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Geneva II Elicits Hopes and Hopelessness in Aleppo

ALEPPO – While negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition inch forward in Geneva, little has changed for civilians on the ground.

Written by Mohammed al-Khatieb Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Activists and civilians here say regime airplanes and helicopters are present as always, dropping barrel bombs every day. When air raids ease temporarily it’s not because of diplomacy, but because of inclement weather. There has also been an escalation in fighting, especially around the much-contested Aleppo airport.

Residents of this city’s opposition areas don’t have high hopes for Geneva.

Sami is a nurse in one of the field hospitals in al-Mesar neighborhood, where heavy fighting is raging between the regime and the opposition. For him, the likelihood of a political solution is inconceivable.

“How can a regime that bombards its own people with explosive barrels and many different kinds of weapons respect international treaties?” he asks. “It just wants to buy time to kill more people. That’s all it is.”

Mohammed works in the same field hospital as Sami. After three years of fighting, he views both sides as incapable of winning on the battlefield. Diplomacy may be a long shot, but it’s the only hope.

“We need a political solution to avoid losing more lives. We have lost more than 100,000 martyrs until now – this is enough,” he says. “[Bashar al-]Assad must understand that he is not wanted anymore, that he should leave, and the international community must take his responsibilities.”

He acknowledges that the political opposition in Geneva has a major task.

“A huge responsibility lies on the shoulders of the opposition delegation,” he says. “They have to spare the country from losing more of its children, [while] not giving up on the revolution’s demands. I am sure that the regime will try to dodge making any changes and decisions, but I am hoping that the international community will force it to stop what it is doing.”

On the western side of the city, which is under government control, security forces have added checkpoints, on the lookout for wanted opposition activists. Mortars continue to be fired from the opposition side.

Haya, a student at Aleppo University and resident of the regime-held side of the city, sees the peace talks as a waste of time.

“I am not following the negotiations in Geneva, because I do not believe that it will change anything. I am sure that after the end of this conference, the regime will keep fighting until the last bullet,” she says.

Countries supporting the Assad regime, like Russia and Iran, she adds, will never stop providing military support, and “this war will never end.”

Activists have estimated that as many as 50,000 of their peers are in Syrian government detention, among them women and teenagers. But opposition forces have taken thousands of their own captives – hundreds of soldiers taken prisoner during battle, as well as civilians linked to senior state officials.

On this, Haya is optimistic, believing that the government will release a number of detainees, especially women and children, if the opposition forces release the regime detainees in their prisons.

Meanwhile, regime loyalists here have hope that the Geneva conference can stop the war and save their children from mandatory military service.

Rami, a resident of the government-held Hamdanyieh neighborhood, believes that the regime’s survival is a testament to its strength.

“Over three years, the army managed to repel the fierce attack on Syria, and it can resist it even more,” he says. “The supporting countries of the armed groups have realized that they have failed, and that any talk of a political solution must not affect the army and the security forces.

“Assad will remain the leader of Syria.”

This article was translated from Arabic by Zain Frayha.

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