New deal reached for Aleppo

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

A new deal has been reached to com­plete the evac­u­a­tion of rebel-held ar­eas of Syria’s east Aleppo which ground to a halt yes­ter­day over de­mands from pro-govern­ment forces that peo­ple also be moved out of two vil­lages be­sieged by rebels. Syr­ian rebel of­fi­cial Al-Farouk Abu Bakr, speak­ing from Aleppo to news channel Al-Ara­biya Al-Ha­dath yes­ter­day, said the deal com­prised an evac­u­a­tion from the two Shi­ite vil­lages be­sieged by in­sur­gents, the evac­u­a­tion of wounded peo­ple from two towns be­sieged by pro­gov­ern­ment forces near the Le­banese border, and the full evac­u­a­tion of re­bel­held east Aleppo.

A Syr­ian govern­ment of­fi­cial also said the stalled evac­u­a­tion of Aleppo would re­sume, along­side some evac­u­a­tions from the four be­sieged towns and vil­lages. “It was agreed to re­sume evac­u­a­tions from east Aleppo in par­al­lel with the evac­u­a­tion of (med­i­cal) cases from Ke­fraya and Al-Foua and some cases from Zabadani and Ma­daya,” said the govern­ment of­fi­cial, part of the evac­u­a­tions ne­go­ti­at­ing team. The Shi­ite vil­lages of Al-Foua and Ke­fraya in Idlib prov­ince are be­sieged by in­sur­gents. The towns of Ma­daya and Zabadani are block­aded by pro-govern­ment forces.

The op­er­a­tion to evac­u­ate fight­ers and civil­ians from the last op­po­si­tion-held area of Aleppo was sus­pended yes­ter­day, its sec­ond day, af­ter pro-govern­ment mili­tias de­manded that wounded peo­ple also be brought out of Al-Foua and Ke­fraya, and pro­test­ers blocked the road out of Aleppo. There were re­crim­i­na­tions on all sides and UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon said “Aleppo is now a synonym for hell”. Rebel sources ac­cused pro-govern­ment forces they iden­ti­fied as Shi­ite mili­tias of de­tain­ing and open­ing fire on a con­voy car­ry­ing evac­uees from east Aleppo on Fri­day.

Abu Bakr told Al-Ha­dath the pre­vi­ous agree­ment was breached by pro-govern­ment mili­tias who de­tained “hun­dreds” of peo­ple try­ing to leave, lead­ing to some deaths. A Syr­ian mil­i­tary source de­nied this, but said a con­voy try­ing to leave Aleppo was re­turned back to the city.

“Now we are work­ing on in­ter­na­tional guar­an­tees to guar­an­tee the safety of those who leave Aleppo so that such vi­o­la­tions are not re­peated,” Abu Bakr said.

The chaos sur­round­ing the Aleppo evac­u­a­tion re­flects the com­plex­ity of Syria’s civil war, with an ar­ray of groups and for­eign in­ter­ests in­volved on each side. Aleppo had been di­vided be­tween govern­ment and rebel ar­eas in the nearly six-year war, but a light­ning ad­vance by the Syr­ian army and its al­lies that be­gan in mid-Novem­ber de­prived the in­sur­gents of most of their ter­ri­tory in a mat­ter of weeks.

Ira­nian de­mands

The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, which mon­i­tors the war, said no buses or am­bu­lances had yet en­tered Al-Foua or Ke­fraya, but the op­er­a­tion was ex­pected to be­gin soon. It said in the vil­lages there are about 20,000 peo­ple, of whom roughly 4,500 are pro­gov­ern­ment fight­ers. Iran, one of Syria’s main al­lies, had de­manded that the vil­lages be in­cluded in any cease­fire deal, rebel and United Na­tions of­fi­cials have said.

Though both Rus­sia and Iran back Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad, rebels have blamed Tehran and the Shi­ite groups it backs in Syria for ob­struct­ing Moscow’s ef­forts to bro­ker the evac­u­a­tion of east Aleppo. Ear­lier this week, the govern­ment side de­manded the evac­u­a­tion of wounded peo­ple from al-Foua and Ke­fraya for the Aleppo deal to pro­ceed. Rebels ini­tially ac­cepted the de­mand, but on Fri­day it emerged that one group, for­merly known as the Nusra Front, had not agreed to it.

The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory said 8,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing some 3,000 fight­ers and more than 300 wounded, had left the city in con­voys of buses and am­bu­lances in the evac­u­a­tions that be­gan on Thurs­day morn­ing. Rebel of­fi­cials say the num­bers evac­u­ated are much lower, with no fight­ers hav­ing left. The head of the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross in Syria said no one knows how many peo­ple are left in rebel-held Aleppo, and the evac­u­a­tion could take days.

The UN says around 30,000 peo­ple re­main in the crowded en­clave of rebel-held Aleppo, of whom a num­ber would be taken to Idlib prov­ince, which is mostly con­trolled by hard­line Is­lamist groups, and the rest would go to govern­ment-held city dis­tricts. Idlib is al­ready a target for Syr­ian and Rus­sian air strikes but it is un­clear whether the govern­ment will push for a ground as­sault or sim­ply seek to con­tain rebels there for now. Turkey has said Aleppo evac­uees could also be housed in a camp to be con­structed near the Turk­ish border to the north.

Putin seeks cease­fire

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, Syria’s most pow­er­ful ally, said on Fri­day he was work­ing with Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Tayyip Er­do­gan to try to start a new round of Syr­ian peace talks aimed at se­cur­ing a na­tion­wide cease­fire. A se­nior Syr­ian op­po­si­tion leader, Riyad Hi­jab, said he was will­ing to at­tend the talks if the aim was to set up a tran­si­tion govern­ment. As­sad has ruled out step­ping down as part of a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the war. Aleppo, a once-flour­ish­ing eco­nomic cen­tre with renowned an­cient sites, has been pul­ver­ized dur­ing the war that has killed more than 300,000 peo­ple, cre­ated the world’s worst refugee cri­sis and al­lowed for the rise of Is­lamic State.

The United States has watched from the side­lines as the Syr­ian govern­ment and its al­lies, in­clud­ing Rus­sia, pinned down the rebels in an ever-di­min­ish­ing pocket of ter­ri­tory, cul­mi­nat­ing in a cease­fire this week. US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump said on Fri­day his ad­min­is­tra­tion would build “safe zones” to try to help civil­ians trapped in Syria’s bloody con­flict, an idea that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said would be too hard to en­force. “Re­spon­si­bil­ity for this bru­tal­ity lies in one place alone: with the As­sad regime and its al­lies Rus­sia and Iran. And this blood and these atroc­i­ties are on their hands,” Obama said on Fri­day.

The Syr­ian White Hel­mets civil de­fense group and other rights or­ga­ni­za­tions ac­cused Rus­sia of com­mit­ting or be­ing com­plicit in war crimes in Syria, say­ing Rus­sian air strikes in the Aleppo re­gion had killed 1,207 civil­ians, in­clud­ing 380 chil­dren. Even with vic­tory for As­sad in Aleppo, the war will be far from over. In­sur­gents re­tain their ru­ral strong­hold of Idlib prov­ince, and the ji­hadist Is­lamic State group holds swathes of the east and re­cap­tured the an­cient city of Palmyra this week.

— AP

United Na­tions staff and other sup­port­ers as­sem­ble on UN head­quar­ters grounds, around a sculp­ture en­ti­tled ‘Non-Vi­o­lence’, to show their sol­i­dar­ity with the peo­ple of Aleppo.

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