World, Middle East

UN chief urges political resolution amid Aleppo truce

War will not end after fall of Syria’s second-largest city to regime, Ban says as he declares failure of Security Council

Canberk Yüksel   | 13.12.2016
UN chief urges political resolution amid Aleppo truce Ban Ki-moon

New York

NEW YORK 

United Nations Secretary General and Western member states urged a political resolution to the Syrian conflict Tuesday as reports emerged of an evacuation truce in Aleppo after the once-rebel-held city all but fell to regime forces.

“The Syrian conflict will not end as a result of what happens on the battlefield in the next days and weeks,” Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council. “Aleppo should represent the end of the quest for military victory, not the start of a broader military campaign in a country already ravaged beyond all recognition by five years of war.”

Syrian opposition forces in eastern Aleppo have reached a cease-fire deal with Bashar al-Assad forces to evacuate civilians in the besieged city.

After Turkish-brokered talks with Russia, thousands of civilians and a “large number of fighters” will be evacuated to the western part of the city, effectively surrendering the area, which is less than 5 percent of its original territory.

Since mid-November, more than 1,071 civilians have been killed in eastern Aleppo in attacks by Syrian regime and Russian warplanes, according to local sources.

Recent days have seen the Russia-backed Assad regime reestablish control over parts of Aleppo that was captured four years ago by armed opposition groups.

Ban rejected Russia and the Syrian regime’s claims that there were no opposition groups or humanitarian organizations on the ground in eastern Aleppo but only terrorists, accusing the regime and its allies of trying to “end the country’s internal conflict through a total, uncompromising military victory”.

The Secretary-General lamented the Security Council’s failure to take preventative action in the form of a humanitarian cease-fire, despite being presented with three resolutions to this end since September. He said the Syrian regime rejected UN demands for access on the ground, leaving the global body unable to verify reports of international humanitarian law breaches.

Ban said the UN received "credible reports of scores of civilians being killed either by intense bombardment or summary executions by pro-government forces.

“I have said before that we have collectively failed the people of Syria. The Security Council has not exercised its preeminent responsibility with regard to the maintenance of international peace and security,” Ban said. “History will not easily absolve us, but this failure compels us to do even more to offer the people of Aleppo our solidarity at this moment.”

U.K. and U.S. ambassadors to the UN, Matthew Rycroft and Samantha Power, respectively, each emphasized the need for urgent humanitarian access, while asserting that the war would not end after the battle for Aleppo and placed the onus for the destruction across the country on the shoulders of the regime and its largest backers, Russia and Iran.

“How can he expect to lead a country that he callously destroyed?” Rycroft said of Assad, vowing accountability for the perpetrators of violence against civilians.

Power accused Russia and Syria of “hiding their brutal assault from the world, willfully”.

They are responsible for the “complete meltdown of humanity” in Aleppo, Power said. “They are showing no mercy. No mercy, despite their territorial conquest.”

In a poignant statement, Power said the forces at play in the Syrian war define “modern evil”, and what happened in Aleppo “will stain our conscience for decades.

“Halabja, Rwanda, Srebrenitsa and now Aleppo,” she said in reference to major humanitarian disasters since the 1990s.

Accusing Damascus, Moscow and Tehran of “contributing to a noose around civilians”, Power said: “It should shame you. But by all appearances, it is emboldening you; you are plotting your next assault. Are you truly incapable of shame?”

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, dodged all accusations and charged that Western nations contributed to the rise of Daesh and the escalation of the Syrian crisis.

Churkin said he found it “very strange” that Power read out a statement “as if she was Mother Teresa”.

“Please remember what country you are representing. Please remember your country’s track record and then you can start opining from the position of any moral supremacy,” he said.

As for any responsibility, Churkin said: “I think God will tell us ultimately.”

In 24 hours, 7,000 civilians were evacuated, three humanitarian accesses, food and medical supplies, took place, the Russian ambassador said.

Syria has been locked in a devastating civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests -- which had erupted as part of the "Arab Spring" uprisings -- with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by the conflict and millions more displaced.

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