Russia ‘concerned’ at former al Nusra fighters’ refusal to leave Aleppo
A "humanitarian pause" in the Syrian army's Russian-backed assault on Aleppo took effect but despite a drop in violence there was little sign residents were heeding calls to leave.world Updated: Oct 21, 2016 18:40 IST
Russia on Friday said it was concerned over the refusal of fighters from a former al Qaeda affiliate, the Fateh al-Sham Front, to leave Aleppo as Russian and Syrian forces have halted fighting.
The combatants, formerly known as al Nusra, and the some 250,000 civilians in rebel-held areas, have largely avoided the eight escape corridors announced this week by Russia and Syria’s regime.
“We are highly concerned at the fact that, despite the goodwill gestures of Moscow and Damascus with the aim of normalising the situation in Aleppo, we see that al Nusra fighters are refusing to leave the city,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists Friday that whether Russia extends the pause in fighting further “depends on how the process of fighters leaving the city -- which so far is sluggish, unfortunately.”
Asked whether the decision on extending the pause would be taken daily, he said it would be made on the basis of the current situation, since “the situation is changing quite quickly, it could change for the worse.”
At a briefing in Moscow, Lavrov accused fighters from the Fateh al-Sham Front and influential Islamist Ahrar al-Sham group of “sabotaging the efforts of the United Nations -- with our support, with support of the Syrian government -- to get humanitarian aid supplies into east Aleppo.”
He said the fighters “with threats, blackmail and brute force, are obstructing the departure of peaceful civilians from east Aleppo”, as well as that of combatants who are prepared to leave.
Russia is “ready to extend this humanitarian pause” as long as there are not “provocations” by Al-Nusra and allied groups, Lavrov said, adding that “this position was confirmed in our contacts with the United States.”
Lavrov also said Russia is “very concerned” at Turkish strikes on US-backed militias in northern Syria, including Syrian Kurdish fighters.
He said Russia expected the United States, leading a coalition that includes Turkey, to “stay within the framework of the declared aim” of fighting Islamic State jihadists and the Fateh al-Sham Front.