Aleppo and the Syrian crisis: An attempt to explain the distortion of 'facts'

In recent weeks, news about the deaths of civilians in Syrian city of Aleppo ahs flooded news portals. Rebel resistance in Aleppo ended last week after years of fighting and months of bitter siege and bombardment that culminated in a bloody retreat, as insurgents agreed to withdraw in a ceasefire. The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad 'recaptured' the eastern city, which media reported as "a victory for (Assad) and his military coalition of Russia, Iran and regional Shi'ite militias."

However, the war will still be far from over, with insurgents retaining major strongholds elsewhere in Syria, and the jihadist Islamic State group holding swathes of the east and recapturing the ancient city of Palmyra.

The plight of civilians has caused global outrage in the wake of a sudden series of advances by the Syrian army and its allies across the rebel enclave over the past two weeks.

"We appear to be witnessing nothing less than ... a total uncompromising military victory," UN secretary-general Ban ki-Moon told the UN Security Council.

However contradicting reports are pouring in from the city considering the dearth of information due to lack of independent foreign journalists in the area. The Independent noted that foreign media has allowed the news agenda to be dominated by al-Qaeda type groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.

The foreign media as The Independent points out, are not stepping in the city because the impertinent risk of being kidnapped or killed.  Hence the jihadis holding power in the city replace these news sources with "highly partisan" local activists "who cannot escape being under jihadi control."

Hence some of the most valued information coming out of the area is controlled by the jihadis, which has put international media in a bind, considering they are wary of entering the area following the beheading of James Foley on 8 August, 2014.

Syrians are afraid of the regime and the rebels

The Syrian army has denied carrying out killings or torture among those captured after the recapture, and its main ally Russia recently said that the rebels had "kept over 100,000 people in east Aleppo as human shields", reported Reuters.

 Aleppo and the Syrian crisis: An attempt to explain the distortion of facts

Members of the Civil Defence rescue children after what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo. Reuters

But while efforts to evacuate thousands of people are ongoing in the city, some people are still gripped by fear. Some survivors have found shelter in government-held west or the few districts still in rebel hands. Others stayed in their homes and awaited the Syrian army's arrival.

For all of them, fear of arrest, conscription or summary execution added to the daily terror of bombardment. "People are saying the troops have lists of families of fighters and are asking them if they had sons with the terrorists. (They are) then either left or shot and left to die," said Abu Malek al-Shamali in Seif al-Dawla, one of the last rebel-held districts, according to the report.

But, according to Amnesty International the main armed opposition groups are equally severe on anybody differing from them.

A report by Amnesty International entitled Torture Was My Punishment, points out that independent activists are in fear of the rebels. The Independent quoted a 24-year-old media activist named 'Issa' who spoke of Jabhat al-Nusra (which has renamed itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and was formerly the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda). He said, "they are in control of what we can and cannot say. You either agree with their social rules and policies or you disappear.”

Conflicting reports on volunteer groups

The White Helmets (also called Syria Civil Defense, is a volunteer civil defense non-governmental organization that operates in rebel-controlled Syria) is hailed by the media as the messiah saving civilians in the city.

Last week, an independent Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett spoke at a pro-Syria event organised by the United Nations and debunked various notions related to the Syrian crisis. In a video which later went viral, she is seen battling with the present journalists on the legitimacy of the rescue work carried out by the White Helmets and the 'compromised' journalism carried out by western mainstream media in the area.

She said, “I’ve been many times to Homs, to Maaloula, to Latakia and Tartus [in Syria] and again, Aleppo, four times. And people’s support of their government is absolutely true. Whatever you hear in the corporate media is completely opposite.”

On the subject of the aforementioned civilian organisation, she said, "They're relying on compromised groups like the White Helmets. Let's talk about the White Helmets." She noted,

The White Helmets purport to be neutral yet they can be found carrying guns and standing on the dead bodies of Syrian soldiers, and their video footage actually contains children that have been recycled in different reports. You can find a girl named Aya who turns up in month, say, August, and she turns up the next month, in two different locations. So they are not credible.

However it is important to note here that she is also a contributor at RT, a news site funded by the Russian government.

Snopes.com debunked the theory and provided enough information to question Bartlett's theory. They pointed out that there were infact three girls named Aya who were at different points reported about in the media.

However Bartlett's support for the Assad's regime does reflect that while he has brutally destroyed vast sections of Syria in his battle with those who wish to overthrow his regime, and tortured and murdered people, many of the “rebels” who garner support and sympathy in opposition are are among the cruellest and most ruthless of fighters in West Asia.

Robert Fisk, writing for the The Independent said, "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."

The viral videos

The slew of videos emerging from the conflict area have gained sympathy for the rebels to the Assad regime, but the validity of these videos have also come under questioning.

Patrick Cockburn, writing for The Independent said, "It would be simple-minded to believe that this very appealing and professional PR for the Syrian armed opposition is all their own work." On the videos appearing on news portals, he said,

"There was no sign of the 8,000 to 10,000 armed fighters whom the UN estimated to have been in east Aleppo. In fact, I cannot recall seeing anybody with a gun or manning a fortified position in these heart-rending films. The only visible inhabitants of Aleppo are unarmed civilians, in complete contrast to Mosul where the Iraqi armed forces are battling thousands of Isis gunmen who are using the civilian population as human shields."

Cockburn prescribes to the theory that the jihadi-fuelled information received by the western media, makes it impossible to differentiate between facts and fabrications, hence giving them more power to commit atrocities and banish international media from covering it.

United Nations sending in observers

To remedy the lack of independent observers in the area monitoring the situation, the United Nations has drafted a resolution to deploy UN observers to Aleppo.

The new draft calls on Ban Ki-moon to make arrangements, in consultation with Syrian authorities and the rebels, to allow UN monitoring of "the well-being of civilians."

Moscow had presented its own draft resolution that requested that the United Nations make "arrangements" to monitor the situation, but made no specific mention of sending observers to east Aleppo.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Dec 19, 2016 14:28:23 IST