Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pounding Aleppo, Russia and Syria Reprise the Politics of Brutality

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pounding Aleppo, Russia and Syria Reprise the Politics of Brutality

Article excerpt

Despite more than five years of Syrian war agony, the survivors of rebel-held eastern Aleppo have never seen such intense bombardment as they have over the past two weeks. Devastating barrel bomb attacks and airstrikes have targeted hospitals and White Helmet emergency workers, leaving nearly 400 dead.

Syria and Russia launched their joint offensive with the collapse Sept. 20 of a brief US-Russia cease-fire, sparking US and British allegations of "barbarism" and "war crimes" in Syria and a high- level blame game between Washington and Moscow.

Much of Syria's and Russia's calculation, analysts say, is that the surge of new violence, if it leads to battlefield gains for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, will improve his government's hand in a political settlement they both see as inevitable. At the same time, the pounding of eastern Aleppo is a resort to relatively effective tactics both countries have used in the past to defeat homegrown Islamic extremists.

In sum, they are seeking a favorable political outcome to the Syrian war through time-tested - if brutal and unforgiving - military means.

On Monday, the US suspended months of bilateral talks with Russia over Syria, charging both countries with "having chosen to pursue a military course" that hit hospitals and prevented aid "from reaching civilians in need." Eastern Aleppo's main trauma hospital was struck Monday for the third time in a week, knocking it out of action.

For Syria, the defining historical precedent for its brutal action was the unbridled destruction in 1982 of much of the country's fourth-largest city, Hama, to root out a Muslim Brotherhood insurgency. Some 10,000 people were killed, creating a regionwide example of fear, state terror, and the raw exercise of power that eliminated the danger for a generation.

For Russia, the formative experience has been its second Chechnya war, starting in 1999, in which the north Caucasian city of Grozny and other urban centers were destroyed with merciless bombardment as Islamist militants were crushed. …

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