Rebels warned to quit Aleppo

Rus­sia, Iran, Turkey agree on need to widen truce

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Syria’s army yes­ter­day urged the last re­main­ing rebels and civil­ians to leave the be­sieged op­po­si­tion en­clave in Aleppo as it pre­pares to take full con­trol of the dev­as­tated city. The evac­u­a­tion of Aleppo’s rebel sec­tor is seen as a piv­otal mo­ment in the nearly six-year war that has killed more than 310,000 peo­ple and trig­gered a ma­jor hu­man­i­tar­ian and refugee cri­sis. Fol­low­ing a flurry of diplo­matic ac­tiv­ity, key regime al­lies Rus­sia and Iran as well as rebel sup­porter Turkey agreed to act as guar­an­tors in Syria peace talks, Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov said. They also backed ex­pand­ing a cease­fire, ac­cord­ing to Lavrov, who said the evac­u­a­tion of east Aleppo should fin­ish within “one or two days”.

The for­eign min­is­ters from Rus­sia, Iran and Turkey adopted a doc­u­ment they called the “Moscow Dec­la­ra­tion”, which set out the prin­ci­ples that any peace agree­ment should fol­low. “Iran, Rus­sia and Turkey are ready to fa­cil­i­tate the draft­ing of an agree­ment, which is al­ready be­ing ne­go­ti­ated, be­tween the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and the op­po­si­tion, and to be­come its guar­an­tors,” the dec­la­ra­tion said.

In a boost to the trou­bled peace process, the min­is­ters agreed on “the im­por­tance of widen­ing the cease­fire, of free ac­cess for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid and move­ment of civil­ians onto Syr­ian ter­ri­to­ries”.

Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan mean­while said he had agreed with Rus­sian coun­ter­part Vladimir Putin in a phone call that the as­sas­si­na­tion of Moscow’s am­bas­sador in Ankara on Mon­day would not harm co­op­er­a­tion in­clud­ing on Syria.

In east Aleppo yes­ter­day, sol­diers us­ing mega­phones called on the re­main­ing fight­ers and civil­ians to exit the op­po­si­tion districts, a mil­i­tary source told AFP. “The army is ex­pected to en­ter (Aleppo) to clean the area af­ter the fight­ers leave,” the source said. At least 25,000 peo­ple have left rebel districts of Aleppo since the op­er­a­tion be­gan last week, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross, which is over­see­ing the op­er­a­tion. Spokeswoman Ingy Sedky said 750 peo­ple had been evac­u­ated in par­al­lel from Fuaa and Kafraya, two Shi­ite-ma­jor­ity vil­lages in north­west Syria be­sieged by rebels, as part of the deal.

Ten buses left the bat­tered east yes­ter­day morn­ing, Sedky told AFP. But no other buses moved the rest of the day, ac­cord­ing to the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights and a med­i­cal of­fi­cial over­see­ing evac­u­a­tions. Ob­ser­va­tory head Rami Ab­del Rah­man said the de­lay was due to com­pli­ca­tions in Fuaa and Kafraya.Around 20 buses had en­tered the two vil­lages yes­ter­day but had yet to evac­u­ate any­one, Ab­del Rah­man said, but he had no de­tails on the rea­son.

State news agency SANA blamed the “de­lay in the last batch” of evac­u­a­tions from Aleppo on “dis­putes” among rebel groups. “I’m wait­ing for my brother to get out of east Aleppo - he’s a 70-year-old civil­ian,” Nuhad Al-Seikh told AFP just out­side rebel-held Aleppo. “I’ve been speak­ing to him over the cell­phone. He said he boarded a bus but is still wait­ing,” said the 55-year-old.

An AFP cor­re­spon­dent at Khan Al-As­sal, the stag­ing ground where evac­uees from Aleppo, Fuaa and Kafraya were be­ing trans­ferred to their re­spec­tive des­ti­na­tions, saw hun­dreds of peo­ple aboard eight buses from the two vil­lages. Bashar Bab­bour, who works with the med­i­cal char­ity UOSSM, told AFP from Khan Al-As­sal that evac­uees from yes­ter­day morn­ing looked cold and ex­hausted. “When peo­ple are go­ing to the med­i­cal as­sess­ment teams, most of them ask for food and water, in ad­di­tion to blan­kets, es­pe­cially if they’re ar­riv­ing at night,” Bab­bour said. He said many other evac­uees were also ask­ing if there was In­ter­net ac­cess there so they could con­tact friends or rel­a­tives.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion said the Aleppo evac­uees in­cluded around 300 need­ing med­i­cal treat­ment, among them dozens of chil­dren. “The huge ma­jor­ity of th­ese pa­tients have trauma in­juries,” spokesman Tarik Jasare­vic said, ad­ding that 93 peo­ple in crit­i­cal con­di­tion had been re­ferred to hos­pi­tals in Turkey. Aleppo was once Syria’s com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial hub, but it has been di­vided since 2012 be­tween gov­ern­ment forces in the west and rebels in the east.

Gov­ern­ment forces launched an of­fen­sive in midNovem­ber to cap­ture the whole city, and had seized more than 90 per­cent of the eastern half when the evac­u­a­tion deal was struck. In a regime-held neigh­bor­hood on the south­ern edges of Aleppo, an AFP cor­re­spon­dent saw Syr­ian troops strolling through the area yes­ter­day while oth­ers gath­ered around burn­ing tyres to stay warm. “I hope today is the last day of rebels leav­ing, be­cause we’ve been promised we can go on va­ca­tion and rest if the op­er­a­tion ends today,” said Akram, a sol­dier.

Diplo­matic ef­forts - in­clud­ing sev­eral rounds of peace talks in Geneva - have failed to re­solve the con­flict, which reached a turn­ing point last year when Rus­sia launched air strikes in sup­port of As­sad. In a rare show of in­ter­na­tional unity, the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on Mon­day unan­i­mously adopted a French-drafted res­o­lu­tion to mon­i­tor the Aleppo evac­u­a­tions. UN en­voy Staffan de Mis­tura also said he hoped to con­vene new peace talks in Geneva in Fe­bru­ary. —Agen­cies

MOSCOW: (From left) Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif, Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov and Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu at­tend a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day. — AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.