When the Astana “peace” deal for Syria was announced earlier this year, we predicted that the proposed so-called “de-escalation” zones would actually become kill zones. A condition of every “ceasefire” agreement sponsored either by Russia (like the Astana pact) or the US is that the rebels declare war on the Qaeda-linked factions to have emerged from the (now ostensibly disbanded) Nusra Front. But already beseiged by the Assad regime and Russia, the rebels are in no plight to do so—they’ve been put in an untenable situation. It was clear the Astana plan was not about peace but about propaganda—providing a cover for continuance of the war. So we were grimly vindicated to see the Nov. 18 New York Times headline, “Marked for ‘De-escalation,’ Syrian Towns Endure Surge of Attacks.”
The article cites as a rationale for continued bombardment the presence in rebel enclaves of the lastest post-Nusra formation, the Levant Liberation Committee. In recent months, regime and Russian air-strikes have hit schools, hospitals and homes in “de-escalation zones” in Idlib and in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta—where the United Nations says 400,000 residents are trapped and where one in four children are at risk of malnutrition.
But sometimes bombardment of “de-escalation zones” is proceeding even without this propaganda cover. On Nov. 13, air-strikes hit a marketplace in the rebel-held town of Atarib, within a “de-escalation zone” in Aleppo governorate. But here, the local civil resistance had actually expelled jihadist forces from the town. The Times links to a report from British think-tank Chatham House detailing the town’s sucessful mobilization against post-Nusra factions, “Local Community Resistance to Extremist Groups in Syria: Lessons from Atarib.” (PDF)
The attack on Atarib came on the same day that Amnesty International issued a report documenting what it called the collective punishment of civilian populations in rebel-held areas. Attacks in Atarib and elsewhere “highlight concerns about these so-called safe zones and whether they are really ever safe,” Rawya Rageh, a senior adviser to Amnesty and co-writer of the report, told the Times by e-mail. “Time and again, civilians in Syria are finding no safe place to take refuge.”
And, appearances aside, the US is conniving in this carnage—at the very least. The Times notes that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, meeting earlier this month in Vietnam, issued a joint statement affirming the “importance of de-escalation areas as an interim step to reduce violence in Syria.” Another one to file under #OrwellWouldShit.