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Syria interested in ceasefire plan for Aleppo: UN envoy

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The United Nations envoy for Syria on Tuesday said that a proposal to “freeze” fighting in the key northern city of Aleppo could provide a model for progress in the war-torn country. The UN proposal was “a new way for approaching the de-escalation of violence in particular in one place to start with – Aleppo,” Staffan de Mistura told journalists before leaving the Syrian capital, Damascus.

It was “not a substitute to … a political solution but it certainly is an incentive in that direction,” he added.

Aleppo had been chosen “because Aleppo is under pressure and has been under pressure for years now in tensions between the government and opposition and now also Da’esh [Islamic State] and Al-Nusra [Front],” de Mistura said, mentioning the two Islamist extremist groups.

He said his meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other officials “gave me a feeling that they are studying very seriously and very actively the UN proposal.”

Aleppo has been the centre of fierce fighting as al-Assad’s forces seek to encircle the rebel-held eastern half of the city. Analysts have said that losing Aleppo would be a critical blow to mainstream rebels, who are under further pressure from the Islamic State group in the nearby countryside. The Syrian opposition expressed scepticism about the proposal.

“A partial solution will not be up to the expectations of the Syrian people,” said Abdel Basset Syda, the former head of the opposition National Coalition.

“We have not looked at the full plan, but a plan that will not discuss what the fate of al-Assad will be and is not comprehensive enough will not be feasible to solve the crisis,” Syda told dpa.

The head of the rebel military council in Aleppo has said a ceasefire could only be contemplated if the government surrendered those responsible for alleged chemical weapons attacks. Several local ceasefires have previously been agreed to between government and rebel forces, mainly on the outskirts of Damascus, but have been seen as tantamount to the rebels surrendering in the face of regime siege tactics.

The US State Department said that effective local ceasefires would “represent a shift” by al-Assad’s regime, but warned that previous experiences “have more closely resembled surrender arrangements.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations Refugee Agency warned Tuesday of a winter crisis for displaced Syrian and Iraqi refugees and said it had been forced to slash the number of people it can help this winter for lack of funds.

“The shortfall affects our winter preparedness programmes, although we have already invested 154 million dollars on winter aid for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and internally displaced, and means that UNHCR is having to make some very tough choices over who to prioritize,” chief spokesperson Melissa Fleming said in Geneva.

The agency said it was facing a shortfall of 58 million dollars for its efforts to help the displaced people in Syria and Iraq for this winter season.

“We wish we could support everybody and I wish we could give everybody more,” said Amin Awad who heads UNHCR’s Middle East and North Africa Bureau.

“While the problem is most acute in Iraq and Syria, there are also needs in other parts of the region. This will be the fourth winter away from their homes for many Syrian refugees and the first for the 1.9 million Iraqis who have become internally displaced this year,” Awad said.

In June, Iraqis have been displaced after the Islamic State group overran their areas and declared a “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria. The UN officials expressed fears that due to the shortfall of funds some refugees might freeze to death. Awad stressed that the priority in distributing the winter aid will be for the elderly, newborns, sick and those who live at high altitudes. SAPA

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