BEIRUT – A cease-fire deal between rebels and the Syrian government in the city of Aleppo effectively collapsed on Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar Assad says western countries are seeking a cease-fire in order to save “the terrorists.
A cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey to allow for their evacuation is unravelling as shelling and bombing resumed Wednesday.
Assad said the cease-fire was to stop his government’s advance in the city and “keep the terrorists and save them.” He also said the capture of the ancient city of Palmyra by Islamic State militants was to “distract” from the Aleppo offensive.
The evacuation was supposed to begin at dawn but shelling resumed in the morning hours and buses meant to be used in the pullout of rebels and civilians returned to their depots.
Activists and fighters trapped in the opposition’s last sliver of territory in Aleppo said pro-government forces had struck their district with dozens of rockets since mid-morning.
A legal adviser to the rebels accused Iran of foiling the Russia- and Turkey-brokered deal by imposing new conditions on the rebels. Along with Russia, Iran backs President Bashar Assad’s government and has committed advisers and elite Revolutionary Guard forces to the government’s war.
Turkey backs the rebels fighting to topple Assad.
Osama Abo Zaid, the adviser, said Iran was imposing new conditions for the truce, demanding the remains of Iranians killed in Aleppo be returned and that Iranian hostages held in rebel-controlled Idlib province be released. He said the conditions were “exclusively sectarian and crippling.”
Mohammed Abu Jaafar, head of forensics in eastern Aleppo, said eastern Aleppo residents felt “duped.”
“People have left their shelters …. to be ready for the evacuation. I can’t describe it,” Abu Jaafar said. “Since the morning, they started to target the areas where people have gathered … these people were walking to the crossings designated for exit.”
Activists in eastern Aleppo blamed the violence on pro-government forces, saying they shot first. Raslan said he was reporting for a Turkish agency when a rocket crashed nearby at around 10:15 a.m. He shared an audio recording of the explosion with the Associated Press. He was unharmed.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the rebels “resumed the hostilities” at dawn, trying to break through Syrian government positions to the north-west.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the Syrian government and its allies of trying to scuttle the deal. “We see now that the regime and other groups are trying to obstruct this (deal),” he said in remarks quoted by the state-run Anadolu Agency. “This includes Russia, Iran, forces supported by Iran and the regime.”
The surrender of Aleppo’s remaining opposition-run neighborhoods to government control would be a turning point in Syria’s civil war.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the emergency meeting late Tuesday that he had received “credible reports” of civilians killed by pro-government forces as they swept into the last rebel areas in Aleppo.
Bashar al-Ja’afari, Syria’s U.N. ambassador, denied any mass killings or revenge attacks, but added it was Syria’s “constitutional right” to go after “terrorists,” a reference to all opposition fighters.
“Aleppo has been liberated from terrorists and those who toyed with terrorism,” he said. “Aleppo has returned to the nation.”
By PHILIP ISSA and SARAH EL DEEB