Russian FM urges ‘care’ of all Aleppo residents, not just those in east of city

A boy walks behind a woman carrying a child along a street in the northern Syrian town of al-Rai, in Aleppo © Khalil Ashawi
Moscow has urged that “care” be taken of residents of the entire city of Aleppo, not only in its eastern part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. The statement comes as UN envoy for Syria warns East Aleppo is on the brink of being wiped out.

During a joint press conference with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who is visiting Moscow, Lavrov said that Russia is ready to use “all means available” to help resolve the humanitarian deadlock in Aleppo.

The war-ravaged Syrian city is divided into the eastern part, held by militants, including terrorists from al-Nusra and the rest in control of pro-government forces. UN estimates that nearly 250,000 people in Aleppo are in dire need of humanitarian aid, the eastern districts in particular.

While talking about the plight of eastern Aleppo, Lavrov said that Moscow calls on the international community “to take care of residents of the entire city, not only of its eastern part.” 

A recent advance by al-Nusra jihadists in southwest Aleppo left nearly a million people encircled and caused a “complicated humanitarian operation” which went largely unnoticed, Lavrov said. Moscow therefore “does not divide Aleppo into parts, controlled by government and militants.”

On Thursday, 1.5 tons of food supplies, such as sugar, flour, rice, tea and canned products were handed out to the civilians in the Arian neighborhood of Aleppo, Russia’s center for reconciliation of the opposing sides in Syria reported.

To ensure that civilians who flee the terrorist-held areas of the city are provided with hot meal and essentials, special posts have been set up, it added.

Another 3 tons of medical supplies necessary to provide emergency care for the wounded were transferred to Zahi Azrak military hospital in Latakia province by Russian military medics, according to Colonel Igor Reutsky, the head of the Khmeimim Air Base medical service.

The batch included blood substitutes, sterile clothing, syringes, drips and antibiotics, among over 70 types of items of medical aid.

UN envoy says ready to personally accompany al-Nusra out of Aleppo 

On Thursday, the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, warned that East Aleppo could be destroyed within two months if military action in the city continues. 

“The bottom line is in a maximum… two and a half months the city of eastern Aleppo at this rate may be totally destroyed,” he said.

The Syrian Air Force, backed by Russian jets, are targeting militants in East Aleppo after jihadists there repeatedly violated the cessation of hostilities, according to Moscow and Damascus. Mistura urged al-Nusra to leave the city, saying that he is willing to personally accompany them.

“If you [al-Nusra] did decide to leave, in dignity with your weapons, to Idlib or anywhere you wanted to go, I personally am ready, physically ready, to accompany you,” he said.

Lavrov welcomed the move, saying the UN envoy’s plan “at least deserves very careful consideration.” The Russian official also signaled his readiness to work on a UN resolution proposed by France, which calls for “improved” international monitoring of the situation in Syria and the reactivating of the truce in Aleppo.

During the press conference, Ayrault noted that the Syrian issue should be resolved “not with threats.” Yet the French official claimed that the bombardment by Syrian government forces in East Aleppo is “aiding the process of radicalization” among some Syrians.

Meanwhile, in an interview to Denmark’s TV 2 channel, Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed to retake all of Aleppo. The Syrian leader, though, stressed that he would love to do so using “deals” and “amnesties,” allowing militants to give up their arms. He added that the plight in Syria is being worsened by the allegations that there is a real “moderate” opposition, instead calling it a “myth.”

“The moderate opposition is a myth. That’s why you cannot separate something that doesn’t exist from something that exists,” he said, as  by the state-run Syrian SANA agency.

Moscow has repeatedly criticized Washington for failing to deliver on its promise to persuade so-called “moderate” rebels to separate themselves from jihadists, as agreed in the Russia-US brokered deal.

On Thursday, Lavrov also slammed the US proposal for Russian troops to be the only ones giving escort to Aleppo humanitarian convoys along the Castello road. Instead Russia proposed a joint mission on the ground. 

“They [US] said: ‘No, it's too risky.’ That was our humanitarian exchange of views on how to resolve situation in Aleppo,” Lavrov said.

Moscow warns US against striking Assad forces

Washington has recently suspended bilateral contacts with Russia over Syria, accusing Damascus and Moscow of targeting civilians in Aleppo. The Russian and Syrian governments insisted they have been conducting air strikes against terrorist hideouts in the eastern part of the city.

Leaked information in the western media suggested earlier this week the US planned to take military action against the Syrian Army. However, during Thursday’s press briefing, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said such a move is “unlikely to accomplish the goals that many envision now in terms of reducing the violence” in Aleppo.

Earlier in the day, the Russian Defense Ministry warned Washington over striking against the positions of the Syrian government forces. Moscow said that such an action would “create a clear threat to Russian servicemen” who are operating on aid and monitoring missions on the ground.

The ministry also said that Russia currently hosts S-300 and S-400 air defense systems in Syria capable of delivering a “surprise” to all unidentified objects near Russian bases.