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Assad says ready to study UN plan to 'freeze' Aleppo fighting

Aleppo 'is not far from possible collapse and we need to do something before that happens,' says UN envoy proposing fighting freeze
A member of the Syrian Civil Defence walks through Aleppo after an alleged air strike by Syrian government forces this week (AFP)

Syria's government has responded with "constructive interest" to a UN proposal to suspend fighting in the northern city of Aleppo, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Tuesday.

An Aleppo representative for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group, however, effectively rejected the freeze, setting virtually impossible-to-achieve conditions.

"My meetings here with the government and with President (Bashar al-) Assad gave me the feeling that they are studying very seriously and very actively the UN proposal," De Mistura said at a press conference in Damascus.

"The initial response by the government of Syria . . . was of interest and constructive interest," he added.

"They are now waiting for our contact with the other stakeholders, the other organisations, people with whom we will be talking in order to make sure that this proposal can be moving forward."

On Monday, Assad said he was ready to study the UN plan to "freeze" fighting in Aleppo, which has been divided into government- and rebel-held areas since an insurgent offensive in mid-2012.

A scene from Aleppo this week after an alleged government air strike (AFP)
On the Syrian presidency Facebook page this week, Assad emphasised "the importance of Aleppo", which rebels and the army have been fighting over since July 2012.

De Mistura put the so-called "action plan" forward last month to allow for aid deliveries and to lay the groundwork for peace talks, saying Aleppo would be a "good candidate" for such a freeze.

"All Syrians need a concrete example . . . That's why we have come to the conclusion of making a specific proposal," he said Tuesday.

"Aleppo city is not far from possible collapse and we need to do something before that happens," he added.

Since December 2013, government warplanes have carried out near daily air raids targeting rebel-held districts of what was once Syria's economic capital, reportedly killing mostly civilians, defying a UN Security Council ban on such strikes.

In recent months, government forces have advanced around the outskirts of the eastern portion of the city that is under rebel control, threatening to encircle it completely.

De Mistura stressed that the "freeze" proposal was an "action plan, not a peace plan yet."

"Certainly this is not a substitute for a political solution, but it is an incentive in that direction."

Rebel-held areas of Aleppo are under the control of multiple groups, including fighters affiliated with the Western-backed FSA.

FSA commander Zaher al-Sakit said in a posting online that any deal would require the release of prisoners, particularly female detainees, an end to government air strikes, the expulsion of "sectarian terrorist militias" and handover of "the war criminals who used chemical weapons against civilians".

Other groups in the city have been similarly cool, with the powerful Islamic Front declining any comment, and the Jaysh al-Mujahideen group saying it would only back a full political solution, not a local deal.

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