18 Feb 2015

Syria: ‘hope’ but ‘no illusions’ over Aleppo ceasefire

The Syrian government has said it is willing to suspend its aerial bombardment and artillery shelling of the northern city of Aleppo so a local ceasefire can be tested, a UN mediator says.


Above: children walk through the rubble of the al-Myassar neighbourhood of Aleppo in Tuesday.

Aleppo is at the forefront of clashes between the Assad regime and a range of rebel groups, including the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusrah Front.

The Syrian government’s military, reportedly backed by Hezbollah, has taken over a number of villages around Aleppo in recent weeks as part of a strategy to encircle the city and cut off supply lines to rebel groups, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said.

‘No illusions’

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura told the UN Security Council: “The government of Syria has indicated to me its willingness to halt all aerial bombing … and artillery shelling for a period of six weeks all over the city of Aleppo from a date which we will be announcing from Damascus.”

However, he added that he has “no illusions” but “hope” that the task of securing a local ceasefire would be easy.

“Based on past experiences, this will be a difficult mission to be achieved,” he said.

Mr de Mistura said opposition groups would be asked to suspend mortar and rocket fire. The Western-backed opposition Syrian National Coalition said it awaited a detailed proposal from de Mistura.

The UN envoy said he would be travelling to Damascus as soon as possible, and hopefully also to Aleppo. He said the Syrian military would suspend its bombardment from a date to be announced in Damascus.

It is hoped that this local ceasefire, which would last for six weeks, could be a template that would work in other parts of the country.

City under siege

More than 210,000 people have died in four years of the Syrian conflict – around half of that figure are thought to be civilians.

Part of the Assad regime’s strategy has been then use of explosive “barrel bombs”, large barrels packed with explosive and shrapnel that land with devastating effect, indiscriminately destroying everything in a 200m radius of where they land.

Watch more: a tour around Aleppo

Earlier this month Assad denied the use of barrel bombs, despite a large amount of evidence to the contrary. During February barrel bombs have been increasingly deployed on Aleppo, killing more than 50.

Aleppo has been one of the main hubs of fighting since the civil war broke out in 2011. The Syrian Needs Analysis Project estimates that there are around 2.8m people with humanitarian needs in Aleppo governate.