Sunday 11 December 2016

Syrian rebels in secret talks with Russia to end Aleppo crisis

Sara Elizabeth Williams in Amman

Published 02/12/2016 | 02:30

A Syrian woman fleeing Aleppo with her baby boy
A Syrian woman fleeing Aleppo with her baby boy

Syrian rebel leaders are to hold secret talks with regime ally Russia in the Turkish capital Ankara tomorrow in an attempt to resolve the crisis in Aleppo.

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Opposition fighters have lost 40pc of their territory in east Aleppo to regime troops backed by Russian air support. After a week of steady regime advances, east Aleppo is close to becoming what UN officials term "one giant graveyard" and rebels are on the verge of a strategic defeat.

Yet as the noose tightens around east Aleppo, Syria's most powerful backer may be reconsidering its next step. The city is unlikely to fall immediately, and the military force required to take and hold it may not be sustainable without incurring penalties on other fronts.

About 30,000 people are receiving aid after fleeing the city in the past few days. Syria and Russia yesterday declined a United Nations request for a pause in the fighting to evacuate 400 sick and wounded. Russia said that it wanted to discuss setting up four humanitarian corridors.

Talks between Russian diplomats and key members of the Syrian opposition tomorrow - reportedly the second in a week - suggest Moscow may be willing to negotiate an end to the fighting in Aleppo.

"Russia has indicated it would be willing to accept aid access and local council control of the east, in return for JFS's withdrawal," said Syria researcher Charles Lister, referring to Jabhat Fatah Al Sham, the al-Qa'ida aligned group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra.

"Russia's key terms indicate a point of difference with Assad and Iran," he said, adding that opposition groups had not rejected them. The talks began on Monday.

A separate source in Washington DC confirmed that Russia had invited the Islamist group Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, a member of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, to attend.

A Moscow military expert played down reports that Russia was changing tactics. Vladimir Evseev, of the CIS Countries Institute in Moscow, said Russia had likely already taken a decision to finish the battle in Aleppo by force of arms. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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