Aleppo: De Mistura calls rebel fighters to “surrender and leave”

Aleppo: De Mistura calls rebel fighters to "surrender and leave"
The U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura

The U.N. Special Envoy for Syria offered on Thursday to go to eastern Aleppo and escort up to 1,000 rebel fighters out of the city to try to bring an end to bombardment by Russian and Syrian forces, as Assad vowed to retake Aleppo.

Assad regime, backed by Russia, said on September 22 it was starting a new wide offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire was declared officially over on 19 September. the offensive includes a ground assault, artillery bombardment, and intensive airstrikes.

Since 19 September, more than 600 civilians have been killed and more than 2000 injured in rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, including the besieged eastern part of the city, Civil defense workers said.

Speaking to Danish television, Assad said he would “continue the fight with the rebels until they leave Aleppo. They have to. There’s no other option.”

Staffan de Mistura said history would judge Syria and Russia if they used the presence of about 900 former Nusra Front fighters as an “easy alibi” for destroying the rebel-held area where 275,000 residents, 100,000 of them children, are besieged.

De Mistura noted the presence of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters in the city has been used as a justification by Moscow and Damascus for the continued assault.

“The bottom line is in a maximum of two months, two and a half months, the city of eastern Aleppo at this rate may be totally destroyed,” de Mistura told a news conference in Geneva.

De Mistura said there were a maximum of 8,000 rebels in eastern Aleppo. Many ex-Nusra fighters left before the area was encircled and no more than 900 remain, he said.

“Can you please look at my eyes,” de Mistura said in a direct appeal to the group’s leaders, before pleading with them to quit Aleppo.

“If you decide to leave with dignity … I am personally ready to physically accompany you,” the UN envoy pledged.

The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo this year, and this summer achieved a long-held goal of fully encircling the area.

Recovering full control of the rebels’ last significant urban area would be the most important victory of the war so far for Assad, strengthening his control over Syria’s most populous and strategically important regions.

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No surrender but until when?

Fighters have accepted similar government amnesty offers in other besieged areas in recent months, notably in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus that was under siege for years until rebels surrendered it in August.

However, rebels said they had no plan to evacuate Aleppo, the last major urban area they control, and denounced the amnesty offer as a deception.

“It’s impossible for the rebel groups to leave Aleppo because this would be a trick by the regime,” Zakaria Malahifji, a Turkey-based official for the Fastaqim group which is present in Aleppo, told Reuters. “Aleppo is not like other areas, it’s not possible for them to surrender.”

“Aleppo is not like other areas, it’s not possible for them to surrender.”

The government sent text messages to the mobile phones of some of those people trapped in the besieged sector, telling them to repudiate fighters in their midst.

“Our people in Aleppo: save your lives by rejecting the terrorists and isolating them from you,” read one message. “Our dear people in the eastern districts of Aleppo! Come out to meet your brothers and sisters,” read another.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the relentless Russian and Syrian bombardments could result in the fall of rebel-held eastern Aleppo within “weeks if not days”.

“It’s unclear how long they will last, but considering the destruction of infrastructure that supports life, they are hanging by a thread,” the U.S. official said. “There is only so much they can endure.

“The siege has been in place for weeks now. Food and fuel supplies are dwindling … bakeries are closing, there is no running water. According to Oxfam, 1.5 million people on both sides of the city do not have clean running water,” Al Jazeera reported.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.