Tuesday 21 November 2017

Rebels rally as Assad accuses UK of supporting terrorism

A member of the Free Syrian Army takes cover during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the old city of Aleppo
A member of the Free Syrian Army takes cover during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the old city of Aleppo

Norman Jones

Opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib visited rebel-held towns in north Syria for the first time as rebel fighters seized an army outpost from President Bashar al-Assad's forces outside Aleppo, activists said.

The capture of the police academy at Khan al-Asal, used by the forces of Assad (pictured) as an artillery base to support troops still holding around 40pc of the city, came after days of fighting in which rebels killed 150 soldiers, while sustaining heavy casualties, they said.

In an attempt to consolidate those gains on the ground and strengthen links between Assad's military and civilian foes, Mr Alkhatib crossed into northern Syria from neighbouring Turkey and toured the towns of Jarablus and Minbij.

Earlier, he attended a meeting of 220 rebel commanders and opposition campaigners in the Turkish city of Gaziantep to elect an administration for Aleppo province.

Mr Alkhatib, a 52-year-old former preacher, was chosen in November to head the coalition of political opposition to Assad. He won pledges of support from Western and Arab ministers in Rome last week.

He has also said he is ready for talks with representatives of Assad's government to help find a political solution to a conflict that erupted nearly two years ago and has descended into a civil war in which around 70,000 people have been killed.

Assad said his government was prepared to talk to fighters who lay down their weapons but insisted he would not step aside under foreign pressure.

"We are ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who surrender their arms," he said.

Mr Alkhatib's coalition says that any talks must focus on Assad's departure while rebel leaders have set even tougher conditions, insisting he depart before they start talks.

Meanwhile, the UK's Foreign Secretary William Hague described Assad as "delusional" after he accused western countries of funding terrorism inside Syria.

Mr Hague said the embattled dictator was "presiding over this slaughter" in Syria while Britain was "sending food and shelter and blankets to help people driven from their homes and families in his name".

"This will go down as one of the most delusional interviews that any national leader has given in modern times," he told the BBC.

Irish Independent

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