Aleppo and other areas of Syria. The grotesque behaviour
of the UK Government has ensured that neither the
Syrians nor the Russians will pay the slightest
attention to our pitiful wails. That, too, must become
part of the story.
expressed in this article are the author's own and do
not necessarily reflect Information Clearing House