Syria rebels reject UN plan to freeze Aleppo fighting

Syria rebels reject UN plan to freeze Aleppo fighting
United Nations peace mediator Staffan de Mistura met with Syrian officials on Saturday and Sunday to discuss a freeze in the fighting in Aleppo, but rebel fighters rejected the plan, arguing it is tantamount to de facto surrender.
3 min read
The aftermath of an air-strike by Syrian regime - Aleppo, February 25, 2015. [Anadolu]

Syrian rebel forces in Aleppo rejected UN envoy Staffan de Mistura's plan to freeze fighting in the northern city on Sunday, dealing a blow to his peace efforts.

"We refuse to meet with Mr Staffan de Mistura if it is not on the basis of a comprehensive solution to Syria's drama through the exit of President Bashar al-Assad, his chief of staff and the prosecution of war criminals," a newly-formed Aleppo revolutionary commission said.

The political and military grouping was set up Saturday at a meeting in the Turkish border town of Kilis, attended by exiled coalition chief Khaled Khoja, other opposition figures and Aleppo civil society representatives.

De Mistura's proposal "falls short of an initiative to resolve the humanitarian crisis of our people targeted by the regime's use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs prohibited by the international community", it said.

The Italian-Swedish diplomat, who has made the Aleppo freeze the centrepiece of his mediation efforts since he was named as special envoy to Syria in July, angered the opposition last month by describing Assad as "part of the solution" to the conflict.

RELATED: Syrian Nusra Front assault drives Hazzm from Aleppo

Aleppo's opposition forces on Sunday also turned down preferential treatment for their region over other areas of Syria stricken by the four-year conflict.

"Syria and its people are one and indivisible. The blood of our brothers in Daraa (in the south), in Ghouta (near Damascus), in Homs (central) and in other Syrian provinces are no less important than our blood in Aleppo," they said.

De Mistura on Saturday held talks in Damascus to try to finalise a deal to freeze fighting in the battered second city of Aleppo.

He met Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and agreed to send a delegation from his office in the capital to Aleppo on a fact-finding mission, state news agency SANA said, without giving a date.

The envoy "hopes to set in motion as soon as possible his project" to halt fighting in Aleppo for six weeks, said a member of his delegation.

He has met government officials and opposition chiefs in recent weeks to promote his plan for a temporary truce in Aleppo in order to move aid into the northern city, as a starting point to be expanded to other regions.

De Mistura also made a surprise visit to a church near Damascus on Sunday, in a show of solidarity with the country's Christian minority targeted by fighters.

He travelled to a Greek Catholic church in Jaramana, southeast of the capital, before winding up his mission and leaving for neighbouring Lebanon.

19 Christians freed 

Islamic State group (formerly known as ISIS) freed 19 of the 220 Assyrian Christians they took hostage in Syria last week, after a ransom was paid for their release, activists said.

RELATED: Exodus following IS group advance in Assyrian areas

"Nineteen Assyrian hostages arrived on Sunday at the Church of Our Lady in Hasakeh after they were released by IS," said Osama Edward, director of the Assyrian Network for Human Rights.

They arrived on two buses from Shaddadeh, the IS stronghold in the northeastern province of Hasakeh where they had been detained, Edward added.

Edward said an IS religious court decided on Saturday to release the Christians in exchange for a sum of money for each family that IS considers as jizya, or tax, paid by non-Muslims.

He was unable to say how much was paid but recalled that in November IS released Assyrians after receiving payments of $1,700 per person.

The activist said negotiations for the release of all hostages began on Saturday between Assyrian officials and Arab Muslim tribal chiefs.