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Why Aleppo matters in Syria's war awash with the blood of hundreds of thousands

Civilians have been caught up in the siege of Aleppo. Credit: Reuters

This week ITV News will be continuing its coverage of the on-going conflict in Syria with a focus on the besieged area of eastern Aleppo and the plight of the city's 250,000 residents.

In a war awash with the blood of hundreds of thousands in untold numbers of Syrian villages, towns, cities - why should one city capture the thoughts, concerns, anger and outrage of hundreds of millions of people around the world?

I have reported from enough places around the world to know that every war has one place which consumes the attention and shame of the rest of humanity. The Sarajevos, the Gazas, the Sowetos.

In Syria’s unspeakable war, it is Aleppo that seems to encapsulate not just the indiscriminate horror of the whole of the war - but the West’s now undeniably bankrupt policy on the Syrian conflict, the wider world’s sense of anger yet helplessness and the daily, very personal tragedies of doctors, hospitals, rescue workers and children crying out for international law to protect them - but instead finding a deafening silence in response to their pleas.

A very simple first answer as to why Aleppo matters is the same age-old one as to why Sarajevo or Gaza or Soweto mattered. Because a few brave people are there to capture its suffering.

For the last three months, ITV News has had a number of brave and committed individuals in the besieged rebel held part of the city - willing to chronicle life there for us. We have carried their reports regularly and it is why we have made a conscious decision to reflect this daily reality in our almost daily coverage.

The city has been devastated by the attacks. Credit: Reuters

But of course the real reasons why Aleppo matters are far more profound and in some senses go far beyond the ebb and flow of the Syrian war’s strategic fortunes and realities.

Aleppo matters firstly because fundamental international laws are being violated in front of our eyes in such a way that if they are permitted to continue, the nature, scope and effect of future wars and their humanitarian effect will have frightening consequences.

Chemical weapons have been dropped on civilian areas, UN aid convoys have been bombed - possibly by the war planes of a member of the UN Security Council (Russia), hospitals, clinics, even paediatric hospitals have been deliberately targeted….I could go on and on….are we collectively saying that this is OK? That in the future, if someone else does this, such actions will simply be met with angry words and indignation?

Remember, Iraq was invaded and occupied in large part because of the argument that its government could have weapons of mass destruction and could use them against their own people.

Aleppo also matters because if the Syrian government re-takes it, it will not end the war, but it will be a huge psychological boost to a regime that up until a year ago really seemed to be on the ropes.

President Assad feels the momentum is with him. Aleppo is Syria’s second largest city and its economic hub. Three hundred thousand civilians in the eastern rebel-held part of the city have defied him.

President Assad feels the momentum is with him. Credit: PA

By bombing them and the rebels in their midst to submission, the regime will be setting down a marker as to how they plan to go about shattering the other rebel-held areas and it will send a chill of terror down the spine of anyone living in other defiant areas.

But Aleppo matters to us in the West in a very real direct way.

Make no mistake about it, it will diminish Western strategic relevance and moral credence.

A year ago, President Assad had his back against the wall. It really seemed that the only plan for peace would involve a transition of power and for him to leave office and Syria.

Then President Putin decided to throw his entire chips in with him.

That meant unleashing a no-holds-barred war against all rebel groups (especially western backed ones), a ferocious and unrelenting military assault on significant rebel held enclaves (like Aleppo), whatever the civilian cost.

Western policy has basically been to look on and be outraged and indignant. But tragically, Aleppo shows that the Assad-Putin doctrine is working. Which means that the Western policy based on a transition that sees Assad leave power is a nonsense.

With a major prize like Aleppo, the rebels hit with a major psychological blow - why on earth would Syria, Russia or their other ally, Iran, contemplate a transition of power? No one will take this seriously anymore.

Aleppo sums up our failures on almost every account: morally, intellectually, strategically, militarily and in humanitarian terms.

It’s hard to think of the few other places that will evoke such a sense of failure for the West and the Arab world (who have an even greater sense of shame in Aleppo’s plight).

The Syrian city of Aleppo has suffered huge casualties in airstrikes this year. Credit: ITV News