Gov­ern­ment forces tighten grip on Aleppo

IS re-en­ters Syria’s an­cient desert city of Palmyra af­ter be­ing driven out 8 months ago

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Beirut and Aleppo, Syria

The Syr­ian army tight­ened its grip on rebels be­sieged in Aleppo with thou­sands of civil­ians but suf­fered a set­back as ji­hadists re­took much of the an­cient city of Palmyra.

Air strikes pum­melled the shrink­ing rebel en­clave in east Aleppo as West­ern pow­ers meet­ing in Paris called for peace talks to re­sume and for civil­ians to be al­lowed to leave Aleppo, where tens of thou­sands have al­ready fled the of­fen­sive.

The diplo­matic flurry came as a US-backed al­liance an­nounced it would launch the sec­ond phase of its bat­tle for the Is­lamic State group’s de facto Syr­ian cap­i­tal of Raqa fur­ther east.

Wash­ing­ton an­nounced it was send­ing an ad­di­tional 200 troops to sup­port that of­fen­sive against IS.

Aleppo has wit­nessed some of the most bru­tal vi­o­lence of Syria’s nearly six-year war.

In less than a month, forces loyal to the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment have over­run around 85 per­cent of east Aleppo, a rebel strong­hold since 2012.

UN Syria en­voy Staffan de Mis­tura said the world is watch­ing “the last steps” in the Aleppo bat­tle and evac­u­at­ing civil­ians must be a pri­or­ity.

A mon­i­tor­ing group said on Sunday more than 10,000 peo­ple had fled rebel-held ar­eas of the bat­tle­ground city since mid­night (lo­cal time).

“They fled to­ward gov­ern­ment-held ar­eas in west Aleppo,” said Rami Ab­del Rah­man, head of the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights.

A res­i­dent in the city’s south­east told AFP that he saw large crowds of peo­ple flee­ing dur­ing the night to­wards gov­ern­ment-held dis­tricts in west Aleppo.

An AFP cor­re­spon­dent in west Aleppo said that heavy bom­bard­ment of the east was heard through the night, and that it was so in­tense that it rat­tled win­dows in west­ern dis­tricts.

With the fight­ing in­ten­si­fy­ing on Saturday af­ter a brief respite, a UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly res­o­lu­tion de­manded an im­me­di­ate cease fire and ur­gent aid de­liv­er­ies.

But both Moscow and Da­m­as­cus have re­jected talk of a cease fire without a rebel with­drawal — a de­mand that op­po­si­tion re­fused.

Af­ter meet­ing op­po­si­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Saturday, French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Marc Ayrault said the op­po­si­tion was will­ing to re­sume peace talks “without pre-con­di­tions”.

How­ever, a diplo­matic source told AFP the op­po­si­tion re­quired a po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion in Syria be­fore it would agree to take part. groups have

‘No mil­i­tary so­lu­tion’

“There can be no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion in Syria,” Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris Johnson said in Paris, urg­ing “a re­turn to a po­lit­i­cal process with the cred­i­bil­ity nec­es­sary for all par­ties to com­mit to an end to all the fight­ing”.

The fall of east Aleppo would be the big­gest blow for the rebels since the war be­gan in 2011.

It be­gan as a protest move­ment but has since evolved into an all-out war that has seen ji­hadists such as IS rise to promi­nence.

IS re-en­tered Syria’s famed an­cient desert city of Palmyra on Saturday af­ter be­ing driven out eight months ago, the Ob­ser­va­tory’s Rami Ab­del Rah­man said.

“Af­ter a quick ad­vance, IS now con­trols most of the city of Palmyra ex­cept the south­ern part,” he said.

“The air­port which is out­side the city ( just to the east) is now sur­rounded by ji­hadists.”

Syr­ian and Rus­sian war­planes were in ac­tion, “but the prob­lem is that there are not enough Syr­ian forces in the city”, he said, adding that Rus­sian air strikes on Palmyra in­creased in the even­ing.

At least 100 mem­bers of pro-gov­ern­ment force mem­bers have been killed by IS in and around Palmyra since Thurs­day, the Ob­ser­va­tory said.

In May last year, IS seized sev­eral towns in Homs prov­ince in­clud­ing Palmyra, which is on UNESCO’s World Her­itage List.

They caused ex­ten­sive dam­age to many an­cient sites in Palmyra be­fore be­ing ousted in March by Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces.

The air­port which is out­side the city is now sur­rounded by ji­hadists.” Rami Ab­del Rah­man, Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights

ABDALRHMAN IS­MAIL / REUTERS

A boy pulls a cart with water con­tain­ers in a rebel-held and be­sieged area of Aleppo, Syria, on Saturday.

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