Syria’s Aleppo burns as diplomats go back to talks

It's back to bombing and fighting as food aid rots at the border and UN's Syria task force makes direct appeal to Assad.
Members of the Syrian Red Crescent help the families of opposition fighters at a Syrian army checkpoint on the edge of the rebel-held Waer neighbourhood in the central city of Homs during an evacuation operation on September 22, 2016.  Under a deal with the Syrian government, an estimated 150 rebels and their families are being evacuated from Waer to northern parts of Homs province. UN organisations, which had helped oversee previous evacuations from Waer, were not involved in this operation. Louis Beshara / AFP
Members of the Syrian Red Crescent help the families of opposition fighters at a Syrian army checkpoint on the edge of the rebel-held Waer neighbourhood in the central city of Homs during an evacuation operation on September 22, 2016. Under a deal with the Syrian government, an estimated 150 rebels and their families are being evacuated from Waer to northern parts of Homs province. UN organisations, which had helped oversee previous evacuations from Waer, were not involved in this operation. Louis Beshara / AFP

Aleppo // Huge fires erupted in Aleppo on Thursday as the city was rocked by heavy bombardment and fighting ahead of last-ditch efforts to salvage a failed Syrian ceasefire.

Key players in the Syrian peace process were to meet in New York later on Thursday, with the clock ticking down as the UN warned that undelivered aid for besieged civilians in Aleppo would expire in four days.

The truce deal brokered by Moscow and Washington fell apart earlier this week, triggering a surge of fighting on all major fronts of Syria’s five-year civil war.

There were heavy clashes on the outskirts of Aleppo, after predawn air strikes triggered major fires across the city’s rebel-held districts.

Volunteer firefighters battled throughout the night to contain the blazes, which local activists said were caused by incendiary phosphorous bombs.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said overnight strikes on the districts of Bustan Al Qasr and Al Kalasseh were the most intense in months. Raids by Russian warplanes killed 13 people, including three women, on Thursday.

Residents of east Aleppo have been living under government siege since early September. Food aid promised for them under the US-Russia deal has been stuck at the border since last week and will go bad in a few days.

“Forty lorries are sitting at the Turkish-Syrian border. The food will be expiring on Monday,” said Jan Egeland, the head of the UN humanitarian task force for Syria.

“The drivers are sleeping at the border and they have done so now for a week, so please, President Assad, do your bit to enable us to get to eastern Aleppo and also the other besieged areas,” he said, appealing directly to Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad.

The UN resumed aid deliveries on Thursday after a brief pause following a strike on a convoy in northern Syria that killed 20 civilians and destroyed 18 aid lorries. The aid was sent to people in a besieged area of rural Damascus, the UN said.

The International Syria Support Group, chaired by Moscow and Washington, was to meet again in New York on Thursday to try to end the war.

“It’s going to be difficult. We’ll see what people are willing to do,” said the US secretary of state, John Kerry

The UN’s envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, was in discussion with warring parties to organise direct negotiations, unlike past rounds where the sides met separately with moderators, his deputy Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy said.

The UN is working “with a view to holding these talks hopefully in the next few weeks”, Mr Ramzy said.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: September 22, 2016 04:00 AM

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