Syria op­po­si­tion says ‘im­pos­si­ble to refuse ji­hadist help in Aleppo’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Peo­ple stuck in war-rav­aged Aleppo do not have the lux­ury of re­fus­ing help from ji­hadists, a high-level mem­ber of Syria’s main op­po­si­tion said, lash­ing out at in­ter­na­tional “in­ac­tion” in break­ing the siege. Da­m­as­cus and its Rus­sian ally have used the pres­ence of fight­ers with for­mer Al-Qaeda af­fil­i­ate Fateh al-Sham Front-pre­vi­ously called Al-Nusra Front-to jus­tify their of­fen­sive on rebel-held eastern Aleppo. The top UN en­voy for Syria, Staffan de Mis­tura, has also called on the fight­ers to leave the city to help en­able aid to reach the es­ti­mated 250,000 civil­ians liv­ing un­der siege.

But Khaled Khoja, a top ne­go­tia­tor with the High Ne­go­ti­a­tions Com­mit­tee (HNC) op­po­si­tion um­brella group, in­sisted that trapped and des­per­ate res­i­dents and the armed rebels try­ing to de­fend them had been left with no op­tion but to ac­cept help from the Is­lamist fight­ers. “The in­ac­tion of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in terms of break­ing the siege of Aleppo al­lowed alNusra to in­ter­vene in this bat­tle,” he told AFP in Geneva late Mon­day. “You can­not ask the peo­ple who are suf­fer­ing in­side Aleppo be­cause of the siege to refuse the help from any­one,” he said.

His com­ments came af­ter op­po­si­tion fac­tions al­lied with ji­hadists launched a ma­jor as­sault on Fri­day, backed by car bombs and salvos of rock­ets, to end the regime’s three-month en­cir­clement of the city’s eastern dis­tricts. He said there were only around 300 Nusra fight­ers in eastern Aleppo out of around 20,000 rebels-num­bers that dif­fer wildly from a UN es­ti­mate of around 8,000 rebels in the be­sieged part of the city, in­clud­ing some 900 who be­long to Fateh Al-Sham.

Not tar­get­ing civil­ians

Khoja re­jected wide­spread crit­i­cism of op­po­si­tion fire on civil­ians in western Aleppo, stress­ing that “as HNC we don’t ac­cept civil­ian tar­gets”. Ac­cord­ing to the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, a Bri­tain-based mon­i­tor, heavy rebel rocket fire since Fri­day has killed 51 civil­ians, in­clud­ing 18 chil­dren. Khoja ac­knowl­edged that there had been civil­ian ca­su­al­ties as the rebels strug­gle to break the siege, but blamed in­ter­na­tional back­ers like the United States who had re­fused to pro­vide ac­cu­rate weapons. He said the rebels “are not tar­get­ing civil­ians, they are tar­get­ing the regime, but... the bombs they are us­ing are not per­fect bombs”. On the other side, he said, “the Rus­sians are tar­get­ing civil­ians, the regime is tar­get­ing civil­ians. It’s un­com­pa­ra­ble.” Khoja also voiced hope that the US elec­tion next week would push Wash­ing­ton to more ac­tively sup­port the op­po­si­tion in Syria. “We heard (Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary) Clin­ton talk­ing about civil­ian pro­tec­tion, no-fly-zones, which is some­thing we wel­come and that we de­mand,” he said.

He was more wary of a pos­si­ble win by Repub­li­can can­di­date Don­ald Trump, who he said came across as “very close to (Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-) As­sad and to the Rus­sians.” But he said that once Trump re­ceived more in­for­ma­tion about the Syr­ian con­flict “we hope he can change his at­ti­tude”. Devel­op­ments in Wash­ing­ton aside, Khoja voiced lit­tle op­ti­mism that the UN-backed peace talks could re­sume soon. “We can’t talk about a po­lit­i­cal process un­less we al­le­vi­ate the suf­fer­ing of the peo­ple on the ground. They are suf­fer­ing from sieges, from star­va­tion, from bomb­ing and shellings,” he said.

But in a small sign of progress, he and other HNC ne­go­tia­tors were back in Geneva for the first time since they walked out of talks six months ago amid soar­ing vi­o­lence on the ground. Khoja said they were in the Swiss city not for po­lit­i­cal talks but for tech­ni­cal dis­cus­sions with de Mis­tura’s staff on the is­sue of de­tainees. — AFP

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