The government of President Bashar al-Assad has expressed a willingness to suspend its aerial bombardment and artillery shelling of the northern city of Aleppo to allow for a local ceasefire to be tested, the UN special envoy to Syria has said.
Staffan de Mistura said on Tuesday that the opposition forces would also be asked to suspend attacks. “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,” the envoy told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council. Aleppo is divided into a rebel-controlled west and government-held east. De Mistura wants to see a UN-monitored “freeze zone” that will calm violence there, allow more humanitarian aid access and act as the first step towards a wider solution to the conflict. He said a UN mission would announce the start date of the “freeze” after arriving in Damascus and seek the same agreement with the opposition. De Mistura said he had “no illusions but a glimmer of hope, bearing in mind that it is our duty to protect civilians wherever we can while we are still hoping to find a political solution”.
Aleppo-based opposition activists have expressed fears that the government would exploit a truce to gather its forces to fight elsewhere, and they have questioned how a ceasefire could work with fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the area. The Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, recently dismissed de Mistura’s proposal as a conspiracy that would allow Syrian government forces to re-group for more assaults. Local truces have largely succeeded in several areas near Damascus and the central city of Homs, but the deals were seen as heavily lopsided in favour of the government, and the US State Department has described them as closer to “surrender arrangements”. De Mistura angered Syrian opposition leaders last week with his comments that Assad remains “part of the solution” in reducing violence in the nearly four-year conflict. The UN estimates that the conflict has killed 220,000 people. Millions have fled to neighbouring countries.