“In a maximum of two months, two and a half months, the city of eastern Aleppo at this rate may be totally destroyed,” United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura told a news conference in Geneva on October 6. “Thousands of Syrian civilians, not terrorists, will be killed and many of them wounded.”
For months, the Syrian and Russian air forces have pummeled the rebel-held enclave in Eastern Aleppo with high explosives and even incendiary weapons. Peace talks and truce plans have failed to make any headway, and the insurgents have failed in their repeated attempts to break the siege. De Mistura now turned to the Al Qaeda-offshoot, formerly known as the Nusra Front and now as Fateh al-Sham—which according to the UN has some 900 hundreds fighters holed up in Eastern Aleppo among a total of 8,000 insurgents—with a dramatic proposal:
“If you did decide to leave in dignity, and with your weapons, to Idlib or anywhere you wanted to go, I personally am ready physically to accompany you,” said de Mistura. The soft-spoken, 69-year-old Swedish-Italian diplomat would seem an unlikely sight on the cratered and rubble-strewn roads of Eastern Aleppo, but here he was, proposing himself as a solitary human shield to evacuate the jihadis in return for an end to the bombing.
Syria’s factions are not likely to take up the diplomat’s offer, if recent history is any guide. Yet, the government, and its backers, including Russia and Iran, seem confident that their strategy to encircle Aleppo will work, and that restoring control over Syria’s economic capital is now only a matter of time. Absent a major reversal of fortune, the Syrian government sees a path to a form of victory. Where does that leave the United Nations, or the United States and other rebel backers? More pressingly, where does it leave Syria’s civilians...