Syria rejects UN peace proposal for Aleppo

Damascus refuses to allow autonomous opposition administration of the city's east in exchange for departure of extremist-linked rebels.

A Syrian man leads students out of a school in the Furqan area of western Aleppo where at least eight children were killed by rebel rocket fire on November 20, 2016. George Ourfalian / AFP
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Aleppo, SYRIA // The Syrian government on Sunday rejected a UN proposal to end intensified attacks on eastern Aleppo as a rebel strike on the government-held west killed at least eight children at a school.

The UN envoy to Syria warned that time was running out for eastern Aleppo as he expressed international outrage over regime bombing of the rebel-held area.

“We are running out of time, we are running against time,” Staffan de Mistura said after talks in Damascus with foreign minister Walid Muallem.

Mr de Mistura had proposed that the Syrian government recognise the autonomous administration in eastern Aleppo, and called on the estimated 900 Al Qaeda-linked militants there to leave for other rebel-held territory in Syria in exchange.

Mr Al Muallem refused the offer, saying restoring government rule was a matter of “national sovereignty”. He said Damascus would not allow the people of eastern Aleppo to be “hostages to 6,000 gunmen”

International concern has been growing after Damascus launched a ferocious assault in Aleppo last Tuesday, using air strikes, barrel bombs and artillery fire in a bid to recapture the east of the city. At least 103 civilians killed, including 17 children, have been killed so far, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday. It said 54 people were killed in the previous 24 hours, including a couple and their four children who died in a barrel bomb attack in the Sakhur neighbourhood, it said.

On Sunday, rebels retaliated with a barrage of rockets into the west of the city, killing at least eight children at a school in the Furqan neighbourhood, Syrian state media said. State television showed bloodied, weeping children being treated in a local hospital.

In the east of the city, streets were deserted, with only ambulances and rescue workers moving through battered neighbourhoods.

The Observatory also reported heavy fighting between regime forces and rebels as the army sought to gain ground in the eastern Bustan Al Basha and Sheikh Saeed neighbourhoods.

More than 250,000 people remain in the east of the city, which has been sealed off since government forces surrounded it in mid-July.

No aid has entered east Aleppo since then, and the government siege has led to food and fuel shortages, while sustained bombardment has forced schools and hospitals to close.

More than 300,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011. Successive international attempts to find a peaceful resolution to the war have failed.

* Agence France-Presse