Does President Obama Feel A Personal Responsibility Over Aleppo?

Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.
Evacuated civilians, fled from East Aleppo that had been under siege by Iran-led Shiite militias and Assad Regime forces, arrive at Sarmada town of Idlib, Syria on December 15, 2016 with a convoy, including buses and ambulances, departed from a crossing point between East and West Aleppo.
In a press conference on Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama's last of 2016, he fielded questions about the heartbreaking plight of residents in eastern Aleppo. An evacuation that would have allowed thousands to leave the area collapsed early this morning when gunfire erupted, and tens of thousands are still awaiting rescue. Did Obama feel a personal moral responsibility for the suffering of Syrians?

Gravely, he responded, "I always feel responsible... I ask myself, is there something I can do that would save lives and make a difference?" But while it's tempting to want to do the right thing, there is a marked absence of support for military intervention, Obama cautioned, and without committing a large number of U.S. troops on the ground, he was not able to act on "the impulse to want to do something."

In the interim, the president said, what we can do is keep the eyes of the world on Aleppo and put pressure on Russia and the Syrian government to allow for the rescue of those trapped in the city. Russia and the Bashar al-Assad administration in Syria are claiming that everyone is already out, Obama said, when we know that tens of thousands still remain.

Indeed, Twitter has been awash with messages from residents desperate to leave.

Under the terms of a ceasefire, civilians and fighters inside the few remaining blocks of the rebel enclave in Aleppo were to be taken to opposition-held territory nearby. But buses that arrived at a collection point in the countryside to pick up villagers waited for hours without any evacuations happening. Reports by opposition activists and officials in eastern Aleppo ranged from 15,000 to 40,000 civilians still inside the tiny enclave, along with some 6,000 fighters.

Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO's Syria representative, said by phone from western Aleppo that there are still "high numbers of women and infants, children under five, that need to get out."

The evacuations signal the end of the Syrian rebels' most important stronghold — the eastern part of the city of Aleppo — and mark a watershed moment in the country's civil war, now in its sixth year.

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