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Syrian Government Offensive In Aleppo Continues Despite Cease-Fire Claim

RFE/RL December 09, 2016

Syrian government forces and their allies have continued their offensive against rebel-held parts of eastern Aleppo, despite an announcement by Russia the previous day that the offensive had been halted to allow for the evacuation of civilians.

The Syrian Army pressed on in its offensive in Aleppo on December 9 with ground fighting and air strikes in an operation to retake all of the city's besieged rebel-held east.

A Turkish-based spokesman for the Jabha Shamiya rebel group told Reuters: "Helicopters, warplanes, and rocket bombardment like every day. Nothing has changed."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking on December 8, said Syrian forces had "halted" their operations in eastern Aleppo "because there is a large operation under way to evacuate civilians."

But Lavrov told journalists on December 9 that government forces had resumed fighting "after a humanitarian pause" and that the attacks would continue "as long as the bandits are still in Aleppo."

Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier announced that Russian and U.S. military experts and diplomats will meet in Geneva on December 10 to evaluate the situation in Aleppo and try to reach agreements on the evacuation of civilians, the provision of humanitarian aid, and the withdrawal of antigovernment forces from the city.

The UN General Assembly voted 122 to 13 on December 9 to demand an immediate halt to violence in Syria and humanitarian-aid access in the country, including in Aleppo.

The nonbinding resolution passed by the 193-member assembly is unlikely to change the situation on the ground.

Russia voted against the resolution, saying that the text did not go far enough in detailing the role of what it termed terrorists in the conflict.

Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the UN, said the issue should be dealt with at the Security Council.

Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, has vetoed six resolutions in the council to stop the violence in Syria, including a draft put to a vote on December 5 demanding a week-long cease-fire in Aleppo.

"This is a vote to stand up and tell Russia and [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad to stop the carnage," U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told the General Assembly before the vote.

In Moscow on December 9, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed concern about a decision by the United States to ease restrictions on providing arms to antigovernment rebels in Syria.

Peskov said Moscow feared U.S.-provided shoulder-launched antiaircraft missiles could end up in the hands of "terrorists" and "pose a serious threat" to countries in the region and beyond.

Rupert Colville, the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, said up to 100,000 people were trapped in "ever-shrinking" areas of eastern Aleppo.

It was unclear exactly how many people remain and how many have fled eastern Aleppo, with Colville saying that "it is very difficult to establish the facts in this very fluid and dangerous situation."

But he said the UN had gathered evidence that "hundreds of men have gone missing" after leaving for government-held areas.

Syrian government forces have recaptured around 75 percent of eastern Aleppo in recent weeks. Rebels had controlled the area since 2012.

Russia has given Assad crucial military and diplomatic backing throughout the conflict, which began with a forceful government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 and erupted into a civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people.

Moscow helped turn the tide of the war in the government's favor with a major campaign of air strikes that began in September 2015 and that Western governments say has mainly targeted rebels rather than Islamic State militants.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Source: http://www.rferl.org/a/syria- aleppo-offensive-continues-cease- fire--calim/28165442.html

Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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