Turkey ‘doing its best’ for Aleppo cease-fire
AFP photoTurkey is doing everything possible to facilitate negotiations between Moscow and Syrian opposition groups to halt the bloodshed in Aleppo, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said in an interview published Dec. 7 after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We are doing everything possible to bring about discussions between opposition representatives and Russia and have achieved success on this topic,” Yıldırım told Russia’s Interfax news agency.
“If any consensus reached is turned into a signed document, then that would be to everyone’s benefit,” said Yıldırım, upon a question whether or not Turkey had provided a platform for talks between Russia and the Syrian opposition. “Now is the time when you need to get results.”
On Dec. 6, Yıldırım met Putin in the Kremlin as Moscow and Ankara continue moves to put a row over Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane last year behind them.
A source told AFP in late November that Russian representatives had met with Syrian rebels in Turkey with Ankara’s mediation to discuss the possibility of a truce in the divided city of Aleppo, but they failed to reach a deal.
Syrian rebels call for 5-day cease-fire
Yıldırım’s remarks came as rebels in Aleppo called for a five-day truce and the evacuation of civilians on Dec. 7, after losing more than three quarters of their territory, including the Old City, to a Syrian army offensive.
In the face of a blistering assault by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the rebels were reported to have retreated Dec. 7 from all of Aleppo’s Old City, the latest in a string of territorial losses.
After three weeks of heavy fighting, regime forces appeared closer than ever to retaking all of Aleppo and winning their most important victory yet in the civil war that began in 2011.
Rebel fighters have rejected calls to withdraw from the city, which had been divided between government and opposition forces since 2012, but on Dec. 7 issued a joint statement calling for an “immediate five-day humanitarian ceasefire,” for “the evacuation of civilians who wish to leave” the city’s east to rebel territory in northern Aleppo province.
It rules out the evacuation of civilians to neighboring Idlib province, where many civilians and surrendering rebels have taken refuge after leaving territory recaptured by the government elsewhere in the country.
“Idlib province is no longer a safe area because of Russian and regime bombardment,” it said.
It made no mention of the fate of rebel fighters and urged “negotiations on the future of the city.”
At least 80,000 people have already fled eastern neighborhoods for territory controlled by the government or Kurds elsewhere in the city, according to a monitor.
More have fled south, to remaining rebel-held areas in the city.
Syria’s government had said on Dec. 6 that it would not agree to any cease-fire in Aleppo without a guarantee of a full rebel withdrawal.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Dec. 6 that he would try to get Syrian peace talks going again with Russia’s help.
“We have been trying to find a way to get to the negotiating table ... but al-Assad has never shown any willingness,” Kerry said at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.
“Russia says al-Assad is ready to come to the table... and I am in favor of putting that to the test,” he said.
Kerry, who has had repeated meetings on Syria with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, said they would meet again on Dec. 7 or Dec. 8 in Hamburg.
Even if Aleppo falls, “the war will continue,” Kerry said, stressing that there had to be a negotiated settlement.
Key Damascus ally Russia had announced talks with the U.S. in Geneva for Dec. 6 or Dec. 7 on organizing a rebel withdrawal from Aleppo ahead of a cease-fire.
But on Dec. 6, Lavrov accused Washington, which has backed rebel groups against al-Assad, of backtracking.
“It looks like an attempt to buy time for the rebels to have a breather, take a pause and replenish their reserves,” Lavrov said. Moscow had the impression that “a serious discussion with our American partners isn’t working out.”
Russian military adviser in Aleppo dies of shelling wounds
Meanwhile, a Russian military adviser with the rank of a colonel in Aleppo died of wounds sustained in a mortar attack carried out by Syrian opposition rebels, the Kremlin confirmed on Dec. 7, the third Russian fatality in Syria this week, Reuters reported.
Russian news agencies had previously cited the Defense Ministry as saying that Col. Ruslan Galitsky had died after being wounded in the shelling of western Aleppo.
Local media in eastern Russia said Galitsky had served as the commander of a tank brigade in Ulan Ude before going to Syria. They said he had been injured in Aleppo on Dec. 5 in rebel shelling of a Russian military field hospital.
The Defense Ministry had previously said two female Russian medics died in and after the same attack.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that Galitsky would be posthumously given a top military award.