Terrorists blocking civilians from leaving Aleppo: UN
The UN human rights office says foreign-backed militants are blocking civilians from fleeing eastern parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo to the government-held sector.
“Some of the civilians who are attempting to flee are reportedly being blocked by armed opposition groups,” rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
The statement came hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Syrian government troops suspended their active operations in Aleppo to allow the evacuation of civilians.
Syrian forces have retaken large parts of eastern Aleppo in recent days and are on course to drive terrorists out of the area.
The Russian military said it has helped more than 8,000 civilians leave the militant-controlled eastern part of Aleppo.
The military’s Center for Reconciliation in Syria said early Friday that 8,461 civilians, including 2,934 children, have left Aleppo’s eastern neighborhoods in the last 24 hours.
The center said 14 militants surrendered their weapons and were granted amnesty.
The Russian military said its sappers have cleared mines from six hectares of Aleppo, allowing the restoration of a water facility, two power stations, two mosques and two schools.
Lavrov said Aleppo will continue to come under bombardment as long as militants stay in the city.
“After a humanitarian pause, (the strikes) have resumed and will continue for as long as the bandits are still in Aleppo,” Lavrov told journalists in Hamburg.
US arms for terrorists?
Moscow also warned the US against easing its alleged arms embargo against Syria-based militants, saying the move would pose a threat to the entire Middle East.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said US weapons could end up in wrong hands if Washington goes ahead with the plan to lift restrictions on arms the deliveries to the so-called “moderate” militants.
On Thursday, the White House said US President Barack Obama had relaxed the so-called Arms Export Control Act for the militants “supporting US Special Forces” in Syria, saying such leniency would contribute to “the national security interests” of the US.
“Certainly, the worst result of this decision would be those weapons, including MANPADs [man-portable anti-air missiles], ending up in the hands of terrorists, which of course poses a serious threat not only for the region, but for the entire world,” Peskov said.
The official said such weapons could “definitely” end up being used against the Russian air force, which has been aiding counterterrorism operations in Syria since last September.
Last year, Washington earmarked almost $500 million to arming and training of the “moderates.” It had also slackened its arms embargo against certain militants back in 2013.
Meanwhile, talks between Russia and the US on a ceasefire in Aleppo have so far failed to produce a tangible result.
Peskov said talks on the subject were complex and kept faltering due to US moves.
Russia and China last week vetoed a UN Security Council resolution, calling for a seven-day truce in the embattled Syrian city, where the Syrian government has been conducting successful anti-terror operations.
The Syrian army troops and their allied forces are now in control of about 85 percent of militant-held eastern part of Aleppo as they press ahead an all-out offensive to fully liberate the city.
Russia and Syria oppose lengthy pauses in the Aleppo battle, arguing that Takfiri militants may take advantage of the situation and rebuild their strength.
Moscow also insists that all militants operating in eastern Aleppo must leave the area as part of any truce deal, saying those who refuse to do so would be regarded as terrorists.
Turkey-backed FSA advance
Separately, it was reported that Turkish warplanes had destroyed 10 targets allegedly belonging to the Takfiri terror group of Daesh in northern Syria.
Using Turkish support, militants with the foreign-backed so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) were also said to have seized control of a highway between the key towns of al-Bab and Manbij in the area.
Turkey has been supporting the FSA against anti-Daesh Kurdish forces, whom it calls anti-Ankara terrorists and accuses of not falling back from the vicinity of the Turkish-Syrian border after making gains against the Takfiris.
Leading a major operation, the Kurdish fighters seized Manbij from Daesh back in August.
Ankara, a staunch opponent of the Assad government, is accused of having been providing anti-Damascus militants with generous arms support and safe passage.
On Thursday, Turkish media reported that the country had sent 300 commandos to northern Syria to reinforce the operation.
Experts, meanwhile, warn that the recent Ankara-backed FSA advance could be followed by direct confrontation between Turkish troops on the one side and Kurdish fighters and Syrian soldiers on the other.