The recent fight by the Syrian Free Army (FSA) against a combination of Al Assad forces, Iraqi Shia‘a militias and units of Hezbollah in Alkhalidia in the outskirts of Aleppo was testimony that the FSA will fight tooth and nail to keep control of the commercial capital of the country. Bashar Al Assad’s hopes for storming Aleppo from different directions were shattered when the FSA managed to wage a surprising attack on Alkhanaser, a strategic village in East Aleppo. Alkhanaser is located at the tip of the road to Hamma, used heavily by the regime to provide its forces around Aleppo with supplies and ammunition. Another setback took place with the surprise attack of the FSA on Altayareh hill, clearing it of all troops loyal to Al Assad.
The battle for Aleppo will be a bitter one. Opposition forces defending the city use homemade explosives and equipment. Close examination of how this battle is being fought shows how adaptable the opposition can be in fighting regular forces in densely populated areas. But, it is also obvious that the FSA badly needs sufficient supplies to defend Aleppo.
The significance of the continuing stalemate around Aleppo goes far beyond the limits of this ancient city.
If one reads the Fatwa of the Council of Aleppo Ulamas issued on November 13th, it becomes clear that this decree—stating that whoever fights with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) should be considered a criminal—is indicative of the tight control that the FSA has over the city. It is also shows that it is possible to successfully confront ISIL elsewhere.
In reality, any decisive tilt in the situation in and around Aleppo would cast a shadow over the proposed Geneva II. Secretary Kerry’s hint that diplomatic efforts should be de-coupled from the situation on the ground runs counter to common sense. In October, Kerry said, “But the situation on the ground is irrelevant to the question of the implementation of Geneva I. And maybe President Assad needs to go back and read Geneva 1 again, or for the first time, but Geneva I says you will have a transition government by mutual consent. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re up or whether you’re down on the battlefield; the objective of Geneva II remains the same, which is the implementation of Geneva I, which means a transition government arrived at by mutual consent of the parties.”
One commander of opposition forces in Aleppo told MEB “for us, Geneva II is a waste of time now. But if Aleppo falls to the regime, it will be waste of time for Bashar as well”.
The idea that one can substitute on-the-ground-balance of forces with international diplomacy or with deals between the relevant capitals is unworkable in the case of Syria.