It was not until December 18th that The Battle for East Aleppo finally came to an end and the last of the rebel population was evacuated from the city. In the time since I have seen countless news organizations cover the exodus from East Aleppo, but almost no one has offered any follow up coverage about what actually happened to these people or where they went. What you should know is that some, if not most, of the evacuees from Aleppo ended up setting in two locations – Idlib and Palmyra, Syria.
With the Battle for East Aleppo concluded, now into January we are starting to read about two different cities in the news. What I want to help you understand is that all of these events are directly linked, that the Battle for Idlib and Palmyra involve all of the same actors and is being fought for all the same reasons. Essentially, the more things change the more things basically stay the same.
For the geeks out there, Palmyra is home to some of the worlds oldest infrastructural ruins. More specifically, the Temple of Baal, which is also considered a UNESCO “protected” World Heritage site. Though the Temple pre-dates Christianity itself, Baal is briefly discussed in the Bible – the name of a well known “demon” to be exact.
The historical value of the city aside, last month on December 12th 2016, Middle East Eye reported how “Islamic State Militants” had recaptured the city of Palmyra, going on to add that the “IS now controls most of the city of Palmyra except the southern part.”
Over the time since news first broke, not only has the Islamic State has remained in control of the city, but they have also solidified/reinforced what territory that have taken. As I am typing this article, pro-Syrian Government forces are actively trying to take back control of the city and the land which was lost, but it will be an uphill fight. As you might expect at this point in the War, the Syrian military is a bit stretched out at the moment and the fight against the Islamic State in Palmyra is not getting the military’s full attention. This is also what allowed ISIS to retake control of the city in the first place.
— Peto Lucem (@PetoLucem) December 11, 2016
— Within Syria (@WithinSyriaBlog) December 10, 2016
If you noted the word “recaptured” in the paragraph above, this is because the Islamic State had already been defeated and forced to evacuate Palmyra – in March 2016. This is when, as reported by BBC World News on March 28th 2016, “The Syrian army, backed by Russian warplanes, is reported to be continuing its offensive against so-called Islamic State (IS) after recapturing the ancient city of Palmyra on Sunday.”
— Russia in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) March 27, 2016
One of the most interesting things I remember about the coverage of these events at the time was that as soon as the Syrian Government liberated Palmyra from Islamic State control, they found all of the historical ruins heavily rigged with explosives. Though the button was never pushed, it appeared as though the IS was prepared to completely demolished the very ruins they were fighting so hard to “protect.”
**UPDATE**: Ironically enough, two hours after I published this article, member’s of the Islamic State did indeed destroy part of the ruins in Palmyra. Read More: https://www.google.com/#q=isis+destroys+palmyra
What Does Palmyra Have To Do w/ East Aleppo?
As linked a few paragraphs up, the very first reports out of Palmyra indicated the Islamic States forces/efforts in the city were being bolstered by and up-swell of soldiers evacuating East Aleppo.
It just so happens that, geographically speaking, Palmyra is located only 4 hours South-East of Aleppo – on direct route with the only remaining exit/highways out of the Eastern side of Aleppo.
Though it would be asinine to concluded that all of the soldiers/people/rebels which left East Aleppo are members of ISIS, the information does bring to light the fact that at least some of the “soldiers” fighting for Aleppo were actually “mercenaries.” This also makes sense and is certainly not unprecedented, the IS is known to hire soldiers to fight on their behalf throughout the Middle East and Africa utilize – such as Somalia.
Additionally, this information also confirms that the United States Government did indeed wind up supporting and arming people in Aleppo, whom then went on to fight/join the Islamic State inside Syria. While this is unfortunate, it serves to show just how complicated this whole situation really is.
How Did The Fall of Aleppo Lead To Another Battle in Idlib?
Whereas Palmyra received at least some of the “soldiers” from East Aleppo, most of the evacuees went on to settle elsewhere. The large majority of which went on to settle in Idlib, Syria. We know this because much of their movement at the time was chronicled through the use of various social media outlets, by the refugees themselves.
For example, below you will find several videos produced by one of the most prominent and well known civilian journalists in East Aleppo. He was one of the last people to exit the city and his live streaming videos chronicle his exit from the city and movement to Idlib.
If you watched the second video in the series you would notice how the convoys were being routinely stopped and the passengers were offered on more than one occasion to turn around and peacefully join the people of West Aleppo – but everyone declined.
To put this in perspective, these “rebels” literally choose to become refugees and live their lives on the run, rather than live comfortably anywhere controlled by Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Government. This should also go to tell you something about what all of these people think of Assad and the state of their country at the moment.
— Anadolu Images (@anadoluimages) January 10, 2017
For as hard as it might be, try to think about these events from the perspective of Assad and Syrian nationalists for a moment. What are you to think of all these people whom defy your rule and have fought for nearly 6 years against you? Would you not consider these “rebel” soldiers whom have waged War against you and killed so many of your people your enemies? Would you be willing to let these people just freely walk away and remain living in your country unscathed throughout the future?
If you were Assad, I bet you would not and consequentially enough, this is also exactly why fighting has started to break out in Idlib. Even though these rebels gave up on Aleppo, they did not give up on the War in general and now that the Syrian Government knows exactly where these people settled, they know where to target next. This is why Idlib has become the next major target of the Assad regime in 2017 and why I suspect why you will be reading a lot more about this city in the months to come.
As it stands today, bombing campaigns on the outskirts of Idlib have already begun.
— Ibrahim Joudeh 🇸🇾 (@Ibra_Joudeh) January 19, 2017
— DOAM (@doamuslims) January 14, 2017
Looking at the bigger picture, not only is a new battle in Idlib on the horizon, but the Islamic State still controls Raqqa and Palmyra. Taking territory back from the Islamic State would take months alone, never-mind dealing with rebel forces/factions at the same time. Logistically speaking, if Assad intends on taking back the entire country for his control, which it appears he does , then it is going to take months/years of battle to actually pull off.
This is also why all of the ceasefire and/or peace negotiations people keep bringing up are nothing more than false hope. As I think it is plain for everyone to see by now, the War in Syria is far from over.
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