Aleppo, the second-largest city in Syria and scene of several clashes since unrest erupted in March 2011, sums up the dynamic of the conflict.
Once the country’s commercial hub, Aleppo has become a frontline, its eastern districts captured by rebels in 2012. With more than 40 militant factions fighting in the strategic city, it is under constant shelling.
Aleppo is a focal point in the Syrian war, not only due to its geographic closeness to the capital, but because of its military importance, from which the opposition can counter government forces and the Kurdish district of Sheikh Maqsood in the north of the city.
While government forces are not ready to give up their fight for Aleppo, al-Nusra Front has expanded there, constantly shelling the city and entering it via the border with Turkey.
The territorial expansion in Aleppo of the al-Qaeda affiliate has raised concerns among military factions that are reluctant to affiliate with the group in order not to lose Western backing.
The fight for the city is becoming more brutal, and the prospects for a political solution shrinking. The faction that wins Aleppo will shape post-war SyriaDr. Halla Diyab
The conflict in Aleppo also highlights the issue of rebel groups’ loyalty, which can shift according to which factions can secure them political and military support. As such, rebels that may claim to stand with a ‘moderate’ faction one day, could declare allegiance to Al-Nusra the next day.
While the fight for Aleppo grants a political identity and presence to some militant factions, the genuine Syrian political opposition is becoming increasingly frail. Some opposition leaders withdrew from the Geneva talks in April amid disagreement over the transition process, which they insist should exclude President Bashar al-Assad.
With the involvement of groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam in political discussions - which was not the case in the previous Geneva talks - the talks are now militarized. Despite their opposition to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), this could torpedo diplomatic talks due to the power these militants have on the ground, and stunt the evolution of political opposition in Syria.
Their role in the conflict is gradually expanding from the battlefield onto the negotiating table, despite the fact that most of these militants who have been granted a voice are reported to be responsible for war crimes against innocent civilians, including women and children. As such, a resolution of this conflict will be formulated by armed groups, not politicians.
With a whirlpool of competing factions attempting to secure control of Aleppo, atrocities have mounted on all sides. The fight for the city is becoming more brutal, and the prospects for a political solution shrinking.
The faction that wins Aleppo will shape post-war Syria. If al-Nusra succeeds, this will change the Syrian conflict into a direct rivalry between it and ISIS.
Dr. Halla Diyab is an award winning screen-writer, producer, broadcaster, a published author and an activist. She has a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from the University of Leicester. She carried out research in New Orleans, USA while working on her thesis “The Examination of Marginality and Minorities in the Drama and Film of Tennessee Wil-liams”. She holds an MA in Gender and Women Studies from the University of Warwick. She has written a number of scripts for TV dramas countering religious extremism and international terrorism resulting in her being awarded Best Syrian Drama Script Award 2010 and the Artists Achievement Award 2011. She is a regular commentator in the Brit-ish and international media and has recently appeared on Channel 4 News, BBC Newsnight, BBC This Week, CNN, Sky News, Channel 5 News, ITV Central, Al Jazeera English, and BBC Radio 4, to name a few. She is a public speaker who spoke at the House of Commons, the Spectator Debate, Uniting for Peace and London’s Frontline Club. She has worked in Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Syria and is an expert on the Middle East and Islamic culture. As a highly successful drama writer, she has been dubbed ‘one of the most influential women in Syria’ in 2011. She also produces documentary films for UK and international channels. She is also the Founder & Director of Liberty Media Productions which focuses on cross-cultural issues between Britain and the Middle East. She can be found on Twitter: @drhalladiyab