UN envoy warns Syrian city faces total destruction

UN Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura

The United Nation’s Syria envoy, on Thursday, made an impassioned appeal to save eastern Aleppo, warning the city faced total destruction and urging hardline fighters to leave the rebel-held east so civilians can get aid.

“In maximum two months, two-and-half months, the city of eastern Aleppo may be totally destroyed,” Staffan de Mistura told reporters in Geneva.

The rebel-held east of Aleppo has been hammered by a Russia-backed government offensive, including multiple air attacks on hospitals, with hundreds of civilians killed and thousands wounded.

De Mistura noted the presence of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters in the city has been used as a justification by Moscow and Damascus for the continued assault.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays reports from the UN on de Mistura’s proposal

Formerly known as al-Nusra Front, the group recently changed its name following a break with al-Qaeda, but many still see the two groups as tied.

“Can you please look at my eyes,” de Mistura said in a direct appeal to the group’s leaders, before pleading with them to quit Aleppo.

“If you decide to leave with dignity… I am personally ready to physically accompany you,” the UN envoy pledged.

He said history would judge Syria and Russia if they used the presence of about 900 Fateh al-Sham fighters as an “easy alibi” for destroying the rebel-held besieged area, killing thousands of the 275,000 citizens, 100,000 of whom are children.

Aid deliveries to the besieged rebel-held neighbourhoods of Aleppo have been all but impossible since government forces seized the last supply route in July.

“We are in an emergency mode regarding Syria, Aleppo, and the future of the this conflict,” de Mistura said in Geneva.

The UN envoy described the suspension earlier this week of Syria ceasefire talks between Russia and the US was a “serious setback.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was expected to push on Thursday for a UN Security Council resolution to bring about a new Syria truce.

Ambassadors of the Security Council were to meet at the French Mission to the UN later on Thursday to discuss the proposed resolution, which “calls for an immediate ceasefire in Aleppo and the grounding of all aircraft over Aleppo”, according to Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from UN headquarters in New York.

Government troops, with Russian air support and Iranian and militia ground forces, launched an assault to retake all of Aleppo last month after a week-old ceasefire agreed to by Washington and Moscow steadily fell apart.

“The siege has been in place for weeks now. Food and fuel supplies are dwindling … bakeries are closing, there is no running water. According to Oxfam, 1.5 million people on both sides of the city do not have clean running water,” Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Gaziantep along the Syria-Turkey border, said.

But the government and its allies are still pushing ahead with their offensive, retaking territory in north of rebel-held Aleppo in recent days as opposition fighters stopped a second advance from the south.

The government is demanding that civilians leave the area, “but the only option it has given them is to leave to the western, government-controlled side of Aleppo, and people are afraid.”

As recently as Wednesday night, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham published footage showing fighters training and preparing for battle in Aleppo.