U.N. warns of Aleppo’s de­struc­tion

Syria en­voy: City could be razed by war

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Jamey Keaten and Philip Issa

GENEVA — The U.N. en­voy for Syria called on al-Qaida-linked mil­i­tants to leave the em­bat­tled city of Aleppo i n ex­change for an end to govern­ment and Rus­sian bom­bard­ment, warn­ing Thurs­day t hat thou­sands of civil­ians could be killed and the his­toric city “de­stroyed” by year end if con­di­tions do not soon change.

Spe­cial en­voy Staffan de Mis­tura urged fight­ers from Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham to leave the city in ex­change for peace. The group was pre­vi­ously known as Nusra Front and changed its name af­ter an­nounc­ing it had split from al-Qaida ear­lier this year. The U.N. con­sid­ers it a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion.

De Mis­tura en­treated both sides to “look at my eyes” be­fore of­fer­ing to “per­son­ally” es­cort the fight­ers to a refuge of their choos­ing, pro­vided they agree to lay down their arms. The com­bined Syr­ian govern­ment and Rus­sian bom­bard­ment of the city’s rebel-held east has killed 376 peo­ple over the last two weeks, the en­voy said. While far fewer have been killed in t he western side, which has a pop­u­la­tion of over a mil­lion, pre­sumed rebel shelling killed at least eight peo­ple Thurs­day, Syr­ian state me­dia and ob­servers said. It marked one of the blood­i­est days in re­cent mem­ory for govern­ment-held neigh­bor­hoods of the city.

De Mis­tura ac­knowl­edged that the fight­ers would “need some guar­an­tees” be­fore an evac­u­a­tion De Mis­tura Syr­ian pro-govern­ment sol­diers hold a po­si­tion Thurs­day as they ad­vance in Aleppo. to an­other rebel-held part of the coun­try but said these would have to come from the govern­ment. He also called for the local ad­min­is­tra­tion in op­po­si­tion-held eastern neigh­bor­hoods to re­main in place af­ter Fatah al-Sham leaves, with the U.N. estab­lish­ing a pres­ence there to bring hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­plies to the be­sieged pop­u­la­tion.

His pro­pos­als marked the first ma­jor ini­tia­tive by the U.N. to help find a way out of the Syria cri­sis af­ter the United States, cit­ing in part the Aleppo on­slaught, sus­pended its joint ef­fort with Rus­sia to stop the fight­ing. On Thurs­day, the Rus­sian mil­i­tary strongly warned the United States against strik­ing the Syr­ian army, not­ing that its air de­fense weapons in Syria stand ready to fend off any at­tack. The state­ment un­der­lined high ten­sions be­tween Moscow and Wash­ing­ton af­ter the col­lapse of a U.S.-Rus­sia-bro­kered Syria truce and the Syr­ian army’s of­fen­sive on Aleppo backed by Rus­sian war­planes.

Mean­while, rebel fight­ers in Aleppo ex­pressed skep­ti­cism over the terms of de Mis­tura’s pro­posal. They say the Fatah al-Sham has been in­stru­men­tal to the east’s de­fense. The U.N. es­ti­mates 275,000 peo­ple are trapped in eastern Aleppo.

Am­mar Sakkar, a mil­i­tary spokesman for Fas­tiqum rebel group, said the evac­u­a­tion plan was “a form of trick­ery” that would al­low pro-govern­ment forces to carry out a “longer pe­riod of killing and crime.” He ac­cused the U.N. of hold­ing a “dou­ble stan­dard,” ar­gu­ing that be­fore call­ing for fight­ers to leave it must “first stop the head of ter­ror­ism and stop his own acts of ter­ror­ism and crime against the Syr­ian peo­ple,” re­fer­ring to Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

While As­sad has not com­mented on de Mis­tura’s

GE­ORGE OURFALIAN/GETTY-AFP

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