World Bulletin/News Desk
The U.N. peace envoy to Syria on Tuesday rejected suggestions that a proposed truce in the northern city of Aleppo would play into President Bashar al-Assad's hands, saying it was a stepping stone in a political process and vital to allowing in aid.
Staffan de Mistura has been meeting Syrian opposition groups in Turkey over the past few days to try to convince them of a U.N. plan for a "freeze in the fighting", a bid to get badly-needed humanitarian assistance into the divided city.
The opposition, as well as some diplomats and analysts, say the initiative is risky and that Aleppo could face the same fate as the central city of Homs, where government forces have largely regained control.
"It's not a ceasefire like in Homs ... They (the opposition) need to feel comfortable that this is a U.N. plan that has only one aim -- freeze the fighting, bring in the aid, stop this conflict. And starting from Aleppo," de Mistura told Reuters.
"We're looking at many conditions and many aspects in order to reassure everyone because everyone has a problem of trust," he said, adding that his deputy would be travelling to Damascus to try to win the support of Assad's government.
Aleppo has been split roughly in half between opposition groups in the east and government troops in the west, with the remaining civilians subjected to "barrel bombing" campaigns. Barrel bombs are steel drums full of shrapnel and explosives.
The presence of al Qaeda offshoot Nusra Front, which has fought both alongside and against other opposition groups, has complicated the picture further.
De Mistura declined to say whether he expected Nusra to sign up to the truce plan but said they would be making a "bad calculation" if they sought to disrupt it.
The Western-backed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which met de Mistura in Istanbul on Sunday, has said any truce plan needs to be part of a wider strategy involving Assad's removal from power.
"We all know the solution is not just a freeze. Freeze is a stepping stone. It's a building stone for a political process," de Mistura said, adding the fall of Aleppo would create an additional 400,000 refugees.
"Aleppo is iconic ... It's a mosaic of the cultures, of religions of not only Syria and the Middle East but of the whole world. If Aleppo falls, it would be tragic."
30 dead in clashes
Meanwhile, at least 30 people were killed in clashes between Assad regime troops and armed opposition groups in Syria's Aleppo, according to an eyewitness.
Ahmad Ubayd told The Anadolu Agency clashes took place in the Sheikh Najjar industrial zone in Northern Aleppo.
He said the opposition took control of 10 regime forces buildings and destroyed several regime vehicles.
Meanwhile, a Syrian army helicopter dropped two barrel bombs on the Lebanese town of Arsal near the Syrian border.
At least three people were killed and two others wounded in the attack, all from the same family, according to The Anadolu Agency's correspondent.
Opposition forces in March 2011 began protests to topple President Bashar Al-Assad, a struggle that turned into a civil war in July of that year after regime forces violently suppressed protests.
More than 190,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began, according to UN figures published last August.
Amnesty International said more than 10 million people have been forced out of their homes; at least four million of them have become refugees, mostly in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
Last Mod: 09 Aralık 2014, 15:53