Be­sieged rebels seek way out of Aleppo

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Louisa Loveluck and Karen DeYoung

beirut» Syr­ian govern­ment forces swept through the Old City of Aleppo on Wed­nes­day as rebel forces — be­sieged and fac­ing cer­tain de­feat — de­bated when to with­draw from their shat­tered strong­hold.

The govern­ment’s push into the his­toric heart of Syria’s largest city marks a defin­ing mo­ment in more than five years of war. The army and al­lied mili­ti­a­men now con­trol three-quar­ters of east Aleppo, the rebels’ most im­por­tant en­clave.

The ac­cel­er­at­ing rebel col­lapse came as Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov met in Ger­many for a last-ditch ef­fort to agree on con­di­tions that would al­low the city to be evac­u­ated. Kerry said the two would meet again Thurs­day morn­ing.

More than 730 peo­ple have been killed in Aleppo since the govern­ment of­fen­sive be­gan on Nov. 15, ac­cord­ing to the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, a mon­i­tor­ing group. On Wed­nes­day, the mil­i­tants called for a five-day cease­fire to al­low civil­ians, in­clud­ing an es­ti­mated 500 peo­ple in need of med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion, to leave for the coun­try­side north of the city.

But of­fi­cials within the armed op­po­si­tion, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity, said a much broader agree­ment was be­ing dis­cussed in­volv­ing a full with­drawal from the city. Ac­tivists said dozens of rebels had al­ready fled.

In com­ments pub­lished Wed­nes­day, Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad said vic­tory in Aleppo would be a “huge step” to­ward the end of Syria’s war.

The east­ern dis­tricts of the city have been un­der siege since July, with bom­bard­ment by Syr­ian and Rus­sian war­planes killing hun­dreds of civil­ians and de­stroy­ing hospi­tals that treated the wounded.

Re­peated govern­ment warn­ings in re­cent weeks — sent via text mes­sage or printed on air­dropped leaflets — have urged res­i­dents to leave, warn­ing that those who stay will be “an­ni­hi­lated.”

In the wind­ing, close al­leys of Aleppo’s 12th-cen­tury Old City, his­tory has been erased. The 14th-cen­tury Old Souk has burned, and at the Umayyad Mosque, metal spikes twist out where a minaret once stood.

In­side what re­mains of the rebel en­clave, there is a grow­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis. Amid blis­ter­ing bom­bard­ment, thou­sands of res­i­dents dis­placed by the of­fen­sive now shel­ter in­side aban­doned apart­ment blocks.

Food has al­most run out, and fuel stocks are so low that res­cue work­ers say they are of­ten un­able to reach the wounded.

“Even by Syr­ian stan­dards, the re­cent bom­bard­ment and shelling have been the most in­tense in Aleppo,” Hanaa Singer, UNICEF’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Syria, said in an emailed state­ment Wed­nes­day.

Syr­ian res­i­dents flee­ing the vi­o­lence in the east­ern, rebel-held parts of Aleppo leave their neigh­bor­hoods Wed­nes­day. Ge­orge Our­falian, AFP/Getty Im­ages

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.