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UN Offers To Escort Al-Qaeda Offshoot Out Of Aleppo To Stop Bombing

  • RFE/RL

In a bid to stop the bombing of Aleppo, the UN's Syria envoy is offering to help evacuate fighters from the Al-Qaeda offshoot Al-Nusra Front -- renamed the Fatah al-Sham Front.

In a bid to stop the bombing of Aleppo, the UN's Syria envoy is offering to help evacuate fighters from the Al-Qaeda offshoot Al-Nusra Front -- renamed the Fatah al-Sham Front.

The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting to discuss a new UN proposal to try to stop the bloodletting in Syria's Aleppo by persuading an Islamic militant group located there to leave.

The proposal to relocate an estimated 900 members of Syria's Al-Qaeda affiliate to an unspecified "refuge" outside the city was offered by UN Syrian envoy Steffan de Mistura on October 6, prompting Russia to request the council meeting.

Warning that Russia's and Syria's bombardment of areas of eastern Aleppo under the Fatah al-Sham group's control could "totally destroy" that part of the city by year-end, De Mistura offered to personally escort the group out of the city to a "refuge" of their choosing to prevent further bloodshed.

Russia and Syria have used the designated terrorist group's presence in the city as justification for their ferocious bombardment, which De Mistura said had killed 376 people in the last two weeks.

"We are talking about 900 people, basically, who are becoming the main reason for which...275,000 people [are] being attacked," he said.

De Mistura told the Fatah group, formerly known as the Al-Nusra Front: "If you decide to leave with dignity...I am personally ready to physically accompany you."

The proposal apparently attracted Moscow's attention because it appears to satisfy one of Russia's principal stated goals in Syria -- separating the designated terrorist groups there from so-called "moderate" rebel groups backed by Western powers.

Disagreement over getting that done helped cause the collapse of a tentative cease-fire deal that the United States and Russia negotiated last month.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the UN proposal to remove the Al-Qaeda offshoot from Aleppo a "constructive step" and said it "deserves careful consideration."

Whether it would stop Russia's and Syria's bombardment of Aleppo remains to be seen, however.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on October 6 repeated his belief that the "moderate opposition is a myth," and that all the groups fighting against him are "terrorists."

"You cannot separate something that doesn't exist from something that exists," Assad told Danish TV2. "The same grassroot that used to be called Free Syrian Army four years ago, five years ago, then it became Al-Nusra, then it became [Islamic State]," he said.

Assad has warned rebels in Aleppo that unless they agree to a deal with the government, his forces would have "no option" but to expel them all from the city.

Assad's forces scaled back their bombardment of Aleppo somewhat on October 6, however, saying that would allow civilians to leave besieged rebel-held neighborhoods.

"Anyone who does not take advantage of the opportunity to lay down their arms or leave will meet their inevitable fate," the Syrian Army announced.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and TASS
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