Kerry Pushes for Cease-fire at Syria Meeting as Aleppo Onslaught Continues
U.S. secretary of state John Kerry will push to secure a cease-fire and immediate aid for civilians in Syria at a meeting of world powers in Germany on Thursday, in what U.S. officials and diplomats have called a “make-or-break moment” in saving the failing peace process, CNN reports.
The meeting in Munich takes place amid growing concern over a Russian-backed offensive in northern Syria that has sent some 50,000 people fleeing toward the Turkish border over the past week.
Pro-government forces backed by heavy Russian airstrikes are working to encircle a key rebel stronghold in eastern Aleppo. A government takeover of the area would be a deadly blow to Syrian rebel groups.
“Russia’s activities in Aleppo and in the region right now are making it much more difficult to be able to come to the table and to be able to have a serious conversation,” Kerry said on Tuesday before leaving for Munich.
Russian officials proposed on Wednesday that a cease-fire could begin on March 1, a date which the Obama administration said would give Moscow and ground forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad enough time to wipe out Syria’s moderate rebel groups, the Associated Press reports.
Washington countered Moscow’s proposal with demands for an immediate halt in fighting. The U.S. had hoped to implement a cease-fire before the resumption of peace talks on February 25, which were placed on pause earlier this month by U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura after the Aleppo offensive began, in an attempt to keep the process from falling apart completely.
“Through the ongoing onslaught on Aleppo, Russia seeks to tip the balance of power on the ground in favor of the Assad regime, with the aim of imposing a political solution favorable to Russia,” said Khalid Saleh, a central figure in the Syrian opposition.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Wednesday that some 50,000 people have been displaced by an uptick in fighting in northern Aleppo since the offensive began last week.
‘500 Dead’ in Russian-Backed Government Offensive on Aleppo
The ongoing offensive by pro-government forces and Russian warplanes in northern Syria has killed more than 500 people this month, according to a monitor.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that 506 people have been killed since the government launched a new offensive on rebel-held areas of Aleppo on February 1. The figure includes 23 children killed in Russian airstrikes.
Some 50,000 Syrians, displaced by fighting over the past week, are now stranded in inundated displacement camps along Syria’s northern border with Turkey.
“There are no longer enough places for families to sleep,” a field officer with the global charity Doctors Without Borders told Agence France-Presse. “Most of the families left with just the clothes they were in,” he said, adding that cold and crowded conditions are quickly creating health problems.
The United Nations has urged an end to the bombing and for Turkey to open its borders to the recent wave of displaced civilians, but Turkey has thus far focused on providing cross-border aid.
“I find it hypocritical that some circles are telling Turkey to ‘open your borders’ while at the same time failing to tell Russia ‘enough is enough,’” Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday.
Kurds and Arab Allies Capture Air Base in North
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its Arab allies captured a strategic government air base and the adjacent town from rival rebel forces overnight, Agence France-Presse reports.
YPG and allied Arab militias pushed Islamist and other rebel fighters out of the Minnigh air base, just north of the city of Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“With the defeat at Minnigh, Islamist fighters lost the only military airport they held in Aleppo province, “ said Observatory chief Rami Abdulrahman.
The Minnigh airport lies between two key roads that connect the city of Aleppo to the city of Azaz to the north, Abdulrahman said, giving the Kurds and their allies a strategic base to launch future offensives against Islamist extremist fighters to the east.
The Kurdish advance comes after days of heavy ground battles that saw YPG militants move east from the Kurdish district of Afrin, taking over a series of villages before reaching the air base.
Rebel groups in Syria’s north are under pressure from two sides, as Kurdish groups attack from the west and pro-government forces, backed by heavy Russian airstrikes, close in on Aleppo.
- The Guardian: Report on Syria Conflict Finds 11.5% of Population Killed or Injured
- CNN: Inside Aleppo: A City on Edge, Trying to Survive
- The Guardian: The Guardian View on the Battle for Aleppo: A Rebuke to America and the World
- The New York Times: Syrian Opposition Groups Sense U.S. Support Fading
- Al-Monitor: Jabhat al-Nusra Competes with IS to Attract New Allies
- The New York Times: Russian Intervention in Syrian War Has Sharply Reduced U.S. Options
Top image: Syrians carry belongings as they arrive at the Bab al-Salam border crossing with Turkey, in Syria. (Associated Press)