A flurry of diplomatic activity is trying to establish a truce in the city of Aleppo and stop the war in Syria, but it is a long shot amid growing divisions between the allies of President Bashar al-Assad and opposition supporters.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov hope to reach a deal soon, but major differences remain over the terms of the deal. For example, Russia insists that the rebels leave eastern Aleppo.
And the clock is ticking: Kerry will leave office next month, when Donald Trump is sworn in as US president. Atrocities are being committed every day as Aleppo is falling into the hands of the Syrian government.
If Aleppo falls into the government, into the regime's hands, this will be the end of the war? I don't think so. We believe that the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition are willing to resist, and to continue their efforts. This will not end the war.
Along with its allies Qatar is now leading a diplomatic offensive to try to rally international support for an end to the bloodshed in Aleppo. Last weekend it participated in a Friends of Syria meeting in Paris.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has accused the Syrian government of committing crimes against humanity, adding that even if it takes over Aleppo, the rebels will continue to fight.
So what exactly would those who support the opposition do if Aleppo falls to Syrian forces? Will they be able to convince the United States to lift its ban on sending advanced weapons to the rebels? And what could diplomacy achieve when the Syrian army, backed by Russia, is so close to a decisive military victory?
We speak to Al Thani on Talk to Al Jazeera about the battle for Aleppo and why diplomacy hasn’t made any progress in ending the bloodshed.
“The problem here, we discuss the situation there and the escalation in Aleppo. We found that we have no alternative because we are not with the military solution, we are always insisting on the political solution, but it seems that the regime is betting on the military solution; that’s why he’s [President Assad] continuing what he’s doing there,” Al Thani says.
“The humanitarian situation there is catastrophic, there is no hospitals operating now, people are wounded and there are dead bodies, that cannot be evacuated because it is besieged. We are trying our best to ensure some humanitarian corridors, to ensure humanitarian access to the civilians there in Aleppo. We need to do something to protect civilians there. And the problem is, the international community’s response to that appears that it’s failed.”
He says: “It’s a shame on all of us, that we cannot do anything and we find ourselves handcuffed, that we cannot deliver anything for the Syrian people.”
Al Thani says that he is committed to pursuing a peaceful end to the crisis, but with peace offers rejected by the Syrian government blocking peace talks and Russia and China recently blocking a UN resolution for a week-long truce in Aleppo, we ask about what he thinks the next step should be.
“When we act, as [the] state of Qatar, as a small country within a group of other like-minded countries who are supporting the Syrian people for their desire and their demands to get rid of this brutal regime, we have to come up with a collective effort and collective decision to go for another option,” he says. “Right now we didn’t see that the other partners within this group are ready for any Plan Bs or any other options.”
Al Thani says at the moment they are exploring the different options for halting the ongoing violence for now and securing humanitarian access to trapped civilians.
When asked if he has received any indication from the Syrian or Russian governments whether they would agree to a temporary ceasefire, he responds that US Secretary of State Kerry will try to negotiate a nationwide ceasefire and the terms of evacuation for opposition in Aleppo.
“The problem here we are facing every time that we don’t have guarantees, that after this evacuation, what’s going to happen? Is there a nationwide ceasefire or will we go back to the same dilemma? That the ceasefire excluding terrorist organisations and definition of terrorist organisations for the regime [is] just whoever is holding arms against him. So even the moderate opposition they are all under the same definition,” he says.
With the Syrian army making significant gains in eastern Aleppo, we ask Al Thani whether they would consider the option of providing advanced weapons to the rebels if the city should fall under the Assad government.
“If Aleppo falls into the government, into the regime’s hands, this will be the end of the war? I don’t think so. We believe that the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition are willing to resist, and to continue their efforts. This will not end the war.”
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