The Cable

Holocaust Museum Wades Into Syria Debate With Calls To Help Aleppo

The federally-funded organization is using a video shot on the ground there to call for steps the Obama administration has rejected.

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Taking on a more activist role in response to the growing death toll in eastern Aleppo, the United States Holocaust Museum is using a new video filmed inside the besieged city to bolster its calls for the international community to take immediate steps to protect civilians from mass atrocities there.

Though the museum, a federally-funded organization, generally avoids taking policy positions, the video features distressed Syrians and a Syrian-American aid worker calling for the creation of a no-fly zone or humanitarian corridor, proposals that President Barack Obama has rejected for years.

“This is a turning point,” Cameron Hudson, a director at the museum, told Foreign Policy. “If the town is destroyed, it could double the death count in the conflict, and be a harbinger of an even worse calamity to come.”

The video titled #SaveSyria documents recent atrocities faced by Syrians in Aleppo, which is under intense bombardment by Damascus after a surprise advance by rebels last weekend.

The central characters are Syrian-American doctors who narrate their struggles to save the grievously wounded. The film also contains harrowing scenes from the frontlines there, including a massive barrel bomb explosion and footage showing a child who was killed by flying shrapnel.

“What can the international community do?” Dr. Mohammed Sahloul, the former president of the Syrian American Medical Society, said during an on camera interview in the film. “No fly-zones or safe zones, and also maintaining access to areas under siege.”

The United Nations is currently calling for a ceasefire in Aleppo to provide humanitarian aid to the more than two million civilians without water or electricity after airstrikes pulverized the civilian infrastructure. The U.N. estimates that 250,000 to 270,000 people are trapped in rebel-held east Aleppo due to the closing of a key access route.

On Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry announced a new ceasefire plan for the divided Syrian city involving a daily three-hour cessation of hostilities to allow humanitarian convoys to enter the war-ravaged commercial center. Such plans have been viewed with skepticism among the rebels, who believe Damascus uses the pauses to resupply troops.

Calls for a no-fly zone, which would require U.S. pilots to patrol Syrian skies and potentially destroy Syrian air defenses and shoot down Russian planes, have been rejected by the Obama administration due to concerns about escalating the U.S. role in the conflict and an array of logistical and diplomatic considerations.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has supported a no-fly zone, but said she would do so after gaining Russian support for the operation. When asked about a no fly zone, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he prefers a “safe zone” that could harbor displaced people without forcing them to migrate to other countries. He has also said he would like to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to defeat the Islamic State in Syria. 

“The world is facing another Srebrenica moment,” said Hudson. “There can be no greater priority right now than guaranteeing humanitarian access, protecting civilian populations and preventing a massive, imminent loss of life.”

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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