Syria suspends offensive in Aleppo to allow evacuations, Russia says
Karen DeYoung, WaPo, Dec 8 2016
PARIS — Russia said late Thursday that the Syrian military has suspended its combat operations in eastern Aleppo to allow civilians to leave the city and that it had reached agreement with Pindostan to negotiate the safe departure of rebel fighters. A senior Pindo State Dept boxtop here traveling with Jackass Kerry said that neither of those assertions could yet be confirmed but that Jackass was in contact with Sergei Lavrov. There were conflicting reports from inside Aleppo, where some residents reported a sudden quiet, but others said neighborhoods were still under fire. On Wednesday, as many as 150 elderly residents of Aleppo’s Old City were evacuated by the government in a joint operation with the ICRC. Lavrov, speaking to Russian journalists in Hamburg, said a much bigger evacuation was underway. He said:
Yet another and the biggest so far … to evacuate the civilians willing to leave the place is underway there. There are some 8,000 people in the column. That’s a huge operation, and the withdrawal route is 5 km long.
Jackass and Lavrov met twice Thursday morning in Hamburg, where they were attending an international conference. Jackass left at midday for Paris, and the two spoke again by telephone in the afternoon, said the official. The White House, which has long been skeptical of Moscow’s sincerity in its discussions on Syria, reacted guardedly. State Dept robot Josh Earnest said:
Our approach to this situation from the beginning has been to listen carefully to what the Russians say but scrutinize their actions.
Last summer, Pindostan suspended military and diplomatic “expert” talks with Russia in Geneva over a possible cease-fire in Syria when the Syrian government siege of eastern Aleppo began, aided by Russian air attacks. A ferocious government ground offensive in the past few weeks, with hundreds of reported civilian deaths, has retaken all but about a quarter of the territory the opposition once held in the city.
As many as 200,000 civilians, and several thousand rebels, are said to remain there. Lavrov said:
Jackass & I have reached agreement to restart the Geneva talks on Saturday to determine the ways and methods of a final settlement of the eastern Aleppo problem through the departure of all militants and those civilian residents, who will wish to do so, from there.
The State Dept boxtop said the resumption of expert talks had been “discussed” but had not been finalized as of late Thursday. The Pindo boxtop said:
The immediate Jackass-Lavrov discussions are about evacuating Aleppo and determining the timing, the safety and where (the refugees) are going to go.
France will host a meeting here Saturday morning of Pindostan and other governments in Europe and the region of the conflict to discuss the process. The hope is that talks in Geneva will move quickly to a Syria-wide ceasefire that will allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands in besieged communities across the western third of the country, and to restart political talks between the opposition and the government of Assad over a political transition. Given that more than a year of start-and-stop negotiations have failed to halt the carnage in Syria, optimism was tempered. Josh ‘Turd’ Earnest said:
If that occurs, we obviously would welcome that development. It won’t be some sort of accident or coincidence. … It will be the product and the result of skilled, principled, tough, tenacious diplomacy, and much of the credit will go to Jackass Kerry. But we’ll see what happens.