By Orhan Coskun and Tulay Karadeniz
ANKARA, Dec 14 – Turkey is talking to Russia and Iran to try to ensure the evacuation of civilians and rebel fighters from Syria’s Aleppo, as air strikes and heavy shelling on Wednesday threatened to scupper the deal.
President Tayyip Erdogan accused Syrian government forces of breaking a truce he brokered on Tuesday with Russia, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main backers, but said Turkey was still trying to open a humanitarian corridor from the city.
Erdogan said he would speak later by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation in Aleppo, which he described as “very fragile”.
“The realisation of the ceasefire brokered by Turkey is perhaps the last hope for the innocent people in Aleppo,” Erdogan told a meeting of local administrators in the presidential palace in Ankara.
“This humanitarian corridor must be opened immediately, and the evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo must be allowed at once. Assad is committing war crimes in eastern Aleppo, and we cannot remain silent to the assassinations by the regime.”
Iran, another key Assad backer alongside Russia, was said to have imposed new conditions on the truce deal which were delaying its implementation. It wanted a simultaneous evacuation of wounded from the Shi’ite villages of Foua and Kefraya that are besieged by rebels, according to rebel and U.N. sources.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he would speak with his Russian and Iranian counterparts again on Wednesday to try to keep the agreement on track.
“There was an understanding as of yesterday, and within that was first the evacuation of civilians … We see that the regime and other groups are trying to prevent this,” he told reporters.
“We will speak with (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov and the Iranian foreign minister again today,” he said.
Russia’s defence ministry said that rebels in Aleppo had resumed fighting at dawn and Syrian government forces had repelled their attacks, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.
A senior Turkish official told Reuters earlier that the ceasefire deal was very fragile but not broken, despite the reports of attacks in the city.
Erdogan said preparations were complete for evacuees from Aleppo to come to the rebel-controlled Syrian province of Idlib west of Aleppo and to Turkey.
Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said on Tuesday that Turkey, which is already home to around 2.7 million Syrians who have fled the country’s civil war, would set up a tent city to accommodate up to 80,000 people fleeing Aleppo.