GENEVA — The top UN diplomat for the Syria conflict proposed a new truce on Thursday, in hopes of averting what he called the destruction of rebel-held eastern Aleppo by Russian and Syrian forces. He offered to personally escort the jihadi fighters in the area to safety if the bombing is halted.
The proposal by the diplomat, Staffan de Mistura, reflected his despair over relentless bombardment by the Syrian military and its Russian allies in the past few weeks, following the collapse of a cease-fire negotiated by Russia and the United States.
But de Mistura’s proposal also was seen as part of a possible new diplomatic effort to press the Russians over their role in the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Aleppo, the divided Syrian city that was once the country’s commercial capital and is now a sprawling urban kill zone.
Roughly 275,000 people in the rebel-held eastern half of Aleppo have been subjected to indiscriminate aerial bombing that has killed hundreds, including many children. Outside access to that part of the city has been cut off.
Russia, which has been supporting the forces of President Bashar Assad for the past year with airstrikes and other military assistance, has said it is not responsible for the killing of civilians.
In Aleppo, the Russians have said, their targets are the radical jihadi fighters of the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda that is also known as the Levant Victory Front. Those fighters are regarded as enemies by the United States and its allies as well as by the Syrian government and Russia.
Speaking to reporters at the United Nations offices in Geneva, de Mistura said opposition groups had a total of no more than 8,000 fighters in eastern Aleppo, including roughly 900 to 1,000 Nusra members. Their departure from the city, de Mistura said, would remove any justification by Russia and Syria for the ferocious bombardments.
“Are you really ready to continue this type of level of fighting?” he asked in a question directed at Russia, “and de facto destroy the whole city of eastern Aleppo, which is home to 275,000 people, for the sake of eliminating 1,000 Al Nusra fighters?”