LATELY they have been dropping not just bombs on besieged eastern Aleppo. Scattered among the canyons of ruins of this once-beautiful city lie leaflets dropped by Syrian and Russian warplanes that leave the remaining civilian population in no doubt as to their fate should they chose to stay.

“If you do not leave these areas urgently, you will be annihilated … You know that everyone has given up on you. They left you alone to face your doom, and nobody will give you any help,” reads the chilling message on the leaflets.

After five years of unrelenting carnage from the Syrian civil war many people in Aleppo understandably have had enough and are heeding the warnings.

Over the past few days an estimated 30,000 people are reported to be receiving aid after fleeing the besieged eastern zone, taking the total number of displaced in Aleppo to more than 400,000.

Difficult as it is to imagine, the intensity of the ground and air campaign on the eastern zone has intensified since September.

Since then Syrian government forces and their Russian and Lebanese allies have ratcheted up the fighting, launching a ferocious assault, cutting off rebels in their most important stronghold, and leaving around 250,000 civilians with rapidly dwindling food and medical facilities.

Last week the city’s rebels suffered their biggest reverse in four years, losing around a third of the area they had controlled.

The suffering of civilians in Aleppo is on an unimaginable level, prompting one World Food Programme spokesperson recently to describe what he called the city’s “slow descent into hell.”

Last week in advance of a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the worsening humanitarian crisis, the French UN ambassador, Francois Delattre, warned that Aleppo was facing what could be one of the biggest massacres of a civilian population since the Second World War.

While death continues to come from the skies, those choosing to flee what was once known as the “Jewel of Syria”, fear arrest and interrogation by the Syrian army or the country’s infamous mukhabarat, or secret police.

Among those fleeing are nearly 20,000 children, according to estimates by UNICEF.

“What is critical now is that we provide the immediate and sustained assistance that these children and their families desperately need,” said UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac.

“It’s a race against time, as winter is here and conditions are basic,” Boulierac warned.

Last week Stephen O'Brien the UN's humanitarian affairs chief, pleaded with UN Security Council members to protect civilians “for the sake of humanity”. The besieged part of eastern Aleppo he said was in danger of becoming “one giant graveyard.”

As he spoke regime forces “consolidated their control” over two eastern districts and were pushing further to squeeze the shrinking rebel enclave, confirmed Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“After the recent advances, the regime is comfortably in control of half of former rebel territory in the city’s east,” Rahman said.

In a desperate attempt to halt the regime advance, rebels were reported this weekend to have agreed to form a new military alliance to better organise the defence of parts of the city they still control.

According to two officials from the insurgent groups, the new alliance would be called the “Aleppo Army” and led by the commander of the Jabha Shamiya rebel faction, one of the major groups fighting in northern Syria under the Free Syrian Army banner.

An official with a second rebel group confirmed that the Jabha Shamiya's Abu Abdelrahman Nour had been selected as the new alliance’s leader.

According to UN estimates, in all approximately 400,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict to date and more than half of the country’s population has been driven from their homes.

Five years on from the revolts that toppled four Arab leaders, and became known as the Arab Spring, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad continues to cling to power with Russian help. The capture of Aleppo would be a major victory for his regime.

Aleppo and with the city of Mosul in Iraq have become today’s epicentres of conflict in the Middle East. The violence that grips both cities and beyond points to a region still wracked by instability and reeling from the aftermath of the uprisings of 2011 that marked the so called Arab Spring or Awakening.

Aleppo itself has become emblematic of the impotence of the international community, and its failure to take effective measures to stop rampant abuses and violations of international law as the Syrian catastrophe has worsened over the last five years.

If that five years has proved traumatic for the region, then the latest indicators are that things look just as bleak for the Arab world in the years ahead.

Published only last week the UN’s latest Arab Development Report makes for alarming reading.

Although home to only five per cent of the world’s population, in 2014 the Arab world accounted for 45 per cent of the world’s terrorism, 68 per cent of its battle-related deaths, 47 per cent of its internally displaced and 58 per cent of its refugees.

While the new generation of Arabs is now the largest, the most well educated and the most highly urbanised in the history of the Arab region, they facing daunting prospects.

By 2020 the UN report estimates that almost three out of four Arabs could be “living in countries vulnerable to conflict”.

Back in 2002 five Arab states were gripped by war, today there are 11 caught in its maelstrom.

Right now the Arab world is undergoing its most transformative change for almost a century.

According to the acclaimed Egyptian political economist and author, Tarek Osman, there are factors in this transformation that could plunge the Arab world into more disintegration, violence and chaos that has been witnessed in the last five years.

“A common threat throughout the Arab world is violent Islamism, a phenomenon that was on decline in the Arab world since the late-1990s but is back with a vengeance,” says Osman.

He points to the fact that this time however, violent Islamism seeks not just to overthrow regimes it deems to be heretical as was the case between the 1970s and 1990s, but now seeks to create its own political entities.

The al-Qaeda affiliate the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (IS) are points in case. Both have established “primitive yet functional governing structures, increasingly offering educational and health care services to those in the areas they control.”

This, says Osman, has taken parts of the Arab world away from the 21st-century and back in some cases to a seventh-century way of political and cultural thinking.

Osman points also to another force generating violence in the Arab world. Since the Arab Awakening of 2011 over 300,000 Arabs have been killed and more than four million displaced as a result of civil wars, social confrontations and state-sanctioned bloodshed.

This, he says, has diminished any hope for justice and engenders a culture of revenge. Across the region emerging non-state actors have increasingly taken matters into their own hands when it comes to righting perceived wrongs or protecting perceived rights.

As states have failed, Arab youth especially have identified more with their religion, sect or tribe than their country.

According to the findings of the latest UN report, the Arab youth population aged 15-29 now numbers 105 million and while growing fast it is outstripped by the speed of growing unemployment, poverty and marginalisation.

Right now the Arab youth unemployment rate stands at 30 per cent, more than twice the world’s average. It’s estimated too that almost half of young Arab women looking for jobs fail to find them, against a global average of 16 per cent.

“Young people are gripped by an inherent sense of discrimination and exclusion,” the report says, highlighting a “weakening [of] their commitment to preserving government institutions.”

Of the 180 million Arabs under 35 year of age, the majority came of age in the last two decades, precisely the time when republics turned into familial fiefdoms, and corruption and conflict reached appalling levels.

In responding to security threats Arab regimes tend to further tighten their grip, limiting social and physical mobility at home forcing young Arabs to travel abroad. Now though as the region is gripped by turmoil, that freedom of movement is restricted more than ever, creating a pressure-cooker environment.

“The moment I ban a displaced or marginalised person from travelling to work, I’m implicitly leaving him as a victim for an extremist ideology,” warns Jad Chaaban, the lead author of the UN report.

Some Arab analysts, Tarek Osman among them, believe that the hope born with the Arab Spring that the Middle East will finally move towards liberal democracy has been replaced by a degree of despair.

“Already international observers have begun to dismiss the Arab world as a region stuck in medieval ways of thinking and governance, a region on its way “out of history,” he observed in an article entitled The Two Futures of the Arab World.

If the first and most depressing scenario is more chaos and conflict then the alternative would be that certain positive factors prevail that would salvage the Arab world and help move it on a more constructive trajectory. To this end, says Osman, there exists a promising wealth of young talent that if not restricted or oppressed are fully aware of the current predicament and more than capable of making a better future for themselves and wider Arab society. How that is expressed however is another question.

Over the last five years close to 40 million young Arabs, mainly in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, have come to live in regions without central authority or rule of law.

Pointing to the fact that Arab protest movements tend to come in five-year cycles, the latest UN Arab Development Report, highlights how young Arabs, “may prefer more direct, more violent means, especially if they are convinced that existing mechanisms for participation and accountability are useless.”

As ever, should another Arab Awakening erupt, then how the West responds will be crucial. Some analysts point to the fact that Western leaders should not be surprised however if a new generation of Arabs takes little heed of what they say or do.

Many of that generation are all too aware of how their predecessors while trying to democratise their countries back in 2011, were manipulated or badly let down by Western governments.

Much the same feeling exists in Aleppo where people despair of the lack on intervention by the West and international community that might spare them from the horrors currently unfolding in their city and Syria at large.

This weekend the massive displacement of civilians in Aleppo reached new levels as the fighting intensified. World leaders meanwhile continued to pay lip service to calls for a ceasefire, with no signs that one would materialise soon.

Aleppo is not the Arab world. It does however sit at the epicentre of the Syrian civil war that was born out of the last Arab Awakening. If nothing else its fate and that of its civilians should act as a wake up call as to the potential ramifications of what the shifting political landscape of the Middle East and Arab world means. Right now few seem to be listening or taking heed.