Monday 5 December 2016

'Allies must reach out to Russia for Aleppo ceasefire'

Richard Wheeler in London

Published 23/11/2016 | 02:30

A Syrian man evacuates children from a school reportedly hit by rebel rocket fire in the Furqan neighbourhood of the government-held side of west Aleppo this week.
A Syrian man evacuates children from a school reportedly hit by rebel rocket fire in the Furqan neighbourhood of the government-held side of west Aleppo this week.

Britain and its allies must "reach out to the Russians" and persuade Vladimir Putin's administration to deliver a ceasefire in Aleppo, Boris Johnson has said.

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The British Foreign Secretary insisted humanitarian aid needs to be allowed into the war-torn Syrian city to prevent a "catastrophe" over the winter.

Conditions in rebel-held east Aleppo have been described by United Nations humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien as having gone from "terrible to terrifying and now barely survivable".

He said earlier this week that only a "handful of rations" from local non-governmental organisations remained.

Forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar Assad have bombarded besieged areas of Aleppo in recent days, with reports suggesting air strikes have hit hospitals in the rebel-held area.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army has accused rebels in besieged east Aleppo of possessing food stores and told them to distribute rations to alleviate shortages, one week into renewed air strikes and bombardment.

The existence of such food stocks could not be verified. The UN, which said aid supplies had run out in east Aleppo, has not been able to access the rebel-held sector since early July.

"The general command of the armed forces calls upon militants in the neighbourhoods of east Aleppo to open ration warehouses and distribute food to those that need it," an army statement said.

UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said it was unclear to whose warehouses the army was referring.

Zakaria Malahifji, a politburo member of the Fastaqim rebel group active in Aleppo, said there were no food warehouses.

"People are searching for bread. (The army) is saying these things to appear like they care for people," Malahifji said.

Malahifji and another witness in Aleppo told Reuters that civilians protested last week outside a building said to belong to the city council for opposition-held Aleppo, thinking there were food stocks inside.

"Can I ask you what representations you've made to our American counterparts about Aleppo?" Labour MP Alison McGovern, for Wirral South, said to Mr Johnson in the House of Commons.

"Bombing this weekend has forced the last children's hospital in Aleppo to close."

Mr Johnson replied: "We're working hand in glove with the United States to try to bring a ceasefire in Aleppo.

"We need to reach out to the Russians and show it's up to them now to show the leadership the world expects to call for a ceasefire in Aleppo, to deliver a ceasefire in Aleppo, to let the humanitarian aid get through and to prevent a catastrophe for the people of that city over the winter months."

Irish Independent

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