The Assad regime wants to gain control of the former economic metropolis. "Humanitarian corridors" are being set up with Russia.
Images of destruction in the village of Atareb, west of Aleppo Photo: reuters
The Syrian government wants to regain full control of the strategically important city of Aleppo after weeks of heavy shelling and the successful constriction of rebel militias. It plans to do so with an evacuation of up to 300,000 civilians from districts currently still controlled by rebels, described as a "humanitarian operation."
On Thursday, President Bashar al-Assad announced in a decree coinciding with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu the establishment of three "humanitarian corridors" protected by Syrian and Russian soldiers through which civilians are to leave Aleppo. This "large-scale humanitarian operation planned by President Putin" will help "civilians taken hostage by terrorists," Shoigu said on Russian television.
Outside the northern Syrian metropolis, first-aid points and places to hand out food were to be set up. Through a fourth corridor, members of rebel militias and "Islamic State" (IS) fighters should be able to leave the city if they surrender and hand over their weapons.
The "humanitarian operation" announced by Moscow and Damascus is part of a previously secret agreement that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reached with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov two weeks ago in Moscow. It is intended to create the conditions for military cooperation between the armed forces of both countries in the fight against IS and the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian Al-Qaeda offshoot. US and Russian diplomats confirmed this to the taz.
Food from the air
High-ranking military representatives of Russia and the United States want to reach an understanding in Geneva in the next few days on which of the armed groups operating in Aleppo province and other parts of the country, in addition to IS and the Al-Nusra Front, should also be classified as terrorists and fought jointly by the air forces of both countries in the future.
A delegation led by a general will travel to Geneva for these consultations "at the request of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry," Military Minister Shoigu said. Faced with the threat of Russian-U.S. military cooperation, the al-Nusra Front announced Thursday it had split from al-Qaida.
The corridors are part of an agreement between Foreign Ministers Kerry and Lavrov
According to human rights observers from Aleppo, government forces helicopters had already dropped leaflets over rebel neighborhoods on Thursday showing the four evacuation routes from the city. In addition, food had been dropped in some neighborhoods. However, the population was still reluctant to leave, an activist said.
Assad promised the rebels an amnesty in the next three months if they surrender. In addition, Assad called on the rebel groups to release all prisoners. Those who released their prisoners would be exempt from punishment if they turned themselves in within a month.
Campaign aid for Clinton
The announcement of the "humanitarian operation" came after Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air power, cut off rebel groups in Aleppo from all supply lines and captured another district Thursday night. If the calculations of the governments in Damascus and Moscow associated with the "humanitarian operation" work out, the scant western third of Syrian state territory from the Turkish border through Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus to the southern border with Jordan would once again be almost entirely under the control of government forces and the Russian military.
East of this rump state, about 50 percent of the territory – mostly desert – up to the city of Deir al-Sor remained under IS control. And in the northeast along the border with Turkey, the Kurds would have their autonomous territory. US President Barack Obama and his successor Hillary Clinton were spared the daily horror images of war and the suffering population of Aleppo during the election campaign.