10/21/2016, 16.17
SYRIA – IRAQ
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Jihadi leaders flee Aleppo as well as Mosul towards strongholds of Raqqa and Idlib

Despite truce, ex al-Nusra Front shells western Aleppo, killing a girl. Turkish air force strikes north of the city, killing 150 civilians, an "unjustified massacre" for Syrian media. Islamic State leaders flee Aleppo, raising questions and doubts about how they are escaping. Some reports indicate that US and Russia have agreed on splitting Aleppo and Mosul.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – Despite the truce in place, the extremist al-Nusra Front (ex al Qaeda in Syria) and Nur Eddin Al Zenki shelled Hamdaniya, a district in western Aleppo, killing a girl and seriously injuring a woman, with heavy material losses.

North of the city, Turkish planes struck targets in Hasjek, Al Wardiya, Hassiya, Gul Sruj, the dam of Al Shahba'a, Ahras and Um Hosh, killing 150 Syrian civilians. The local media described the attack as an ‘unjustified massacre".

Aleppo’s fate seems increasingly linked to Mosul’s. As in the Iraqi city, reports indicate that many Daesh* leaders, taking advantage of the truce, are fleeing towards Idlib and Raqqa. The latter, the Caliphate’s stronghold in Syria, has been under air attacks from Russian, Syrian, and French planes.

Some analysts and experts wonder how Daesh leaders can move without being tracked by satellites or intercepted by air patrols, or without using tunnels, as Palestinian leaders do in the Gaza Strip to evade controls.

Over the past two years, a certain pattern has emerged with the leaders of the Islamic State and other extremist groups fleeing first from areas that seem to be on the verge of being lost.

If Islamic State leaders are running away from Aleppo, as reported by local Christian sources, that means that they know that Aleppo and Mosul are a lost cause.

Yet, no one seems willing to uproot them as if they still had a mission, but somewhere else. What mission? We'll find out in the coming months.

For the Syrian government, moving the problem to another city appears an expedient way to take the country’s second largest city. Having fighters leave the city seems convenient to Russia as well. Russian President Vladimir Putin asked his Turkish counterpart to let al-Nusra fighters flee Aleppo. 

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had once vowed that he would not allow the Syrian government take Aleppo, implicitly acknowledging Turkish support for the al-Nusra Front (deemed a terrorist group by both Russia and the United States, it now calls itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham).

However, the Turkish leader has recently changed his tune. Commenting on a phone conversation he recently had with Putin, Erdoğan said the two sides had talked about a consensus for taking al Nusra fighters out of Syria’s second largest city.

“He [Putin] said that as of 10:00 p.m. [Oct. 18] the air bombardment was stopped [in Aleppo]. They [Russians] appealed to us about taking al-Nusra out of the city. We have given the necessary instructions to our friends. We have talked about a consensus [with Putin] to work on taking al-Nusra out of Aleppo and maintaining the peace of the people of Aleppo,” Erdoğan said 19 October. 

This clearly shows the background to al-Nusra when it was shelling Aleppo and destroying Armenian churches and neighbourhoods. This almost daily scourge sowed death and destruction, including a stunning 17th century Armenian church that collapsed after al-Nusra placed explosives under its foundations through a tunnel it dug.

For its part, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters slammed UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, accusing him of being an agent of the Syrian government when offered to escort them out of Aleppo to safe places. Now, those same fighters are silent and no one dares insult Erdogan as de Mistura was.

Armenian sources in Aleppo report that the extremist groups have begun to move their headquarters into residential areas. People can also be seen burning documents, with no one knowing what they might contain.

Some reports indicate that 300 armed men from extremist groups are moving out of eastern Aleppo. The move began last night and is expected to last until Sunday through two corridors – one that runs via Bustan al Qasr in Khan al-Asal in western Aleppo, and the other, for Islamist fighters and their families, via Al Jandul and the Castello Road in the north of the city before they can fall back on Idlib.

Meanwhile, civilians continue to flee eastern Aleppo, seeking refuge in the western part of the city. So far at least 90,000 people are said to have moved to the areas controlled by Syria’s regular army.

Other reports claim that 250,000 people have taken advantage of an amnesty proclaimed by the Syrian government to flee. The figure seems exaggerated because that would represent the entire population of eastern Aleppo.

Some sources in Aleppo speculate that Russia and the United States might have a reached a secret deal whereby Mosul is left to the United States and its allies, whilst Aleppo goes to Russia and its allies. (PB)

* Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

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