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UN Adviser Says U.S., Russia 'Poles Apart' On Aleppo

Jan Egeland, the head of the UN humanitarian task force on Syria, told reporters in Geneva on December 8 that months of negotiations over aid plans had produced "nothing."
Jan Egeland, the head of the UN humanitarian task force on Syria, told reporters in Geneva on December 8 that months of negotiations over aid plans had produced "nothing."

The United States and Russia are "poles apart" in trying to agree on terms for evacuations from rebel-held areas of Aleppo, UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland says.

Egeland told reporters in Geneva on December 8 that months of negotiations over aid plans had produced "nothing," and that it was up to the United States and Russia to pull together to agree an evacuation of besieged eastern Aleppo.

Syrian and Russian leaders have rejected pleas from rebel forces and Western powers for a cease-fire in Aleppo and pressed their campaign to retake the city in its entirety.

In an interview published on December 8, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said victory in the battle for Aleppo would be a "big gain" for his government but that it will not be the end of the war in Syria.

Rebels are estimated to have lost 75-80 percent of the territory they once controlled in Aleppo since mid-November.

Hundreds of people have been reported killed and tens of thousands displaced by the fighting in the past few weeks.

The UN has said the remaining rebel-held areas, where food supplies are exhausted and there are no functioning hospitals, may hold 8,000 fighters among more than 100,000 civilians.

Syria opposition activists on December 8 reported intense government bombings of a number of neighborhoods that remain under rebel control.

Aleppo Truce Talks Continue

On the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Hamburg, Germany, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was "hopeful" about reaching an agreement with Russia over Aleppo but that he was still waiting for "certain feedback and input."

He spoke to reporters after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov twice on December 7-8.

Also on December 8, Turkey's presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said there was "intense diplomatic activity" in order to bring about a cease-fire in Aleppo and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Kalin said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was personally engaged in the effort and had spoken three times with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

In London, Britain's foreign intelligence chief accused Russia and the Syrian government of blocking efforts to end the war in Syria and defeat the extremist group Islamic State (IS) by treating all opponents of Assad as terrorists.

"Russia and the Syrian regime seek to make a desert and call it peace. The human tragedy is heart-breaking," Secret Intelligence Service head Alex Younger said on December 8. "We cannot be safe from the threats that emanate from that land unless the civil war is brought to an end."

Younger suggested that Russia's involvement in Syria, where it has backed Assad's government throughout the more than five-year civil war, is undermining efforts to eliminate that threat.

"As I speak, the highly organized external-attack-planning structures within [IS], even as they face military threat, are plotting ways to project violence against the UK and our allies without ever having to leave Syria," he said at the MI6 headquarters in London.

Western governments say a campaign of air strikes that Russia launched in September 2015 has mainly targeted rebels rather than IS militants.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross says nearly 150 civilians were evacuated from a hospital in an area of Aleppo recently recaptured by the Syrian Army.

The evacuation took place late on December 7 in the Old City's Meshatyeh district, a statement said.

Most of the civilians were "disabled or in urgent need of care."

They were trapped inside the former old people's home because of heavy fighting nearby.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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