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AUDIO: How will Aleppo's fall factor into Assad's end game?

The Current (feat. Rolf Holmboe at 6:49)

CBC Radio
December 15, 2016

Listen to audio clip here.

On Dec. 14, a ceasefire had barely come into effect in Eastern Aleppo before it crumbled. But now a ceasefire — after international calls to allow civilians and opposition members to leave — appears to be back on.

Freelance journalist based in eastern Aleppo, Zouhir Al-Shimale, spoke to The Current on Dec, 14, as the streets were under attack. He tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that evacuations have finally begun and is going "smoothly."

"In the morning the evacuation took place and there are no bombing, no attacks in the east,"  Al-Shimale explains.

"The ambulances and all the cars that carry the patients were heading towards the regime side."

He tells Tremonti that people are not afraid of where they are going.

"We are so happy we got our lives back, even [thought] we lost our land."

The evacuation will gradually continue for the next two or three days. Al-Shimale says he wants to wait until "the last minutes" to leave his home.

"Being forced to leave, moved from your roots, from the land where you were born … It's really heartbreaking."

Whatever does happen in Aleppo will have deep implications both in Syria and far beyond.

Rolf Holmboe served as the Danish ambassador to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan from 2012 to 2015. He tells Tremonti that with the fall of Aleppo, Assad has the opportunity to "conquer the remnant isolated pockets of rebels in the country, one by one."

"He can move his offensive forces which are mostly Shiite militias, Russian advisers, Iranian advisers Hezbollah forces and then take one … pocket after the other," Holmboe says.

"I think the first one might be in Damascus in the east … a big rebel pocket which is the one that is most threatening to Assad."

Political science professor Bessma Momani tells Tremonti with the fall of Aleppo, it's definitely going to be difficult for the Syrian army to hold territory they aren't powerful enough.

"There's this enormous amount of foreign mercenaries being brought in. The Syrian army really collapsed about a year or two ago,"  Momani says.

"But clearly with you know having air superiority and having them being able to season and basically choke and starve many communities like Aleppo with the bombardment from the sky, they're able to get these rebels to go to the point of submission, or to exterminate them; either one of those is the strategy."

Momani says this is a new phase of conflict "from it being a rebellion and an opposition to a more insurgency-style tactic."

And when it comes to how many Syrians continue to support President Bashir al-Assad, Holmboe tells Tremonti that they are many people in the country who are afraid of the alternatives.

"You have many people on the regime side, that I know, that are very unhappy with [Bashir al] Assad. But they can't say it," says Holmboe.

"And they don't how to do something else, who should come in his place, how would it play out, so they are worried."


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