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There Is More Than One Truth to Tell In the Awful Story of Aleppo

There Is More Than One Truth to Tell In the Awful Story of Aleppo
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Robert Fisk

Western 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 eastern 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.

There Is More Than One Truth to Tell In the Awful Story of Aleppo
 
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 all, include al-Qaeda [alias 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 days of 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.

It's time to tell the 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 groveled to the Gulf head-choppers last week - are among the cruelest and most ruthless of fighters in the Middle East...

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.

Around the same time, Syrian soldiers were privately expressing their belief to me that the Americans would allow Daesh to leave Mosul to again attack the regime in Syria. An American general had actually expressed his fear that Iraqi Shiite fighters might prevent Daesh 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, Daesh has just swarmed across the desert from Mosul in Iraq, and from Raqqa 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 Daesh was reported to have "recaptured" Palmyra when [given their own murderous behavior] we should surely have announced that the Roman city had "fallen" once more under their grotesque rule.
 
Words matter. These are the men - our "chaps", I suppose, if we keep to the current extremist 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 decapitated head.

By their own admission, the Russians flew 64 bombing sorties against the Daesh attackers outside Palmyra. But given the huge columns of dust thrown up by the Daesh 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 Daesh drove identical convoys of suicide trucks to seize Palmyra when they first took the city in May 2015.

There's no 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 Daesh 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.

So what 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 Daesh, 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.

Certainly our political masters are - and for the same "reason" as the rebels kidnap their victims: money. Hence the disgrace of Brexit May and her buffoonery of ministers who last week prostrated themselves to the Sunni autocrats who fund the terrorists of Syria in the hope of winning billions of pounds in post-Brexit arms sales to the Gulf.

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 behavior 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.

Source: The Independent, Edited by website team

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