Saturday 20 January 2018

Russia, Iran and Turkey 'ready to act as Syria peace deal guarantors'

Syrians cross into Turkey at the Cilvegozu border gate with Syria (AP)
Syrians cross into Turkey at the Cilvegozu border gate with Syria (AP)

Russia, Iran and Turkey are ready to act as guarantors in a peace deal between the Syrian government and the opposition, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said.

He spoke after a meeting between the three countries' foreign ministers in Moscow, a day after Russia's ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in Ankara by a policeman who shouted: "Don't forget Aleppo! Don't forget Syria!"

Mr Lavrov told reporters the three ministers have signed a joint statement which says that Russia, Iran and Turkey "are expressing their willingness to help the Syrian government and the opposition draft an agreement and act as its guarantors".

Syrian activists said only around 3,000 people are left awaiting evacuation in eastern Aleppo before the government resumes full control of the city after nearly six years of war.

Opposition media activist Ahmad Primo said the next convoy of buses taking rebels and civilians out may well be the last one.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 60 buses have entered eastern Aleppo to pick up the remaining 3,000 fighters and their families from the opposition's last foothold in the war-torn city.

Observatory chief Rami Abdurrahman said the fate of 70 pro-government fighters taken prisoner by rebels over the course of four years of fighting over the rebel enclave remains unknown.

He said they were supposed to be handed over to the government as part of an agreement to allow the opposition to evacuate the city.

Residents from eastern Aleppo and the Syrian opposition said the evacuation amounts to forced displacement.

Months of devastating Syrian and Russian air raids which destroyed buildings, hospitals and schools in the enclave - and reduced much of eastern Aleppo to rubble - left the residents with little choice but to flee.

The precise number of people seeking evacuation - and who have already left - has never been clear.

Observatory chief Rami Aburrahman said 17,000 civilians and 5,000 fighters have left; the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has overseen the evacuations, said 25,000 have left; and the Turkish foreign ministry's figure is 37,000.

Mr Lavrov said in Moscow that the evacuations could continue for another one or two days.

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Syrian president Bashar Assad's forces, warned the remaining residents in the rebel enclave on Tuesday to leave "as quickly as possible".

Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin, said the killing of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara plays into the hands of those who want to derail peace talks for Syria and "drive a wedge between Russia and Turkey".

The development followed a UN Security Council resolution which was agreed on Monday night to send observers to monitor the exodus.

Syrian state media meanwhile said several more buses had arrived to the government-controlled Aleppo countryside after evacuating the sick and wounded from the rebel-besieged Shia villages of Foua and Kfarya.

The swap evacuations are part of the Aleppo cease-fire deal; Syrian rebels besieging the two villages agreed to allow over 2,000 people to leave from there in exchange for the government allowing civilians and rebels to leave eastern Aleppo.

Pro-government Al-Ikhbariya TV broadcast live images showing buses arriving from Foua and Kfarya, escorted by International Committee of the Red Cross vehicles, on Tuesday.

Hezbollah's media arm said eight buses left the two villages earlier in the morning.

The taking of all of eastern Aleppo would mark Mr Assad's greatest victory since the 2011 uprising against his family's four-decade rule, but the cost has been staggering.

Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced, many of whom may never return.

Also, Syria's civil war is far from over. The opposition still controls the north-western Idlib province and pockets of territory elsewhere in the country, while Islamic State rules a large swath of the north-east.

Press Association

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