US president ‘not optimistic’ on Syria as Aleppo pummelled
PRESIDENT Barack Obama is “not optimistic” about Syria’s future, as the UN warned time is running out to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo which has been pounded by air strikes for nearly a week.
Government forces launched a ferocious assault last week to recapture eastern Aleppo, killing 300 civilians so far. In fresh fighting on November 20, at least eight children died when rebel rocket fire hit their school in the government-controlled west.
Mr Obama warned that Syria’s second city was likely to fall, and that Russian and Iranian backing for leader Bashar al Assad had made the situation untenable for the opposition.
“I am not optimistic about the short-term prospects in Syria,” he said at the APEC summit in Lima.
“Once Russia and Iran made a decision to back Assad in a brutal air campaign ... it was very hard to see a way in which even a trained and committed moderate opposition could hold its ground for long.”
Mr Obama earlier urged greater efforts to end the violence when he met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Lima.
But in Damascus, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura was rebuffed on a truce proposal that would allow the opposition to administer the city’s rebel-held east.
“We are running out of time, we are running against time,” Mr de Mistura said after meeting Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.
Mr Muallem said he had rejected the proposal, under which jihadist forces would leave and the government would recognise the opposition administration in the east which has been bombarded by air strikes, barrel bombs and artillery.
Aid agencies fear that instead of a humanitarian or a political initiative there will be “an acceleration of military activities” in eastern Aleppo.
On November 20, rebels retaliated with a barrage of rockets into government-held western Aleppo, state media said, hitting a primary school and killing at least eight children. Syrian television showed bloodied, weeping children being treated in hospital.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned the indiscriminate shelling, saying it had killed civilians, destroyed schools and no functioning hospitals.
More than 250,000 people remain in eastern Aleppo, which has been sealed off since government forces surrounded it in mid-July.
No aid has entered the east since then, and the siege has created food and fuel shortages. –