Syrian President Bashar al-Assad chose to turn the other cheek by pardoning 484 local militants who recently surrendered.
Aleppo, once Syria’s most populous city, has been at the center of the Syrian conflict for months as Syrian government forces, with Russian support, have fought to reclaim the city from US-backed militants as well as Islamic State (ISIS) fighters. After months of heavy fighting on both sides, and international repercussions for some involved parties, the Syrian government, with Russian support, have retaken much of Eastern Aleppo, which prior to the battle was held almost entirely by US-backed rebel factions and the Islamic State. Russian General Igor Konashenkov of the Russian Defense Ministry said that “half of the territory previously held by the militants in eastern Aleppo has been de facto liberated” thanks to “well-planned and careful action by the Syrian troops.”
Yet, Assad’s offers of amnesty is nothing new. The practice was announced in August as a means to resolve the armed conflict as quickly and peacefully as possible. Per the agreement, fighters of Syrian origin are given the opportunity to return to their normal lives in exchange for laying down their weapons. However, many Syrian disagree with the policy, arguing that the militants who fight against Syria’s government had “betrayed their nation” and should not be allowed to return to their previous lives with no consequences. There are also some Syrians that generally support the policy but distrust the ease with which former rebels can join the Syrian Army.
Despite the damage and deaths that have resulted from the heavy fighting, there is a silver lining in all this. Now, an estimated 80,000 civilians, including tens of thousands of children, will now have access to humanitarian relief including clean water, food, and medical assistance that was cut off due to the heavy fighting in and around the districts. The Syria Reconciliation Center also reported that 507 militants who were not from the area were given the option to leave the city districts if they surrendered their weapons to the advancing Syrian forces. In addition, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pardoned the 484 militants, who are local residents.
The surprisingly peaceful resolution of the districts’ recapture shows a very different Assad than that portrayed by much of the Western media, which paint him as a “bloodthirsty tyrant” and “brutal dictator.” Regardless of one’s opinion of Assad or his regime, it is safe to say that ISIS and US-backed militant groups such as al-Nusra Front would likely not have showed Syrian or Russian forces the same courtesies if the situation had been reversed.
Despite this policy of amnesty, which would never even be considered by several Western governments, criticism of Assad and his Russian counterpart has escalated as Syria and Russia are set to reclaim the entire city of Aleppo. Some German politicians are attempting to strengthen sanctions against Russia for its role in the conflict while the US Congress just passed legislation paving the way for a “no-fly zone” in Russia.
In the case of the US, Trump’s assumption of the presidency in January has been cited as the main reason for the lame-duck Congress’ urgency to militarily escalate the situation. This is largely because it is believed that Trump will withdraw US support for the rebel groups currently fighting against the government in Aleppo, making a Syrian/Russian victory all but assured. The US government has invested so much in the Syrian conflict, they are unlikely to give up without a fight. However, if Assad’s amnesty deals continue to prove popular among Syrian militants, the US may find it increasingly difficult to find willing soldiers to fight on its behalf.
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