Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/©Gulf News

The relentless pounding by government forces of the beleaguered Syrian city of Aleppo is entering its second week with no sign that the US and Russia are able or willing to include it in a fragile lull in hostilities that covers certain districts of Damascus and areas around Latakia.

The daily toll of mostly civilian casualties in rebel-held neighbourhoods of Aleppo as a result of aerial bombings is alarming. Last Wednesday at least 30 people were killed, including doctors and nurses, when regime air strikes destroyed a local hospital, supported by Doctors Without Borders, in what appears to have been a deliberate strike, according to US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Still the regime refuses to cease attacks on Aleppo, which was once Syria’s largest city and its industrial hub. Of its four million inhabitants, only quarter of a million remain today and the city has become the fulcrum of the regime’s efforts to force a military conclusion to the five-year-old Syrian conflict.

Russia has refused to put pressure on the regime over Aleppo, saying that the city is being controlled by terrorist groups. In reality, Al Qaida associated Al Nusra Front is present in most of the rebel-held areas of the doomed city. Moscow argues that the group, which targeted the Russian consulate there last week, is not part of the cessation of hostilities agreement. But that is no excuse for government forces to wage a bloody campaign to destroy the ancient city.

As the political process to find a settlement to the Syrian conflict in Geneva hits a brick wall, the two-month, fragile truce appears to be its first casualty. UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan De Mistura has pleaded with the US and Russia to salvage it, but all Washington and Moscow could agree on is a cessation that could last between 24 hours and three days.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation is getting worse, with regime forces stopping aid from reaching desperate villages and towns besieged by its troops.

One thing is sure, that the carnage in Syria will continue unabated and the human toll will rise in the coming days and weeks. It is shameful that the United State and Russia are using the Syrian card for self-interest with disregard to the enormous humanitarian price and the deliberate destruction of Syria.

It is shameful that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussain said all parties had shown a “monstrous disregard” for civilian lives. He declared that “in the context of such an abysmal situation, the persistent failure of the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an example of the most shameful form of realpolitik”.

Disturbing reminder

With between 350,000 to 400,000 dead, mostly women and children, and the displacement of over 12 million inhabitants, the situation in Syria is the worst since the Second World War. The destruction of Aleppo is a disturbing reminder of the obliteration of entire cities in Europe and Japan in the 1940s. The regime has arrested tens of thousands of people, many of whom remain missing and it is believed that thousands have perished in Syrian government jails. On the other side, Daesh is believed to have executed at least 4,000 Syrians in the last two years. Other rebel groups are also guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

There is no shortage of documentation of the horrors in Syria. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights delivers daily reports on abuses and attacks by all parties against the Syrian people. There are thousands of documented witness statements telling horrific tales about killings, executions, torture and displacements of Syrians by all parties involved.

The UN Security Council has been ineffective in ending the war in Syria so far. The US and Russia have commandeered all initiatives, military and political, in Syria each for its own interests and goals. Meanwhile, the bloodbath in Syria continues. And with no political solution in sight in the near future, the killing fields of Syria will continue to spread.

There is a moral case to be made to refer the Syrian conflict to the ICC regardless of the outcome of the political or military processes. The war crimes that have been committed in Syria cannot be redressed or levelled out because the US and Russia are working to find a suitable compromise that works for both of them.

Regardless of where the political process will lead to or if the regime manages to score a decisive military victory, the crimes that have been committed against the Syrian people should not be shoved aside or buried because of political expediency.

Aleppo today is a prime example of what Prince Zeid called “lethal escalation” in Syria. The systematic destruction of the city will forever remain a symbol of the wanton killing of the Syrian people.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.