70,000 Syrians Flee Aleppo As Peace Talks Collapse

Friday, February 05,2016

NEW DELHI: Tens of thousands of people have fled the Syrian city of Aleppo, as government troops backed by the Russians advance toward the city -- which has been a stronghold of the Islamic State.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said up to 70,000 may be heading to the border, while a monitoring group put the number at about 40,000.

Meanwhile, Russia accused Turkey of preparing an invasion into Syria, a charge that sources in Turkey denied.

On Thursday, the United States demanded that Russia halt airstrikes, as the peace talks in Geneva broke down on Wednesday, exposing the deep rift between world powers in reference to the Syrian conflict.

The talks, with Russia and the US-led bloc agreeing to cooperate, were tipped as the most important breakthrough in achieving peace in Syria, but were short lived.

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, in what the former has described as a “robust” phone call. "We discussed, and we agreed, that we need to discuss how to implement the ceasefire," Kerry said, adding he and Lavrov would speak again later Thursday or on Friday.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius accused Syria and Russia of "torpedoing the peace efforts" with the offensive, whereas UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the pause in the talks showed "just how deep, how difficult the divisions are".

The talks, however, were plagued with problems from the start, especially as the US-led bloc considers Syrian President Bashar al Assad a major impediment to peace in the country, whereas Moscow is Assad’s close ally.

There is also a difference in thought in terms of the strategy that should be adopted to defeat the Islamic State, with the US continuing to aid and support anti-government rival militias whereas the Russians believe the regime’s troops are essential in the fight.

In December last year, Syrian ambassador to New Delhi, Abbas, sounded very optimistic for the first time in three years, telling The Citizen that: finally the war is actually against Daesh. The Russians are driving it, as till now everyone but these militants were being killed.”

At the time the Ambassador said that the Russians have no need currently to bring in any troops. “The Syrian Army is enough” he said to move into areas ‘softened’ by the Russian Air Force. Palmyra, the ancient city that had fallen into the hands of Daesh that were making videos of blowing up the heritage buildings, is almost fully back with the Syrian Army. A little bit, according to the Ambassador, remains to be secured but the militants are on the run. The mercenaries who survive the battle are being told to ‘disappear’, a reason for the European Union now bringing Turkey under pressure to close its borders so that the remnants of Daesh do not enter their part of the world. However, Syrians believe many have already moved through the borders into Europe and could make their presence felt in the future.

The Syrian Army is poised to enter Aleppo that was a huge loss for the Assad government, and an important part of Syria to fall into the hand of Daesh. After this, the Army expects to take another week to ten days to recapture Raqqa that is functioning as the capital of Daesh these days, the ambassador said.

As the peace talks were finalised, it seemed that the ambassador was right -- that the Russian strategy of airstrikes aiding Syrian troops had won across the board. The latest breakdown in talks, however, indicates that’s not entirely the case…

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