Turkey-Russia in talks as Assad retakes Aleppo
AFP PhotoTurkish and Russian officials will meet in Turkey on Dec. 14 to discuss a possible cease-fire and corridor to evacuate civilians from war-torn Aleppo, as Syrian pro-government forces march toward retaking the entire city.
“Today, tomorrow, every day, we will intensify our talks with Russia and other countries so we can find a solution to this humanitarian tragedy… We see in Aleppo perhaps the most relentless dimension of oppression in human history,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Dec. 13 at a press conference with his visiting counterpart from the Czech Republic.
“For this purpose, Turkey continues its initiatives with relevant countries and international organizations,” the minister said.
He added that the meeting was part of regular, ongoing discussions with Russian officials.
Turkey has in recent days been conducting talks with international actors for the evacuation of members of the Syrian opposition from Aleppo.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry has made a call for a secure evacuation of eastern Aleppo and access to humanitarian aid.
“The immediate cessation of attacks against Aleppo is a must for the population in eastern Aleppo, where the safe evacuation must be preceded by humanitarian access, accompanied by the necessary oversight mechanisms including the U.N.,” the statement made by the Foreign Ministry read on Dec. 13.
“We have seen Aleppo left alone and despite promising a cease-fire, we see Aleppo then continued to be cruelly bombed... Even if everyone is quiet, Turkey will not be quiet,” Çavuşoğlu said.
“We are very much terrified and indignant at the massacre of a large number of civilians, including women and children in east Aleppo, which has been under siege and heavy bombardment since July, by the regime and its supporters,” said the ministry.
“It is a source of concern that tens of thousands of civilians stuck in the last two neighborhoods in Aleppo would face a similar fate in the coming days. All these actions are a grave breach of international humanitarian law, and the responsibility of the regime and its supporters is obvious,” read the statement.
Syria forces killed at least 82 Aleppo civilians in recent days: UN
The U.N. human rights office said it had received reports of “pro-government forces killing at least 82 civilians including 11 women and 13 children in four different neighborhoods” in the past 48 hours in eastern Aleppo, spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva on Dec. 13, as Syrian regime forces entered the last remaining strongholds of the rebels in the eastern part of the city.
“We have also been informed that pro-government forces have been entering civilian homes and killing those individuals found inside,” while other civilians have been detained, Colville added.
Colville said the U.N. does not know the fate of hundreds of men who have been missing for more than two weeks after crossing into Syrian regime-held areas of Aleppo.
“The capture by pro-government forces of the remaining parts of the city of Aleppo is imminent. There was extremely heavy bombardment and shelling throughout the day yesterday,” he said.
The Syrian army and its allies are in the “last moments before declaring victory” in Aleppo, Lt.-Gen. Zaid al-Saleh, head of the government’s Aleppo security committee, told reporters in the recaptured Sheikh Saeed district of the city, according to Reuters. “The battle in eastern Aleppo should end quickly. They [rebels] don’t have much time. They either have to surrender or die,” he said.
Syria’s chief opposition coordinator Riad Hijab, on the other hand, said on Dec. 12 that defeat in Aleppo would not weaken the resolve of opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to remove him from power.
“If Assad and his allies think that a military advance in certain quarters of Aleppo will signify that we will make concessions, then [I say] that will not happen. We will not make any concessions,” Hijab told reporters after meeting French President François Hollande.
37,000 people fled eastern Aleppo
The U.N. humanitarian aid agency said its partners in Syria have recorded about 37,000 people who have fled eastern Aleppo amid the latest advance of pro-government forces, but that thousands of others have not been counted.
Spokesman Jens Laerke of OCHA on Dec. 13 decried the “complete meltdown of humanity” in Aleppo, and said untold thousands are believed to remain behind in shrinking areas held by rebel fighters.
His office has that “many civilians have not fled, and may be hiding whether they can,” Laerke said.
He said the U.N. and its partners, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, are actively working to get “blanket access” across the city – not just in western Aleppo that has long been controlled by government forces and their allies.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was alarmed by unverified reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians, including women and children, Ban’s spokesman said on Dec. 12.
Jan Egeland, the U.N. humanitarian adviser on Syria, tweeted that Russia’s and Syria’s governments would be responsible for any such abuses.
“The Gov’ts of Syria, Russia are accountable for any and all atrocities that the victorious militias in Aleppo are now committing!” Egeland wrote.