classic BBC bollocks

Aleppo battle: Evacuation agreement ‘back on’
BBC, Dec 14/15 2016

A deal to evacuate the last rebel-held part of eastern Aleppo is back on, opposition fighters say, a day after a previous agreement fell through. Rebel fighters and civilians in the Syrian city had been due to leave early on Wednesday, but the truce collapsed. Rebel groups said late on Wednesday that evacuations would take place in the early hours of Thursday. But there has been no confirmation so far from the Syrian government or Russia. A media unit run by Hezbollah said negotiations were undergoing “big complications” and had not yet concluded. The rebels said the new ceasefire would come into effect late on Wednesday, with evacuations to follow hours later. The new deal would allow the simultaneous evacuation of two villages being besieged by rebels in north-western Syria. Syria and Iran had insisted that the evacuation from eastern Aleppo could happen only when those villages were evacuated. On Wednesday morning, buses and ambulances were brought to evacuate rebel fighters and their families, only to be turned away shortly afterwards. Hours after the first agreement, brokered mainly by Russia and Turkey, collapsed, air strikes resumed over rebel-held territory, where at least 50,000 civilians remain. The UN said raids by the Syrian government and its allies on an area “packed with civilians” most likely violated international law. Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the UNHCHR, said:

While the reasons for the breakdown in the ceasefire are disputed, the resumption of extremely heavy bombardment by the Syrian government forces and their allies on an area packed with civilians is almost certainly a violation of international law and most likely constitutes war crimes.

Meanwhile, the BBC has learned that Western forces are using satellites and unmanned aircraft to gather evidence of possible war crimes in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria. Many of Syria’s prolonged battles and punishing sieges have ended with a negotiated pullout of rebel fighters. The day of departure is often marked by delays and new demands. Aleppo is no different. But this is the most politically sensitive deal of all. The first deal, largely brokered by Russia and Turkey, appears to have upset Iran, as well as the Syrian government, who felt they did not have enough of a say. Both insisted, as they have done for aid convoys and evacuations elsewhere, that there must be a simultaneous mission for injured fighters and civilians in the Shia villages of Foah and Kefraya which are besieged by rebel forces. There have been arguments over other details, too. No sooner was a second deal announced, denials by players on one side or the other began to emerge. Only when buses are boarded, and ambulances pull away, can it be said with any certainty that this battle is drawing to a close. Besieged residents have faced weeks of bombardment and chronic food and fuel shortages. Medical facilities in the city have largely been reduced to rubble, as rebels have been squeezed into ever-smaller areas by a major government offensive, backed by Russian air power. One activist, Mohammad al-Khatib, told AFP:

The wounded and dead are lying in the street. No one dares to try and retrieve the bodies.

It is not clear how many people remain in the besieged areas. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura put the figure at about 50,000. He said there were approximately 1,500 rebel fighters, about 30% of whom were Nusra. Other local sources say there could be as many as 100,000 people, many of them arriving from areas recently taken by the government. Meanwhile, demonstrations in solidarity with the people of Aleppo have taken place in cities across the world, including Hamburg in Germany, Sarajevo in Bosnia and Rabat in Morocco. The lights of the Eiffel Tower were also dimmed. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said she hoped the gesture would highlight the need for “urgent action” to help the people of Aleppo.

Putin and Erdogan agree to make joint effort to evacuate east Aleppo
Reuters, Dec 14 2016

Erdogan and Putin agreed in a telephone call on Wednesday to make a joint effort to start the evacuation of civilians and opposition forces from eastern Aleppo as soon as possible, Turkish presidential sources said. Putin and Erdogan emphasized the need to prevent the violations of a ceasefire deal that Russia and Turkey brokered on Tuesday. The evacuation stalled early on Wednesday after Damascus’s ally Iran set new conditions, and both government forces and rebels have since resumed fighting. Erdogan told Putin that Turkey was ready to take all possible measures to provide temporary shelter and humanitarian aid following the opening of safe corridors.

Amid Confusion, Aleppo Evacuation Deal Again in Place
Jason Ditz, AntiWar.com, Dec 14 2016

The evacuation of rebels from their last strip of territory in Aleppo was to begin Wednesday morning, in a deal negotiated by Russia and Turkey. The evacuations didn’t happen, however, with troops and rebels fighting each other instead, and both sides blaming the other for the lack of calm. While it’s not totally clear who started what, Iran sought to get the evacuation of wounded civilians from a pair of Shi’ite villages added to the deal after it was already finalized, and everyone started fighting again. Syrian airstrikes targeted the rebels, and rebel shells hit the evacuation route. Russia and Turkey urged immediate calm, and eventually got it. The official reports are that Turkey and Russia have negotiated a revised deal now, which will see the evacuations begin on Thursday morning, and that will allow some medical evacuations from the villages. Already however, some of the factions tangentially involved are denying that the deal is in place. Rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham is claiming that the deal does not allow any civilians to leave the villages, while another rebel faction Nur’ed-Din al-Zinki is confirming that the villages can evacuate. Jabhat al-Nusra, whose forces are surrounding the villages, hasn’t said anything either way. Hezbollah, which reportedly sided with Iran on seeing the deal renegotiated to include the villages, denied that any deal was in place at all, claiming that there were still major obstacles in the way of coming to any final deal on the matter. Western officials, for their part, mostly just railed at Russia over the matter, accusing them of “war crimes” over the evacuation deal not going through, even though they negotiated the evacuation deal in the first place and haven’t had military involvement in Aleppo since October.

Aleppo Fighting Resumes With Shelling, Airstrikes
Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com, Dec 14 2016

Just a day after Russia had brokered a ceasefire which would lead to the evacuation of what is left of the rebels in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo, the rebels and government are back to fighting again, with no sign that the evacuation is going to happen any time soon. The military is described as controlling upwards of 99% of the city at this point, and airstrikes hit what is left of rebel territory, amid artillery fire from the rebel areas into the rest of the city. The UN warned that the new fighting may amount to a war crime, though honestly in Aleppo it’s just the latest of many crimes over the last half decade. Exactly what happened to the Russia deal isn’t totally clear, but there are reports that one of the government’s allies tried to condition the rebel evacuation on allowing wounded civilians to evacuate from a pair of government villages besieged by the rebels and everyone flew into a rage after that was shot down. As usual, both sides are blaming the other, with the government claiming the rebels started shelling first, killing six people, and they responded with the strikes, and the rebels, along with the Turkish government, claiming that Syria had obviously violated the deal first. In reality neither side seemed all that invested in the ceasefire, which primarily happened because Western nations kept pestering Russia to “do something” and Russia finally coaxed everyone into the deal long after there was any chance the rebels might win or even survive without it. Assad was publicly critical of the deal at first, despite his heavy reliance on Russia, saying the deal was designed to “keep the terrorists and save them” from the military’s offensive. Such comments were likely a tactical mistake on Assad’s part, as the West is already more than willing to believe anything that goes wrong in Syria is his fault, and this supports the idea he might have sabotaged the ceasefire, despite the obvious risks of a falling out with Russia over the matter.

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