Obama ‘not optimistic’ on Syria as Aleppo pummeled
AFP photoU.S. President Barack Obama said he is “not optimistic” about Syria’s future, as the U.N. warned time is running out to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo which has been pounded by air strikes for nearly a week.
Government forces launched a ferocious assault last week to recapture eastern Aleppo, killing 115 civilians so far. Syrian government forces and allied fighters advanced quickly inside rebel-held Aleppo on Nov. 21, pressing an offensive in defiance of international concern for the fate of the city and its civilians.
Obama warned that Syria’s second city was likely to fall, and that Russian and Iranian backing for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had made the situation untenable for the opposition.
“I am not optimistic about the short-term prospects in Syria,” he said Nov. 20 at a summit of Pacific leaders in Lima.
“Once Russia and Iran made a decision to back Assad in a brutal air campaign... it was very hard to see a way in which even a trained and committed moderate opposition could hold its ground for long periods of time.”
Obama earlier on Nov. 20 urged greater efforts to end the violence when he met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
But in Damascus, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura was rebuffed on a truce proposal that would allow the opposition to administer the city’s rebel-held east.
“We are running out of time, we are running against time,” de Mistura said after meeting Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.
Muallem said he had rejected the proposal, under which jihadist forces would leave and the government would recognize the opposition administration in the east which has been bombarded by air strikes, barrel bombs and artillery.
“How is it possible that the U.N. wants to reward terrorists?” he asked.
Aid agencies fear that instead of a humanitarian or a political initiative there will be “an acceleration of military activities” in eastern Aleppo and elsewhere, de Mistura told journalists.
“By Christmas... due to military intensification, you will have the virtual collapse of what is left in eastern Aleppo; you may have 200,000 people moving towards Turkey - that would be a humanitarian catastrophe.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said Nov. 21 that government forces backed by Iranian and Russian troops and fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah had captured the eastern part of the Masakan Hanano neighborhood.
“It is the most important advance inside the eastern neighborhoods that the regime has made so far,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
“If they take control of Masakan Hanano, the regime will have line of fire control over several rebel-held neighborhoods and will be able to cut off the northern parts of rebel-held Aleppo from the rest of the opposition-held districts.”