After Aleppo, now for a Syria-wide ceasefire, says Putin
MOSCOW // The recapture of Aleppo by Syrian regime forces is an important step towards stabilising the war-torn country, Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Friday.
“The liberation of Aleppo from radical elements is a very important part of the normalisation in Syria, and I hope, for the region overall,” Mr Putin said in a meeting with defence minister Sergei Shoigu.
“Everything needs to be done for fighting to stop on all Syrian territory,” Mr Putin said. “In any case, we will strive toward this.”
Mr Putin said that Russia wanted ceasefire talks to take place in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, as the location had already been approved by Syrian president Bashar Al Assad and the leaders of the other power brokers in the Syrian conflict – Iran and Turkey.
He called Mr Al Assad on Friday to congratulate him on the recapture of Aleppo.
Mr Putin also signed an order to expand Russia’s naval facility in the Syrian city of Tartus, while Russian military police had been despatched to maintain order in recaptured parts of Aleppo, the Kremlin said.
“We sent in a battalion of military police yesterday evening to maintain order in the liberated territories,” Mr Shoigu said.
The Syrian army declared that it had retaken full control of Aleppo late on Thursday after the evacuation of the last of about 34,000 fighters and civilians from the former rebel bastion in the east of the city, its biggest victory against opposition forces since Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011.
However, large parts of the country remain outside government control, including rural areas in Aleppo province south and west of the city where opposition fighters still operate.
Rockets fired from outside Aleppo killed at least two civilians in the Hamdaniyeh district on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Seven civilians were wounded in the attack, said the monitoring service based in Britain.
Syrian state TV said army experts were on Friday dismantling explosives and booby-traps left behind by rebels in the Sukkari, Ansari and Amiriyeh neighbourhoods of Aleppo. It also showed footage of troops inside what it said was an arms depot in the basement of a school in the Zaydiyeh district, with piles of wooden boxes filled with ammunition, rifles, and at least one Russian-made Grad rocket.
Braving the cold, residents who had fled eastern Aleppo after it fell to rebels in 2012 began returning on Friday to neighbourhoods they had not seen in years.
As the army moved through Al Mayssar district, Umm Abdo, 42, said she had found her former home but it had been destroyed.
“There’s nothing left ... but houses can be rebuilt,” she said.
Meanwhile, the United States on Friday added several senior Syrian officials including the ministers of oil and of finance and the leadership of a Russian bank to its sanctions blacklist.
The treasury department also imposed sanctions on the Syrian airline Cham Wings, accused of transporting foreign militiamen to fight in the country’s civil war.
US officials also targeted two companies allegedly owned or operated by a Syrian regime insider, Rami Makhluf, which they said had handled oil drilled in areas of Syria controlled by ISIL.
* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press
Updated: December 24, 2016 04:00 AM