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Turkey pleads with Iran, Russia to keep Aleppo evacuation on track

December 14, 2016 at 1:41 pm

Syrians living in Aleppo flee the city due to ongoing regime forces attacks and move to opposition controlled areas on December 1,2016 [Ibrahim Ebu Leys/Anadolu Agency]

Turkey is pleading with Russia and Iran to try to ensure the evacuation of civilians and rebel fighters from Syria’s Aleppo, as airstrikes and heavy shelling today threatened to scupper the deal.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Syrian government forces of breaking a truce he brokered yesterday with Russia, one of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s main backers alongside Shia Iran, but said Turkey was still trying to open a humanitarian corridor from the city.

Erdogan said he would speak later by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation in Aleppo, which he described as “very fragile”.

“The realisation of the ceasefire brokered by Turkey is perhaps the last hope for the innocent people in Aleppo,” Erdogan told a meeting of local administrators in the presidential palace in Ankara.

“This humanitarian corridor must be opened immediately, and the evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo must be allowed at once. Assad is committing war crimes in eastern Aleppo, and we cannot remain silent to the assassinations by the regime.”

Iran, who funnelled tens of thousands of Shia jihadists from around the globe to save the Assad regime, was said to have imposed new conditions on the truce deal which were delaying its implementation.

Not content with the Russian-Turkish deal, Iran changed the rules of the game saying it wanted a simultaneous evacuation of Shia wounded from the villages of Foua and Kefraya that are besieged by the opposition, according to anti-Assad and UN sources.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he would speak with his Russian and Iranian counterparts again today in order to plead with them to try to keep the agreement on track.

“There was an understanding as of yesterday, and within that was first the evacuation of civilians … We see that the regime and other groups are trying to prevent this,” he told reporters.

“We will speak with [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov and the Iranian foreign minister again today,” he said.

As recently as a few months ago, Cavusoglu was criticised for his extremely warm welcome of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. During a state visit to Ankara last September, Zarif was seen being warmly hugged by a beaming Cavusoglu.

Russia’s defence ministry said that the armed anti-Assad factions in Aleppo had resumed fighting at dawn and Syrian regime forces had repelled their attacks, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

This was likely an opposition retaliation to regime shelling and Iran-backed Shia militias preventing Aleppo civilians from evacuating the shattered city towards nearby Idlib. There are fears that the Shia militias want to press on with war crimes and massacres they have already begun, confirmed by the UN as killing women and children after dragging them from their homes.

A senior Turkish official told Reuters earlier that the ceasefire deal was very fragile but not broken, despite the reports of attacks in the city.

However, a military media unit run by key Assad regime ally Hezbollah, one of Iran’s main proxies, said that regime demands, seen likely as having been dictated by Iran, had to be met or else the deal would be off.