GENEVA • The United Nations Syria envoy has made an impassioned appeal to save eastern Aleppo, warning the city faced total destruction and urging Islamist fighters to leave so that civilians can get aid.
"In maximum two months, 21/2 months, the city of eastern Aleppo may be totally destroyed," Mr Staffan de Mistura told reporters in Geneva yesterday.
The rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo has been hammered by a Russian-backed government offensive, including multiple attacks on hospitals. In the latest advance against rebels, Syrian government forces seized around half of a key opposition-held neighbourhood in Aleppo yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
Mr de Mistura noted that the presence of Al-Nusra Front fighters in the city has been used as a justification by Moscow and Damascus for the continued assault.
The former Al-Nusra Front recently changed its name to Fateh al-Sham Front following a break with Al-Qaeda, but many still see the two groups as tied.
Mr de Mistura said history would judge Syria and Russia if they used the presence of about 900 former Al-Nusra Front 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 have been all but impossible since government forces seized the last supply route in July.
"Can you please look at my eyes," said Mr de Mistura in a direct appeal to Al-Nusra Front leaders, before pleading with them to quit Aleppo.
"If you decide to leave with dignity... I am personally ready to physically accompany you," he added.
The United States announced on Monday that it had suspended talks with Moscow on a ceasefire, accusing Russia of trying to bomb civilians "into submission".
France and Germany have also spearheaded efforts to mediate peace efforts to end the conflict in east Ukraine, which the West and Kiev accuse Moscow of fuelling.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday that Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks with his French counterpart, Mr Francois Hollande, to "discuss international issues including Syria and Ukraine" during Mr Putin's visit to France on Oct 19.
Mr Putin's visit to France - his first to the country since he attended a climate summit in Paris late last year - has been in the planning for months, with the Kremlin strongman expected to inaugurate a Russian Orthodox cultural complex in the capital.
French Foreign Minister Jean- Marc Ayrault jetted in to Moscow yesterday for talks with Mr Lavrov before heading to Washington as France tries to garner support for a UN resolution on a ceasefire in Aleppo, his office said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS