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Civilians in Aleppo, trapped in a deadly crossfire. Photo: FWM
Moscow

Trapped inside East Aleppo as militants shell exit routes

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday accused former Al-Qaeda affiliate the Al-Nusra Front and allied militants in Syria, of “explicitly shelling those routes through which such humanitarian aid can be delivered" in Aleppo. Heavy clashes have erupted in the city once again as a three-day ceasefire ended without rebel fighters being able to leave Aleppo.

Published: October 23, 2016, 10:58 am

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    Worryingly no civilians have been able to flee militant-held eastern part of the besieged city either as the third day of a humanitarian ceasefire initiated by Moscow and Damascus came to an end, while terrorists bombed the humanitarian corridor.

    As the warring sides are preparing for a final battle over the city, Lavrov’s statement is supported by RT’s Murad Gazdiev, who is currently in Aleppo, “There were ambulances, buses waiting for civilians, waiting for the sick, nobody was allowed to leave,” Gazdiev reported on Saturday. A Russian crew has witnessed the black banners of Al-Qaeda over the city too.

    In early October, the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, estimated that some 900 fighters for the Al-Nusra Front – designated a terrorist group by the UN – are present in East Aleppo alongside other militants.

    The United Nations said it was unable to provide aid due to security concerns. “The UN remains hopeful that parties will provide all necessary guarantees and is actively working to that end,” said UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke.

    Instead, “rebels and jihadists” shelled the crossings designated to allow free passage to those willing to exit the encircled part of Aleppo, RT’s correspondent on the ground reported.

    Four humanitarian corridors were negotiated for civilians and two for militants to offer a safe way out. The UN and other aid groups were supposed to bring humanitarian aid through the respective corridors as well. On Thursday, militants opened fire on one of the routes, injuring three Russian officers at the El-Masharka government checkpoint, Moscow said.

    Deutsche Welle reported that the evacuation of civilians was “impossible” due to the deteriorating security situation on the ground, according to Ingy Sedky, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

    Russia implemented a ceasefire in Aleppo on Thursday that was extended to Saturday, in what it said was intended to allow civilians and rebels fighters to evacuate from the eastern part of the city, under siege since July.

    The rebels did not agree to the ceasefire, which they said failed to provide assurances rebels or civilians would not be arrested and therefore would not allow for humanitarian aid to reach those in besieged areas.

    Recently talks between the United States and Russia have focused on providing humanitarian aid and on separating al-Qaeda linked groups from the so-called moderate opposition backed by the West, Turkey and Gulf Arab states.

    But the quarrel between the two major powers is in reality over the blockage of the two Silk Roads to China – once in Syria, then again in Ukraine. Logically, Moscow is therefore trying to link these two dossiers in its negotiations with Washington.

    By going to Berlin, on 19 October, Russian President Vladimir Putin and foreign minister Lavrov, were hoping to convince Germany and France, if not the United States, to link these dossiers. Thus they exchanged the extension of the truce in Syria for the end of the Ukrainian blockage of the Minsk agreements.

    The discussion between US foreign secretary John Kerry and Lavrov has progressed from the battle of Aleppo to a general cease-fire for all of Syria and also Yemen. The truce in Aleppo and a 72-hour truce in Yemen bear testimony to the direction the negotiations have taken.

    The problem is that the United States can not retreat to equality with Russia from its uncontested first place, without paying a price, either alone or with their allies. The US has therefore mounted pressure on the Russian side to put a halt to fighting around Aleppo, the country’s second largest city before the war and a center of the rebel opposition.

    On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council voted for an investigation into possible war crimes in the city by “the Syrian authorities and their allies”.

    The Syrian regime – backed by Russia, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Shiite militias – views Aleppo as a major battle that will break the back of the armed opposition and turn the tide of the six-year war in its favor.

    While Berlin and Paris are likely to align themselves with their NATO suzerain, a frozen conflict from Moscow’s point of view, is better than a defeat in Ukraine.

    The five Arab states, Turkey and Iran, who had been invited to Lausanne by Kerry and Lavrov, left satisfied by the meeting. While the two major powers could not agree on a roadmap, according to Reuters, Kerry said the meeting with the group had “proved diplomatically productive” according to arabnews.com.

    Europe was not represented at the meeting, held in a luxury hotel on Lake Geneva on 15 October. But France’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Kerry and foreign ministers of like-minded nations planned to meet in London on Sunday to discuss Syria.

    Kerry hosted the Russian side and seven foreign ministers from the region – from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt. Yet it was their future which was in question. None of them seemed to realise that heads were going to roll, like those of the Warsaw Pact.

    karin@praag.org

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