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Syria: Aleppo’s Hostage Crisis

Hostage Crisis: François Hollande’s claim that what is happening in Aleppo is “a real war crime,” is, in fact, accurate.

AleppoBut the French president’s full statement following the Normandy Four meeting in Berlin is misleading. Hollande explains that he does not regard the actions of terrorist groups as war crimes, but rather those of Russia and Damascus. “Of course, there are terrorists in Aleppo… bombardments should be out of the question,” the French leader added.

However, what he neglected to mention is that the terrorists in Aleppo are holding some 300,000 people hostage, which, by definition, constitutes a war crime itself.

Human Shields

The International Convention against the Taking of Hostages, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979, defines the offence as, “the seizure or detention of a person… in order to compel a third party to do or to abstain from doing any act.”

In addition to the provisions of Article 3 in the Geneva Convention, hostage taking during an internal conflict is now firmly entrenched in customary international law and is considered a war crime.

This month’s three-day unilateral ceasefire in Aleppo declared by Moscow and Damascus served to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the majority – if not all – of the 300,000 civilians in the militant-held east of the city are, in fact, hostages.

During the truce, humanitarian corridors were opened for civilians who wished to leave the city. Not one of the residents from Aleppo’s battered east took up the offer. For their part, the militants made sure to shell the crossings around the clock, injuring three Russian officers in the process.

According to Scott Bennett, a former US army officer who served in Iraq, “this is not about President Assad barrel-bombing his own people. This is about the dually elected democratic president of Syria protecting his people from foreign fighters, foreign invaders who have no love for the people. That is why they are using them as human shields.”

The skeptics who choose to dismiss such claims as ‘Russian propaganda’ can always turn to other sources, including a Deutsche Welle [DW] Radio interview with the spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria, Ingy Sedky.

According to Sedky, the evacuation of eastern Aleppo was “impossible,” due to the poor security situation in the city. “There was mortar shelling and sniper fire,” the ICRC official said.

But mortar shelling is hardly the only obstacle preventing civilians from leaving eastern Aleppo. Al-Nusra Front militants are known to engage in the systematic intimidation, harassment and murder of Aleppo’s residents.

The Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, reported just last week that militants executed a local imam in eastern Aleppo after he tried to persuade them to leave the district. The terrorists reportedly killed another 14 civilians a few days later for trying to use one of the humanitarian corridors. As such, the situation in Aleppo is a hostage crisis on a massive scale.

The Tactical Response to Hostage Situations

When it comes to dealing with hostage situations, rule number one involves an attempt to negotiate with the terrorists in the hope of bringing about a peaceful resolution to the crisis and minimizing civilian casualties.

If the negotiations fail – which is the case in Aleppo, where the terrorists have already started killing their hostages, refusing to evacuate through designated corridors – security forces are obligated to employ ‘tactical measures’.

In his 1983 article titled “Plan Carefully, Rehearse Thoroughly, Execute Violently: The Tactical Response to Hostage Situations”, leading US anti-terrorist expert, Harvey J. McGeorge, explains that the killing of hostages requires a tactical response in order “to prevent additional damage.”

McGeorge’s reasoning is employed by all sovereign states when dealing with a hostage crisis. Resorting to military action in order to free hostages is therefore by no means a rarity, and neither are civilian casualties who get caught in the crossfire.

As a result, the actions of the Syrian government and its allies in Aleppo can in no way be regarded as a war crime. Both Syrian and Russian military operations are strictly designed to eliminate the terrorists and not to kill their hostages. The tragic civilian deaths are either the result of terrorist executions, or of being caught in the crossfire.

If Hollande’s approach to the terrorist presence in Aleppo, where “bombardments should be out of the question,” were to be adopted, the city’s residents would eventually be exterminated. No government in the world can accept this alternative.

The notion that life in Aleppo would simply return to normal if only Syrian forces were to withdraw is absurd. Militant-controlled cities across Syria, Iraq and even Libya have become accustomed to mass killings of the civilian population, regardless of whether the terrorists are besieged or not.

In the Case of Mosul…

Some 500 kilometres east of Aleppo, the Iraqi city of Mosul is being besieged by local forces, with the support of the US-led coalition. According to the western narrative, terrorists in Mosul – unlike those in Aleppo – are using the civilian population as human shields, preventing them from fleeing the besieged city. In fact, no comparisons are drawn with Syria’s second city, where ‘regime forces’ love to kill their own people and Russian pilots indulge in destroying foreign nations.

Aleppo is often compared to the destruction of the Chechen capital Grozny 16 years earlier, but never to the US-led military operation in Iraq’s Ramadi just last year, where over 80% of the city’s infrastructure was completely destroyed.

It is entirely possible that the militants in Mosul will choose not to fight to the last man. But that is unlikely to ease the suffering of the local population who – much like the people in Aleppo – are already being killed in their hundreds by airstrikes. In his article titled, “Good Deaths in Mosul, Bad Deaths in Aleppo,” veteran American journalist, Robert Parry, points to the contrast in the coverage by The New York Times.

“Compared to the unrelenting condemnation of the Russian-backed Syrian government assault on neighbourhoods of east Aleppo… the million-plus [Mosul] residents are not portrayed as likely victims of American airstrikes… instead, the civilians are said to be eagerly awaiting liberation,” Parry writes.

For The New York Times, which in this case represents the west’s position, civilian lives in Aleppo and Mosul are not the same. Head-chopping in these two cities is not the same. Human shields are not the same. The terrorists are not the same. Nothing is the same, even though everything is the same.

Holding the civilian population hostage is always the same, and the battle against the terrorists must be as well.

Source: Al-Ahed News

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