The first know-all

It has been the year of Lady Gaga, papal visits and a psychic octopus. Have you been keeping up with


1 Which Labour MP was stripped of his Oldham East and Saddleworth seat by an election court for making false statements about his Lib Dem opponent?
a Bob Ainsworth
b Elliot Morley
c Phil Woolas
d Liam Byrne

2 The Foreign Office issued a public apology after an official memo suggested Britain should mark the Pope's visit by launching a Benedict-branded range of which items?
a Condoms
b Chocolates
c Beer mugs
d Crucifixes

3 Saying she wanted to get rid of "skeletons" from her past before standing as a Labour councillor in Pimlico, Sally Bercow admitted she was which of the following in her twenties?
a "a bit of a goer"
b "slightly bisexual"
c "a fan of the marijuana"
d "a binge drinker"

4 Which Labour MP was secretly filmed likening himself to a “cab for hire" when lobbying former cabinet colleagues on behalf of business?
a Geoff Hoon
b Stephen Byers
c Jack McConnell
d Charles Clarke

5 Complete Labour MP Austin Mitchell's quote about the coalition government: "It's like marrying the Parachute Regiment with a Brownie pack -"
a "a disaster waiting to happen"
b "so mad it might just work"
c "bound to be messy"
d "wait, what's a Brownie pack?"

6 Ed Miliband beat his brother, David, by how many percentage points to become Labour leader?
a 0.8
b 1.3
c 2.6
d 3.1

7 David Laws resigned as Chief Secretary to the Treasury after spending how many days in the post?
a 11
b 17
c 24
d 29

8 Called "a bigoted woman" by Gordon Brown, Gillian Duffy was a lifelong supporter of which party?
a Liberal Democrats
b Conservatives
c Labour

9 How did Ed Miliband describe his nickname "Red Ed" in a BBC interview in September?
a "tiresome rubbish"
b "banal and boring"
c "at least it rhymes"
d "makes me sound too angry"

10 George Osborne was reminded of an article he wrote for the Times in 2006 extolling which nation as "a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking"?
a Iceland
b China
c Ireland
d Greece

International affairs

1 What did Naomi Campbell call "a big inconvenience for me"?
a Turning 40 in May
b Organising "Fashion for Relief Haiti"
c Testifying at the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal
d Dealing with allegations about slapping her chauffeur

2 Which foreign ruler was revealed as owning more of London than the Queen?
a Sultan of Brunei
b Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai
c King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
d Emir of Qatar

3 Who ousted Bill Gates as the world's richest man in the 2010 Forbes Rich List?
a Lakshmi Mittal
b Lawrence Ellison
c Carlos Slim Helú
d Warren Buffett

4 Which senatorial hopeful for Delaware broadcast a campaign advert that told voters she wasn't a witch?
a Carly Fiorina
b Christine O'Donnell
c Sharron Angle
d Lisa Murkowski

5 In his memoir Decision Points, what did George W Bush claim was his worst moment in his eight years as US president?
a Seeing the first photos of US servicemen's coffins return from Iraq
b Realising how premature his "mission accomplished" speech was
c Hearing of the 9/11 attacks while in a school classroom
d Kanye West saying: "George Bush doesn't care about black people"

6 In October, the Chilean miners were rescued after how many days trapped underground?
a 44
b 53
c 69
d 82

7 The American comedian Jon Stewart held a "Rally to Restore" what?
a Sanity
b Peace
c Liberal Anger
d Dignity

8 During a February Q&A with activists, what did the notes on Sarah Palin's hand say?
a "energy, budget cuts, lift American spirits"
b "drill, baby, drill and drill again"
c "Blame Obama, Blame Obama, Blame Obama"
d "Tea Party good, Washington bad"

9 Who built a bacterial genome that constituted the creation of synthetic life for the first time?
a Craig Venter
b Sidney Altman
c Joseph G Gall
d George Schaller

10 In July, which country's lower house passed a bill, by 335 votes to one, banning Muslim women from wearing the full veil in public?
a Netherlands
b France
c Italy
d Sweden

Home affairs

1 Which celebrity chef sacked his father-in-law, Chris Hutcheson, from his job as chief executive of his restaurant empire?
a Jamie Oliver
b Marco Pierre White
c Gordon Ramsay
d Heston Blumenthal

2 Who or what are believed to be involved in 74,000 UK road accidents every year?
a Wild deer
b Cyclists
c Potholes
d Drivers using mobiles

3 In April, the science writer Simon Singh won the right to rely on the defence of fair comment in a libel case brought by which body?
a British Osteopathic Association
b British Homeopathic Association
c British Naturopathic Association
d British Chiropractic Association

4 Which university has accredited a foundation degree with fast-food giant McDonald's?
a London South Bank
b Liverpool John Moores
c Manchester Metropolitan
d Nottingham Trent

5 What was the name of the cat that Mary Bale was filmed dropping in a wheelie bin?
a Lola
b Mina
c Charly
d Holly


1 What did the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg say was the only thing that the makers of The Social Network got right about his portrayal in the film?
a His student wardrobe
b His good looks
c His business acumen
d His friendship skills

2 Claiming he did it in jest, Paul Chambers was convicted of sending menacing electronic communication after tweeting: "You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!" Which airport?

a Robin Hood, Doncaster
b Birmingham
c Stansted
d Luton

3 The Minneapolis IT workers Pete and Alisha Arnold set up a website inviting the public to vote on what?
a Whether they should have an open relationship
b Whether they should convert to Islam
c Whether they should emigrate to Canada
d Whether Alisha should have an abortion

4 Which country did voters in a poll suggest teenage pop star Justin Bieber should tour next?
a Iraq
b North Korea
c Afghanistan
d Somalia

5 Threatening to leave Twitter yet again, who tweeted: "So some f**king paper misquotes a humorous interview I gave, which itself misquoted and now I'm the Antichrist. I give up", adding later, "Bye bye"?
a Ashton Kutcher
b Jonathan Ross
c Stephen Fry
d Jimmy Carr


1 What was the British Museum's 100th and final exhibit in the BBC Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 Objects?
a A credit card
b A stone-chopping tool from Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge
c The Rosetta Stone
d A solar-powered lamp and charger

2 Which band took "strong insult" at the US Air Force Reserve using a re-recording of their song "Fell in Love with a Girl" in a Super Bowl ad
because it encouraged recruitment for a war "we do not support"?
a Kings of Leon
b My Chemical Romance
c The White Stripes
d The Strokes

3 In February, a bronze sculpture by which artist became the most expensive piece of art to sell at auction after it was bought for more than £65m?
a Alberto Giacometti
b David Smith
c Henry Moore
d Constantin Brancusi

4 Two previously unknown violin sonatas by which Italian composer were uncovered after 270 years?
a Antonio Vivaldi
b Giuseppe Tartini
c Niccolò Paganini
d Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

5 Lady Gaga wore a dress made out of which material to the MTV Video Music Awards in September?
a Bubblewrap
b Glass
c Gold leaf
d Raw meat


1 The X Factor contestant Gamu Nhengu claimed that she feared being killed by firing squad if she was deported back to which country?
a Sudan
b Zimbabwe
c Angola
d Rwanda

2 Alan Sugar engaged in a Twitter war with which woman, calling her the worst Celebrity Apprentice contestant and saying "she really needs to think about a diet"?
a Clare Balding
b Ruby Wax
c Jo Brand
d Kirstie Allsopp

3 In May, Channel 4 drew 350 complaints after showing the UK's first television advert for what?
a An Islamic charity
b Scientology
c Advice on abortion services
d Penis enlargement

4 Which TV news presenter mistook the Ash Wednesday cross on the forehead of the Catholic US vice-president, Joe Biden, for a bruise?
a Kay Burley
b Julie Etchingham
c Natasha Kaplinsky
d Anna Botting

5 Which selection of nine letters resulted in a rude word, and a round of Countdown being cut from the show?


1 In April, which newspaper published the front-page headline "Clegg in Nazi slur on Britain"?
a Daily Mail
b Sun
c Daily Express
d Daily Star

2 Zac Goldsmith called which man a "charlatan" after an angry television clash concerning his election spending?
a Jon Snow
b Jeremy Paxman
c Andrew Neil
d Nick Robinson

3 What amount of money did Sarah Ferguson tell an undercover reporter from the News of the World could "open doors" and gain access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew?
a £50,000
b £100,000
c £250,000
d £500,000

4 President Obama sacked his top commander in Afghanistan - General Stanley McChrystal - after a candid interview criticising the US administration was published in which magazine?
a Rolling Stone
b Vanity Fair
c New Yorker
d Harper's Magazine

5 Talking about celebrities launching lawsuits against the News of the World, the lawyer Mark Lewis said: "Getting a letter from Scotland Yard that your phone has been hacked is rather like . . ."?
a "the taxman notifying you of a huge rebate"
b "finding out a relative has left you thousands in their will"
c "receiving winning Lotto numbers in the post"
d "getting a Willy Wonka golden ticket"


1 What ransom was demanded for Jonathan Franzen's glasses after they were stolen at the Serpentine Gallery launch of his novel Freedom?
a £1
b £100
c £10,000
d £100,000

2 Which writer founded the Democratic Front for People's Federation party to fight corruption in his native Nigeria?
a Chinua Achebe
b Wole Soyinka
c Ben Okri
d Ken Wiwa

3 Which novelist compared becoming a grandfather to "getting a telegram from the mortuary"?
a Ian McEwan
b Martin Amis
c Philip Pullman
d William Boyd

4 Which of these novelists was the first to pass away this year?
a Beryl Bainbridge
b José Saramago
c Dick Francis
d J D Salinger

5 Who accidentally coined the neologism "refudiate" - the New Oxford American Dictionary's "Word of the Year"?
a Sarah Palin
b Barack Obama
c Rush Limbaugh
d John Boehner


1 What was the score in the fifth set of the first-round Wimbledon singles match played by the American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut?
a 48-46
b 55-53
c 62-60
d 70-68

2 David Cameron described which sports TV commentator's work as "just epic"?
a Sid Waddell
b John Motson
c Murray Walker
d Richie Benaud

3 Which World Cup result-predicting "psychic" octopus passed away on 26 October?
a John
b Paul
c George
d Peter

4 Which Australian bowler took a hat trick on the first day of the 2010 Ashes series?
a Shane Watson
b Peter Siddle
c Mitchell Johnson
d Ben Hilfenhaus

5 The skeleton bob champion Amy Williams won Britain its first Winter Olympic individual gold since which year?
a 1972
b 1980
c 1992
d 2002


1 Silvio Berlusconi said: “It is better to be passionate about beautiful girls than" what?
a "be gay"
b "be a thief"
c "anything else
in the world"
d "climate change"

2 What did Elaine Paige say of her fellow singer Susan Boyle's phenomenal success?
a "A lovely breath of
fresh air"
b "She's my new heroine"
c "A virus that swept
the world"
d "Unbelievable in every sense of the word"

3 What did the US vice-president, Joe Biden, say was "a big fucking deal"?
a Being the US
b Passing of health-care reform
c The loss of the House
of Representatives
d Reaction to his "say something nice" gaffe

4 Who said: "I'm delighted with my new role as the Lipton Ice Tea ambassador . . . its values match those that are important in my life"?
a Nicole Kidman
b Daniel Craig
c Keira Knightley
d Hugh Jackman

5 The former BP chief executive, Tony Hayward, said the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was "likely to be" what?
a "rather messy"
b "negligible"
c "very, very modest"
d "worse than you can possibly imagine"

This article first appeared in the 20 December 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special

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Brothers in blood: how Putin has helped Assad tear Syria apart

The Syrian catastrophe has created the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War. And the world watches helplessly as Putin and Assad commit war crimes.

Sometimes we know the names. We know Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old boy who, covered in mud and dust, was pictured on the back seat of an ambulance in the aftermath of an air attack. We know his name because pictures and a video of him were released on social media and travelled around the world. The outrage that followed was widespread and sincere, the image of the dazed little boy seeming to symbolise the greater plight of the beleaguered residents of Aleppo. But then the moment passed. Few will know that a few days later doctors announced that Omran’s elder brother Ali, who was injured in the same air strike, had died from his injuries. He was ten.

Sometimes we know the names of the babies pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings – occasionally alive, but often dead; or the names of the children weeping over lost parents; or the women grieving over lost husbands and children; or the elderly simply waiting (and sometimes wanting) to die.

We know Bana Alabed, the seven-year-old girl trapped inside Aleppo whose Twitter account has gone viral in recent weeks. “Hi I’m Bana I’m 7 years old girl in Aleppo [sic],” reads the on-page description. “I & my mom want to tell about the bombing here. Thank you.”

A series of pictures depicts Alabed and her mother, Fatemah, struggling to live as normal a life as possible, one showing the little girl sitting at an MDF desk with a book. Behind her, in the corner, is a doll. “Good afternoon from #Aleppo,” says the caption in English. “I’m reading to forget the war.”

The conflict, however, is never far away. Alabed, whose mother taught her English, has repeatedly tweeted her own fears about dying, followed by stoic messages of defiance whenever the immediate threat of an impending air strike passes. On the morning of 3 October, her words were simply: “Hello world we are still alive.” On 17 October, Fatemah tweeted: “The airstrikes ended in the morning, all the last night was raining bombs.”

But in most cases we never know the names of the victims of air assaults led by Presidents Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin. One of the most haunting images to emerge in recent weeks was that of a mother and child, killed while sleeping in the same bed. The scene had an eerily preserved-in-amber feel to it: a snapshot of snatched lives, frozen in the act of dying. Pictures of ruined buildings and distraught civilians have become routine now, holding our attention briefly – if at all.

As many as 500,000 people are believed to have been killed since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in early 2011. According to a report released in February this year by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research, a further 1.9 million have been wounded. Taken together, those figures alone account for 11.5 per cent of Syria’s pre-revolutionary population. Combine that with the number of Syrians who have been displaced – more than ten million (almost 50 per cent of the population) – and the sheer scale of the disaster becomes apparent.

The conflict has become the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Today it centres on Aleppo, in north-west Syria, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and a cradle of human civilisation. Various conquerors from the Mongols to the French have fought battles there but none, so it would seem, has been quite as ruthless or committed to the city’s annihilation as Bashar al-Assad.

Aleppo remains the most significant urban centre to have been captured by the anti-Assad rebels, most of whom will (by now) be strongly influenced by an Islamist world-view. Indeed, the most prominent fighting groups on the rebel side are overwhelmingly Islamist in their troop composition and beliefs, a sad marker of Western failures to support secular forces that led the anti-regime resistance in the incipient phases of the uprising.

Yet Aleppo remains too important to fail. Although rebel forces succeeded in capturing only half of the city – the western side remained firmly in the control of the regime – the symbolism of anti-Assad forces holding ground in Syria’s second city (which also served as the country’s economic hub) has buoyed the rebel movement.

Assad is more brazen and bullish than at any other point since eastern Aleppo fell into rebel hands in July 2012. That optimism is born of a strategy that has already worked in other parts of the country where the regime’s troops have slowly encircled rebel-held areas and then sealed them off. Nothing can leave, and nothing can enter. Once the ground forces seal off an area, an aerial campaign of barrel bombs and missile attacks from both Syrian and Russian fighter jets inevitably follows.

To get a sense of just how terrible the aerial campaign has been, consider that the United States accused the Russian air force of potential war crimes when a UN aid convoy was bombed just west of Aleppo last month. It was carrying food and medicines when it was hit. Since then, the UK and France have said that Russia’s bombardment of Aleppo amounts to a war crime.

Putin’s support has come as a boon to Assad ever since Russia formally entered the conflict in September 2015. Despite his administration already using Iranian forces and aligned groups such as the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah, rebels had continued to make significant gains throughout the early months of 2015. The most important of these was the capture of Idlib city, 40 miles from Aleppo, which presented Assad with two problems. The first was that it dented the official narrative of revanchist military successes by his forces. The ­second was that it handed the rebels power in a province adjoining Latakia Governorate in the west, where Syria’s Alawites are largely concentrated (Russia has an airbase in an area south-east of the city of Latakia). The Alawites are a heterodox Shia sect to which the Assad family belongs, and which forms the core of their support base.

Keen to reverse these gains – and others made elsewhere – Assad enlisted Putin, given Russia’s long-standing interests in, and ties to, Syria. The Kremlin has long regarded Syria as an important ally, and has served as the country’s main arms supplier for the past decade. There are important assets to preserve, too, such as the Russian naval base in the port city of Tartus on the Mediterranean, which was first established during the Soviet era.

For his part, Putin has felt emboldened by events. The world is changing – not just in the Middle East and North Africa, where the
contours of power continue to be recast, but also closer to home in Ukraine, where the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in 2014.

The West is still haunted by the 2003 invasion of Iraq and has been reluctant to be drawn too deeply into the Syrian War. In 2013, the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people. This was a violation of President Barack Obama’s so-called red line against the use of chemical weapons, but no retaliatory action came and there was nothing to prevent the Kremlin from using force to shape events in Syria – as it had done in Ukraine.

All of this has marked a new phase of brutality in a conflict already noted for its barbarism. Civilians who avoid death from combined Russo-Syrian air assaults suffer under Assad’s strategy of “starve or submit”, in which supplies are withheld from besieged areas, slowly choking off those ­inside. It has been used to devastating effect against civilians in towns such as Madaya and in Daraya, on the outskirts of Damascus, both of which fell to government control after being sealed off from the outside world for several years. Such a strategy is not designed to deliver quick victories, however. Consider how the residents of Daraya defied Assad’s forces for four years before capitulating in August 2016.

Assad and his allies (Putin, Iran, Hezbollah) have decided to punish and brutalise, deliberately, civilian populations in rebel-held areas. To invert the famous aphorism attributed to Chairman Mao, they hope to dredge the sea in which the revolutionaries swim. And so, it is the 300,000 residents of eastern Aleppo who must suffer now.




It’s easy to lose track of precisely what is happening in the Syrian War as parcels of land swap hands between rebels and the regime. Assad’s forces first began encircling Aleppo at the start of July this year and succeeded in imposing a siege by the middle of that month, after cutting off the last of two rebel-controlled supply routes into the city. The first was the Castello Road, which leads from the town of Handarat into the north-western part of ­rebel-controlled territory. The second route, via the Ramouseh district (which led into the south-western end of the city), had already been sealed off.

The closure lasted for roughly four to five weeks before the rebels re-established access. Aleppo is too important for them, and the siege has forced various groups to work together in breaking it. The effort was led by Jaish al-Fateh (JaF, the “Army of Conquest”), an umbrella group and command structure for several of the most prominent jihadist and Islamist groups operating in northern Syria. JaF also co-ordinated the Idlib military campaigns. One of its key members is Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS, “the Syrian Conquest Front”), which was previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN or “the Supporters’ Front”) and was recognised as al-Qaeda’s official chapter in Syria.

Several months before the regime began its assault on Aleppo, rebel groups in the north recognised the deteriorating situation there, stemming principally from Russian air strikes. As a result, al-Qaeda urged the various factions to merge and work together to counteract not just Assad, but also Putin. Even the global leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a speech last May titled “Go Forth to Syria”, in which he called on all fighting groups to unite in order to consolidate their control across the north. This opened the way at the end of July for Jabhat al-Nusra to declare that it was formally severing its links with al-Qaeda. It “rebranded” as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

There are two reasons for doing this. The first is to erode partisanship among the Islamist groups, forcing them to set aside differences and narrow their ambitions in favour of the greater goal – in this case, the breaking of the siege of Aleppo, while also deepening rebel control across the north. The second aim of rebranding is to win popular support by portraying themselves as fighting in the service of ordinary civilians.

Groups such as JFS and others are succeeding in both of these goals. Responding to the abandoned and assaulted residents of Aleppo, they have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to alleviating the humanitarian crisis. Much of their messaging echoes this theme. The group’s English-language spokesman is Mostafa Mahamed, an Egyptian who previously lived in Australia. “[JFS] is deeply embedded in society, made up from the average Syrian people,” he explained on Twitter, after the group decoupled from al-Qaeda. “We will gladly lay down our lives before being forced into a situation that does not serve the people we are fighting for . . . jihad today is bigger than us, bigger than our differences.”

It is indisputable that this ethos of “fighting for the people” has endeared the group to civilians living in besieged areas – even when those civilians don’t necessarily agree with the full spectrum of its religious beliefs or political positions. That goodwill was only reinforced when the group helped break the siege of Aleppo (in which approximately 500 rebels were killed) in August, if only for a few days. Assad reasserted control within a week, and entrapped the residents again in the middle of that month. The rebels are now planning how to break the siege decisively, but have not yet launched a major counteroffensive.




A freelance American journalist and film-maker, Bilal Abdul Kareem, who has reported on rebel movements inside Syria more intimately than most, has found himself among those trapped inside eastern Aleppo since the siege was restored seven weeks ago. “We came here expecting a two- or three-day trip,” he told me during an interview over Skype.

Life inside is becoming insufferable for civilians, Abdul Kareem said; every building is potted and scarred by shrapnel damage. Those whose homes remain standing are the lucky ones. “Your day consists of nothing,” he said. “There’s no work, there’s no fuel, no industrial zone, no food to sell. ­People sit around and chit-chat, drink tea, and that’s all they do.”

Food supplies are already running low, with most people limiting themselves to basics of chickpeas and groats – crushed grains such as oats or wheat. Sealed off from the rest of the world, those inside preoccupy themselves with survival and wait for the next wave of attacks.

It is tempting to ask why the inhabitants of Aleppo did not flee when they had the chance. Indeed, the Assad regime routinely accuses the rebels of preventing civilians from leaving besieged areas, though there is no evidence to support this view. On 17 October Russia and the Syrian regime said they would halt their bombardment for eight hours on 20 October to allow rebels and civilians to evacuate the city.

In truth, what choice do the civilians have? Most do not trust Assad and they are therefore unwilling to move into regime-administered areas. The alternative is to become refugees, with all the uncertainties and trials associated with that. For instance, refugees have found themselves subject to sectarian violence in Lebanon, and they have few opportunities to find employment in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan, the three countries where most of the fleeing Syrians have found shelter.

For them, merely to exist in rebel territory is an act of defiance, which is precisely why Assad’s forces make no effort to distinguish between combatants and civilians in rebel areas. To be present is a crime.

The effects of this have been devastating. A spokesman for the Syrian American Medical Society told Middle East Eye, an online news portal, that in July, Syrian and Russian jets had hit medical facilities in rebel-held territory every 17 hours.

Only a few hospitals and medical staff remain. The physical conditions are primitive and perilous. Doctors work in makeshift facilities – a former flat, a commercial garage – which makes them unable to provide anything beyond basic emergency care. In-patient facilities are non-existent, not just because of high demand from those newly injured in fresh attacks, but also from fear that the facility itself will be targeted. “People are literally shuffled out of the hospital with IV [intravenous drips] in their arms,” Abdul Kareem says.

The West’s indifference to all this – coupled with its occasional pious pronouncements and diplomatic dithering – has squandered any goodwill Washington might once have had among Syria’s beleaguered civilians. When Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, and John Kerry, the US secretary of state, agreed a ceasefire in September it lasted barely two days because they overlooked the fears of those trapped inside eastern Aleppo.

The deal had stated that no party would try to capture any new territory. That might seem reasonable enough but given that the ceasefire came into effect just days after Assad re-established the siege of Aleppo, those on the inside were being asked, in effect, to acquiesce to their own starvation.

Deprived of food and medication, no one trusted Assad to negotiate access in good faith, especially after he thwarted UN efforts to deliver aid. “People saw it as a conspiracy,” Abdul Kareem told me. Moreover, there were no significant groups inside eastern Aleppo that claimed to have accepted the terms of the ceasefire in the first place. Kerry had negotiated on their behalf without approval and without securing any humanitarian concessions.

“What planet are these people on?” Abdul Kareem asked. “[Do] they think people will turn on their protectors, for people who didn’t do them any good? They look to JFS and Ahrar [Ahrar al-Sham is one of the Islamist groups fighting in JAF]. Western intervention is pie in the sky.”

The rise of these reactionary rebels is a direct result of liberal elements not being strongly supported at any stage in the conflict. Left to fend for themselves, many have deserted their cause. Those who have persisted not only risk the constant threat of being killed by Russo-Syrian bombs, but are also at threat from jihadist elements operating in rebel areas. That much was clear when remnants of the secular opposition protested against the leader of JFS, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, in the southern Idlib town of Maarat al-Nouman earlier this year. Many of those who did were arrested by jihadists and intimidated into silence.

Whereas liberals are fragmented and frayed, the Islamist rebels continue to coalesce into an ever more coherent unit. The overwhelming might of Russian airpower has convinced them of the need to form a united front in order to pool their resources and co-ordinate their efforts. That is one of the reasons why a jihadist group called Jund al-Aqsa (“Soldiers of al-Aqsa”) announced early this month that it was disbanding and being absorbed into JFS.

Herein lies the real story of how Aleppo – and, indeed, Syria itself – has been delivered to the jihadists. A conspiracy of all the external parties has forged a menacing millenarian movement that is embedded in civil society and communities across the north. Whether Aleppo falls or not, the jihadists will endure.

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a member of the war studies department at King’s College London

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood