One week after the collapse of a tenuous ceasefire, tensions between the United States and the Russian-Syrian alliance appear to be at a boiling point, while the consequence of that political fall-out is "nothing short of a human catastrophe."
At an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Sunday, western powers blatantly accused Russia of "barbarism" and aiding the Syrian government in committing "war crimes."
"What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism, it is barbarism," said Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals, and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive," Power told the 15-member council.
A spokesperson from the Kremin rebuffed those accusations as "unacceptable," while the UNSC's Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin reminded the council that it was the U.S.' bombing of Syrian government forces on September 17th, and its failure to convince so-called "moderate" rebels to disassociate with the al Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (previously the al-Nusra Front), that "sabotaged" the peace effort.
This followed similar statements made by Syrian President Bashar Assad, who told the Associated Press last week that he "believe[s] that the United States is not genuine regarding having a cessation of violence in Syria."
In a recent column, investigative reporter and historian Gareth Porter explained how it was the combination of the September 17th attack, the public split between the U.S. State Department and Pentagon on cooperating with Russia, and Obama's refusal "to confront U.S. regional allies with the necessity to change course from reckless support for a jihadist-dominated opposition force" that ultimately "provoked the decision to end the ceasefire."
It is not difficult to imagine, however, the fury with which both Russian and Syrian governments could have reacted to the US blows against both the Syrian army and the deal that had been sealed with Washington. They were certainly convinced that the US air attack on Syrian troops was a clear message that the Pentagon and US military leadership would not countenance any cooperation with Russia on Syria - and were warning of a Syrian campaign to come once Hillary Clinton is elected.
Attacking the aid convoy by some means was a brutal way of signalling a response to such messages. Unfortunately, the brunt of the response was borne by aid workers and civilians.
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Indeed, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), over 300 civilians have been killed and at least 600 injured, including 44 children, in the past week alone.
Meanwhile, there is evidence that in Aleppo both sides have been using access to water as a weapon, with the city's civilians caught in the cross-hairs.
On Friday, Russian and Syrian government forces reportedly damaged a pumping station that supplied water to rebel-held East Aleppo amid the latest bombing campaign. In retaliation, U.S.-backed rebels turned off the supply for the remainder of the city, leaving an estimated two million people across the besieged city without water, according to the United Nations children's agency, UNICEF.
"Aleppo is slowly dying," UNICEF deputy director Justin Forsyth told the BBC, "and the world is watching, and the water is being cut off and bombed—it's just the latest act of inhumanity."
UOSSM issued a statement Monday warning that Aleppo is in a state of emergency as medical facilities and staff are stretched far beyond capacity.
"What is happening now in Aleppo is nothing short of a human catastrophe, whatever area hospitals that are still operating are running on full capacity, we had two children that had to share a bed and ventilator because of how low our equipment and space is. When you have surgeons operating on patients on the bare floor that is nothing short of a disaster," said Dr. Bakri M.
"These atrocities against humanity are deplorable and unacceptable," added UOSSM USA CEO Dr. Khaula Sawah. "Immediate action by the international community, the United Nations, and all responsible parties must be enforced now, we demand swift and immediate action to stop the killing."
Sawah added, "Blood is on everyone's hands who did not put a stop to the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians."