Middle East

Syria opposition warns of Aleppo starvation amid siege fears

President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces Anas Al-Abdeh speaks during an interview in Istanbul on July 12, 2016. / AFP / OZAN KOSE

ISTANBUL: Hundreds of thousands of civilians in rebel-held areas of Aleppo risk starvation, the head of Syria's main opposition coalition said Tuesday, accusing Damascus of trying to besiege the city into submission.

Aleppo, once Syria's economic powerhouse, has been ravaged by the conflict that began in March 2011 and has killed more than 280,000 people.

Anas al-Abdeh, the head of the Istanbul-based opposition National Coalition, complained allies of President Bashar Assad were showing greater commitment than the rebels' backers in the West.

This lack of "political will" was endangering the shaky peace process based around stop-start talks in Geneva to create a peaceful transition after over five years of civil war.

Assad's forces were seeking to completely control Aleppo's Castello Road – the rebels' last lifeline into the northern city – and impose a blanket siege, he told AFP in an interview.

"We are quite worried that if the Castello route is totally cut off, more than 300,000 civilians will starve and be under huge pressure," he said at the coalition's headquarters in Istanbul.

"Most of the humanitarian supplies are coming through this route. The regime is trying its best to besiege the city."

Rebels had on Monday launched a fierce offensive to reopen the Castello Road after it was severed by government forces.

Abdeh said Russian air power was assisting the Syrian government while Assad's other ally Iran was "basically managing, controlling, overseeing the military operation in Aleppo" on the ground.

- 'New military reality' -

He said Assad, Iran and Russia were working to create a "new military reality" in Syria that would then enable them to impose a political solution.

Aleppo has been divided between government forces in the west and rebels in the east since mid-2012 and is a key battleground.

Civilians have already reported shortages of food and fuel in the city's east, with local market stalls sparsely stocked and prices rising.

The United Nations says nearly 600,000 Syrians live in besieged areas of the country, most surrounded by government forces, although rebels also use the tactic.

"The friends of the regime are committing everything they have to help the regime. While our friends are not as committed in this regard," Abdeh said.

"I do not see a real political will in the international community to reach a political solution in Syria."

He said this could doom the Geneva-based peace process to find a political settlement, which has been deadlocked since late April when the last round ended.

"Without political will, what is happening in Geneva is just a PR exercise, nothing more than that.

"The current environment is not conducive to a successful process in Geneva."





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