Under intermittent bursts of torrential rainfall and gusting winds, around 50 demonstrators took to downtown Beirut’s Samir Kassir Square Tuesday afternoon to protest the ongoing bloodshed in Syria’s Aleppo, where forces loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime have killed hundreds in recent days in a devastating campaign to reconquer the last opposition-held neighborhoods in the city.
Holding placards emblazoned with “Aleppo: Peace be upon you,” “Stop Killing! Save Aleppo,” and, simply, “Aleppo,” the demonstrators also raised a large Free Syria flag at the front of the square, named after the charismatic writer and activist whose 2005 assassination in Beirut was widely believed to be Assad’s doing.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the prevailing mood was somber, with a poignant silence replacing the chants and songs of the revolutionary heydays. One evidently pained woman was seen wiping tears from her cheeks.
There is, indeed, little reason for opponents of Assad to be upbeat at this moment. At the time of writing, only a few square kilometers of territory remain in opposition hands, following the rapid fall of several large districts Monday amid nonstop aerial and ground bombardment described by resident Joud al-Khateib as a “waterfall of blood.” At least 60 were killed on Monday alone, and the volunteer rescue force known as the White Helmets says some 90 bodies remain trapped under the rubble of their homes, unable to be extracted.
For those still alive, a chilling fatalism had taken over by Monday evening, with many sending farewell messages to relatives and friends outside the city. “Don’t worry, I will kill myself, I won’t let them arrest me,” one reportedly told the writer and activist Marcell Shehwaro, referring to pro-regime forces who are said to have already carried out summary executions in recently recaptured districts. UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville said Tuesday his office had received reports of scores of civilians shot dead “on the spot” by pro-Assad militiamen as they entered former rebel territory.
Diplomats from Russia, whose military has been directly and prominently involved in Aleppo in support of the regime, are reportedly to meet with counterparts from Turkey, a key backer of the opposition, on Wednesday to discuss a potential settlement. Moscow has thus far rejected multiple ceasefire and negotiation proposals raised at the UN Security Council, as well as by Aleppo’s rebel factions themselves.